A doctor weighs in on whether boiling eucalyptus leaves can really help.

By Anthea Levi
Updated August 16, 2016
Credit: Getty Images

Summertime colds seem so unfair. The sun is shining; the beach is beckoning—and your nose is running like a faucet. But if you've got a case of the warm-weather sniffles, you're not alone. On Sunday actress and dancer Jenna Dewan Tatum posted a Snapchat story thanking a friend who had recommended a home remedy for her cough: breathing in the steam from boiling eucalyptus leaves.


It makes sense that the aromatic vapors emanating from the pot might help ease the symptoms of a common cold. Eucalyptus is an age-old treatment for sinus congestion. Experts suggest putting a few drops of the tree's essential oil in boiling water and breathing in the steam, or adding it to a warm bath. Inhaling the strong smell can make nasal passages feel like they're opening up, and provide some relief.

Eucalyptus compounds appear to have anti-inflammatory properties, says Philip Hagen, MD, vice chair of preventive medicine at Mayo Clinic, but there isn't much scientific research behind the remedy: "It's mainly what people report," he says. “[They] often feel as though eucalyptus makes their nose clearer and helps them cough less."

What about Dewan Tatum's DIY method? Is it a good idea to breathe in the steam from boiling eucalyptus? Boiling the leaves effectively extracts the essential oil and vaporizes it, says Dr. Hagen. There is a downside though: "You have no way of knowing how much you're inhaling, so there's not much quality or dose control," he explains.

If you want to test this remedy the next time a pesky cough strikes, just be careful as you lean over the pot, says Dr. Hagen. "The steam is hot enough to burn the skin, and can sometimes be irritating to the eyes and nose," he warns.

Feeling skeptical? There are other, easier ways to reap the potential benefits of eucalyptus: Pick up some Vicks VapoRub (eucalyptus is one of its main ingredients), or cough lozenges that contain eucalyptus, suggests Dr. Hagen.