What is Tea Tree Oil?
Tea tree oil is the essence of the Australian tea tree, which is obtained by distilling the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia.
The name 'Tea Tree' was coined when Captain Cook discovered Australia in 1770. The crews of his ships brewed surrogate tea from tea tree leaves.
There are over 200 species of the tea tree, but just a single one possesses medically effective properties. The natural habitat of the tea tree is the north coast of New South Wales, Australia.
The leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia were used by the Aborigines for hundreds of years. They ground the leaves and worked them up to a paste, with which they treated wounds. Crushed leaves were also used as insect repellents.
The pure essence of the tea tree is colourless, occasionally pale yellow, and has a pleasant, typical fragrance. It is an extremely complex substance, consisting of at least 48 organic components.
The trees in North Australia have a high terpinene-4-ol-content and little cineol, whereas the trees in the South prove to have more cineol. As a consequence the tea tree oil from the Port Macquarie area resembles some eucalyptus oil which is rich in cineol-content. Cineol has good healing properties and soothes the symptoms of colds, but it irritates the skin and the mucous membranes, and for this reason can neither be used for the healing of wounds nor for the treatment of inflammations.
The minimum demands set by the Australian health authorities for Melaleuca oil (according to the calibration number AS 2782-1985) require meanwhile that the terpinene-4-ol-content represents more than 30% of its total assets, while its cineol content must be under 15%.
The trees supplying the highest quality tea tree oil grow in the remote swampy areas around Bungawalbyn Creek near Ballina on the north coast of New South Wales. This is where the Thursday Plantation was founded in 1976. Planting exclusively the finest trees guarantees a constant supply of highest quality tea tree oil.
Independent laboratory tests have repeatedly certified that the Thursday Plantation oils have a terpinene-4-ol-content of more than 40% and a cineol-content of less than 4%.
In addition to the pure Australian tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) and its diverse forms of application, there is also a blend which contains 15% of the pure essence. The blend has a number of advantages. Most of all it is milder while still providing the highly effective substances of its concentrated form.
The History of Tea Tree Oil
For more than 35 000 years Australian bushmen roamed the continent in harmony with nature. They collected fruit and seeds from various trees and dug for roots. These nature-bound humans treated illnesses and wounds with the help of therapeutic plants, since the conventional medicaments of our western world were unknown to them. A great deal of their knowledge was lost when the tribes were exterminated. However, some of the white settlers tested the remedies of the natives on themselves and experienced surprisingly positive results.
The members of the Bundjalung tribe in the northeast of what is today known as New South Wales knew about the healing properties of the tea tree. With its leaves they treated wounds and skin infections. They ground the leaves, put them on the affected area and covered it with warm mud.
Later, white man, in search of the much desired wood from the rain forests, made use of this healing method, because doctors were too far away. The settlers subsequently flowing into the land took great pains to remove the strong roots of the tea tree in their effort to cultivate the land. But they were grateful for the healing qualities of the tea tree leaves, whenever they were wounded or suffered from infections.
While artificially produced medicaments were succeedingly establishing themselves, the role of natural essential oils became less and less important. Nowadays, however, people turn to naturopathy again, since synthetic drugs can cause negative side-effects. Tea tree oil is now offered in many health food stores and at many chemists'.
More detailed research into tea tree oil began in the twenties of this centutry. In 1930 an interesting article was published in a journal of the Australian medical association: In it E. Morris Humphrey stated that two drops of tea tree oil in a glass of gargling water were an excellent remedy for an oncoming sore throat. At the same time E.Morris Humphrey pointed out that this essence had a soothing effect on all inflammations of the nose and throat area. As an additive to soaps it eliminated the typhoid bacillus sixty times as fast as conventional 'disinfectant soaps'. The medical doctors at the time were very impressed by the diverse application methods which the Australian tea tree and its leaves offer.
Other countries, such as America and England, showed interest in the therapeutic properties of the newly discovered substance.
Tea tree oil was used wherever some treatment with other remedies had failed, that is to say with diabetic gangrene, tetter, dental complaints, gynaecological problems and dermatophytes. However the supplies of tea tree oil were not big enough to meet the growing demand. Systematic cultivation had just begun and the leaves were still picked by hand. One of the first to use the tea tree commercially was H.James, managing director of Australian Essential Oils Ltd.
