Tea Tree Oil or Oil of Melaleuca, comes from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia, a native of Southeast Queensland and the Northeast coast of New South Wales, Australia. The name comes from the times of Captain James Cook when his crew found they could make a spicy tea from the sticky leaves. The Aborigines have known about the medicinal and healing properties of the Tea Tree for centuries. They crushed the leaves to inhale the oil or used them in poultices for wounds. The oil itself was only extracted for use at the beginning of the 20th century and it became quite popular. After the second world war however, Tea Tree suffered the same fate as many other natural medicines which were abandoned in favour of the man-made ‘wonder’ drugs antibiotics. It was revived in the 70’s and nowadays, Tea Tree is recognised as a universal antiseptic and as ‘first-aid in a bottle’ and is one of the most popular essential oils.
Tea Tree oil is very complex, with over 100 components, mostly monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes and their alcohols. Four of the constituents discovered are unique to Tea Tree Oil. The two most important active ingredients thought to contribute the most towards Tea Tree Oil’s therapeutic potential are 1,8 cineole and Terpinen-4-ol. Terpenin-4-ol makes up about a third of the oil and exhibits the microbial activity. Cineole is an oxide which gives Tea Tree the distinctive camphor-like scent and makes it effective against mucous and pain.
Tea Tree oil is useful to keep on hand for its antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. It is also an analgesic, cicatrizant, insecticide, diaphoretic and expectorant.
Tea Tree Oil should not be swallowed as it is toxic when taken internally. It has a wide range of uses when applied topically, and although it can be used neat, it is very concentrated and might irritate the skin. Generally a couple of drops suffice, diluted in a carrier oil or in water.
For mouth infections and sore throats, laryngitis and gum disease, Tea Tree can be mixed with water and used as a rinse or gargle, then spat out. To relieve the symptoms of asthma, bronchitis, tonsillitis, congestion, sinusitis, colds and flu, add a few drops of Tea tree Oil to a bowl of hot water for a steam inhalation or add to a vaporiser. Infected wounds can also be held over the steam. It can be dropped into the bath to soothe tired and aching muscles, to disinfect wounds and skin infections and to treat thrush.
A drop or two in a foot bath works wonders for smelly feet and fungal toe nail. Apply neat to insect bites, boils, abscesses, cold sores, acne, fungal infections, in a carrier oil for dry skin and added to shampoo for dandruff and head lice. Tea Tree Oil massaged into the soles of the feet stimulates the immune system. Healing can take some time but will be without the side-effects of conventional toxic drugs.