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The genus of Eucalyptus consists of over 700 species of trees, native almost exclusively to Australia, where they make up about 70 percent of all trees. Some species in the genus Corymbia where considered to be eucalypts until fairly recently and are still commonly known as eucalypts. Eucalypt trees are fast growing, evergreen and have very hard wood, hence their name ironwoods. Many are also called gum trees because of the large amounts of sap they produce. Most species grow as medium to large trees, some can also grow as shrubs. The leaves of new and mature eucalypts often differ substantially in form, colour and arrangement. The leaves of mature trees are often lanceolate, alternate, glossy green and hang down to avoid too much sun.

The leaves of most eucalypt species contain large amounts of essential oils. Many are distilled and used in the perfume industry or aromatherapy. Tasmanian blue gum (bot.: Eucalyptus globulus), Blue-leaved mallee (Eucalyptus polybracteata) and lemon-scented gum (bot.: Eucalyptus citriodora) are only three commonly known examples of a long list.
In food industry eucalypt oil is used to give some foods such as teas, confectionery and drinks the typical eucalypt flavour. It is less known that some species may be used as a spice without having to distill them to obtain the essential oil.

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Eucalypt species used for culinary purpose

In the modern bushfood cuisine of Australia the leaves of some eucalypt species are used as a spice. The most important species used for culinary purposes are:

  • Lemon Ironwood (bot.: Eucalyptus staigeriana)
  • Strawberry Gum or Olida (bot.: Eucalyptus olida) and
  • Peppermint Gum (bot.: Eucalyptus dives)

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Aboriginal use of eucalypts

The leaves of most eucalypt varieties are indigestible for humans and only few species have edible fruits. Therefore the animals living in the trees where often more important to Australian Aborigines than the tree itself. Koalas and possums were hunted, witchetty grubs gathered and the native honey sugarbag collected from bee nests. Some eucalypt species produced important foods though. Eucalyptus terminalis is often infested with gall-producing insects. These so-called bush coconuts are a popular food among many Aboriginal people. Some eucalyptus trees have edible starchy root bark, others produce copious amounts of nectar that is sucked from the flowers or made into drinks. The sap or gum of some species is also edible. The best-known example for this is the cider gum (Eucalyptus gunnii). Other eucalyptus trees like Eucalyptus viminalis are attacked by insects and produce lerp and manna on their leaves as a reaction.

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