Botanical and Common Names
- Family Myrtaceae
- Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree Oil)
- Other species that provide valuable oil:
- Melaleuca leucadendron (Cajuput, White Tea Tree, Swamp Tea Tree, Paperbark Tree, White Wood)
- Melaleucea viridiflora (Niauli is a broad-leafed paperbark tree.)
- Melaleucea linariifolia has an essential oil that is very similar to tea tree.
- None listed.
Native to Australia and Tazmania, tea tree is now widely used in Europe, Australia, and North America. The evergreen shrub is related to the myrtle tree, reaching over twenty feet in height and having a papery bark, pointed needle-like leaves, and heads of yellow or purplish flowers that when open, resemble a puffy, feathery mass. The tree flourishes wild in swampy areas in northern New South Wales and Queensland, but is now extensively cultivated, especially on plantations in Asia and other parts of the world. The Tea Tree produces an essential oil that has unique infection-fighting properties. The leaves and small branches are picked throughout the year and distilled to produce the essential oil.
Native Australians have used tea tree oil for centuries, but it was unknown to the rest of the world until the late 1700s when Captain James Cook led an expedition there and began experimenting with the leaves. The crew brewed a lemon-flavoured tea from the leaves and added it to a beer they had concocted. They also gave it its name as a result. On later voyages, a botanist who travelled with Captain Cook observed how the aborgines used the shrub to heal infected wounds. But this information did not make an impact on the rest of the world until the 1920s when a Syndey research chemist, A. R. Penfold, studied the oil and discovered its antiseptic properties. By 1925, Penfold determined that the oil was twelve times as potent as phenol, the standard by which all antiseptics were measured at the time.
Australian pharmacists and doctors then began dispensing tea tree as a front-line antiseptic. Bushmen and adventurers would not enter the wilderness without it. It was standard issue for first aid kits for British and Australian soldiers stationed in the tropics during WWII, and proved to be so valuable that workers who processed it were exempt from military duty. As with all things, demand soon quickly outstripped supply and interest waned after the advent of penicillin. Tea tree oil was almost forgotten; but, with the growing problems of antibiotic-resistant organisms, it has, once again, made a revival. Demand for the oil has increased from about ten tons in the early 1990s to more than two hundred tons today.
Extensive research in the 1960s showed that tea tree was very effective in treating a broad range of infectious conditions, especially fungal skin conditions, as well as warts, acne, and vaginal yeast infections.
- strongly antimicrobial
- immune stimulant
- volatile oil (percentages are variable, but basically -– terpinen-4-ol [40%], gamma-terpinene [24%], alpha-terpinene [10%], and cineol [5%])
Leaves, essential oil
Scientists have identified eighty of the estimated one hundred compounds in tea tree oil, and a few are unique to the plant. Some of these compounds are active against viruses, bacteria, and fungi.
Most of these compounds are chemicals classified as either terpene hydrocarbons (pinene) or oxygenated terpenes (mostly 60% terpinen-4-ol plus cineole). Terpinen-4-ol is a powerful germacide, fungicide, and significantly antiseptic but well tolerated by the skin. Cineole, on the other hand, can irritate the skin of some people, but has expectorant and antiseptic properties. Cineole is also found in eucalyptus. It is these antiseptic properties that make it especially valuable in treating various skin infections.
It is especially useful as a hospital disinfectant as it kills antibiotic resistant strains of Staphylococcus.
Testing has found it effective against many other organisms as well, including all strains of candida except Epidermophyton floccosum, all sixty-four strains of Malassezia furfur, and eighty other types of disease-causing fungi. The following is a list of organisms that tea tree oil has proven its effectiveness against: aspergillus, bacteroides, Clostridium, Cryptosporidium, Diptheroids, E. coli, Enterobacter, Fusobacterium, Gonococcus, Hemophilus, Herpes viruses, Meningococcus, Microsporium, Peptococcus, Proteus, Pseudomonas, Spirochetes, Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Trichinosis, Trichophyton.
Crushed leaves have long been used in hot water as an inhalent to relieve sinus congestion.
Infusions made from crushed fresh leaves are used to treat coughs, colds, and skin infections. They are used internally to treat glandular fever and postviral fatigue syndrome (ME). They can also be used in household cleaning wash water, as well as in the laundry or diaper soaking water.
Oil or cream can be applied to athlete’s foot and ringworm, as well as to corns, warts, acne, boils, nail fungi, infected skin sores, burns, scrapes, wounds, insect stings, and many other skin conditions.
Mouthwash is used for oral infections and gum disease, as well as a gargle for sore throats.
Suppositories are used to treat vaginal infections.
Lotions, creams, or compresses ease the pain and itchiness of skin irritations.
Commercially prepared products available are as follows: pure oil, creams and ointments, mouthwashes, toothpicks, germicides, shampoos and conditioners, hand creams, bar soaps, pet shampoos, suppositories, lozenges, dental floss, massage oil, and deoderant.
Conditions where tea tree oil has proven useful and listed according to body region:
- Head and Neck: dandruff, seborrhea, psoriasis, eczema, ringworm, furunculosis, razor cuts, mastoiditis, head lice, cradle cap, acne, and blackheads. Note: Nizoral has long been used to treat psoriasis of the scalp, but long term cures do not take place. In addition, it carries risk of systemic toxicity especially that of the liver. Tea tree does not cause this concern. It also produces fewer side effects than benzoyl peroxide, used to treat acne.
- Face: razor cuts, acne
- Mouth, Throat, Ears: controls oral bacteria when a few drops are added to a gargle and helps heal canker sores, cold sores, pyorrhea, cavities, toothaches, ear infections (outer and middle ear), sore throats, colds, thrush, halitosis; promotes the healing of gum disease, canker sores, and herpes sores
- Hands: paronychia, fingernail fungus
- Joints: arthritis, gout
- Respiratory system: bronchitis, sinusitis, croup, tonsillitis
- Urinary tract: cystitis
- Rectum: shrinking hemorrhoids and reducing pain, including that of rectal fissures
- Genitals: herpes and warts, vaginitis (including trichomonas), penile discharge, excessive odour, jock itch, chronic candidiasis
- Feet: bromhidrosis, toenail fungus, ingrown toenails, calluses, corns, athelete’s foot.
- Skin: kills microbes associated with skin infections, including bacteria or viruses in wounds; such fungal infections as ringworm or athlete’s foot, nail fungus, thrush, and jock itch ; and eczema, psoriasis, ringworm, boils, cuts, abrasions, scrapes, puncture wounds, bed sores, varicose ulcers, surgical lesions, burns, itchy or chapped skin, scabies, pilonidal cysts, impetigo, dermatitis, allergy rashes (including poison ivy, oak, and sumac), chicken pox and shingles, and animal bites (including those by dogs, cats, snakes, insects, and humans)
- Joints: eases muscle and joint pain and inflammation