During World War II all available supplies were bought up by the ministry of war. Tea tree oil was blended with remedial oils for the treatment of cuts and prevention of skin infections.
Later scientists invented artificially produced germicides, which could be produced much faster and in greater quantity. This is why the natural oil soon disappeared completely.
In the following decades chemical substances were much more popular than natural ones. It was not until the end of the sixties that people recognized the shortcomings of synthetic medicine. It did not show the desired effect any more, because the organism had grown accustomed to it. So natural products and the natural essence of the tea tree were taken into re-consideration.
In the seventies Christopher Dean began to plant tea trees systematically. Since the lease of his tea tree plantation was signed on a Thursday, he named his company Thursday Plantation.
At first the Deans sold their tea tree oil on Sunday markets. But soon health food stores from the whole of New South Wales were interested in this product. As the demand was constantly growing, Dean employed 'tea tree-reapers', who supplied the Thursday Plantation with additional leaves from wild growing trees.
Nowadays in Australia there is, apart from the pure tea tree essence, also an antiseptic cream against skin irritations and a soap for gentle skin care. This soap has considerably stronger germicidal qualities than disinfectant soaps produced on a carbolic acid basis. Soaps on the tea tree oil basis are suitable for the treatment of acne and slight skin inflammations.
Harvest and Production of Tea Tree Oil
The Melaleuca alternifolia is a tree with thin bark and narrow, pale green leaves. Time and time again the white settlers tried to cut down tea trees to cultivate the land for sugar-cane-growing and cattle-breeding. It was very difficult to remove tea trees, for even when all branches and twigs are cut off and merely a stump is left, new shoots grow incredibly fast. This quality is of course of great advantage to the production of tea tree oil. The trees can be reaped off completely, without having to be newly planted. Pruning them regularly even stimulates their growth.
The tea tree harvesters hold down the branches with one hand, and shave off the leaves with a machete in the other hand. A good reaper harvests up to a ton of leaves per day. These are filled into jute sacks and are brought to the distillery. The essential oil is obtained by steam distillation. The vaporized oil is led through a cooling coil, which lies in cold water. During this process the vaporized oil liquifies and is caught up in a container in which the oil floats on the surface of the water. Thus it can be skimmed and filtered. After this it is checked on its quality. A ton of leaves provides approximately 10 litres of tea tree oil.
On account of the strong disinfectant and healing properties of this high-grade essential oil, it offers numerous forms of application. In spite of its disinfectant quality, tea tree oil does not even sting on delicate areas (such as the mucous membranes). Only with extremely sensitive skin can there be a slight stinging sensation.
Abscesses and Boils
An abscess is a local skin infection. It is also known as a boil or furuncle when it forms around a follicle. In most cases this starts to suppurate after 2-3 days.
Boils mostly form in hairy areas of the body, which are often under strain from rubbing: these are, for instance, the armpits, the area between the legs, the neck, the nasal cavities and the anal fissure.
When a boil bursts it is extremely important to prevent the inflammation from spreading to other parts of the body. Furthermore precautions should be taken that no other family member is infected.
Dab the boil thoroughly three times a day with an ear-bud soaked with tea tree oil. When the boil has opened, clean the area around the wound with tea tree oil mixed with water or alcohol. After this put a few drops of essential oil onto a plaster and cover the open wound with it. With an open boil it is important to disinfect all clothes, bedclothes and towels. Tea tree oil is ideal also for this treatment. Simply add 25ml of tea tree oil to the last rinse of your washing. This acts as an effective germicide.
Acne is a very unpleasant affliction of the pubescent skin. As tea tree oil is a strong antiseptic, it is particularly suitable for this kind of skin inflammation; it calms the irritation and can heal the condition completely, when applied regularly.
The first two to three days dab the spots three times daily with an ear-bud soaked with tea tree oil. After keeping to this intensive treatment for two to three days, it will suffice to wash your face every morning in warm water, to which 3-6 drops of tea tree oil have been added. For treatment in the evening use the following facial cleanser:
Blend 15ml of pure alcohol (spirits) with 40 drops of tea tree oil and add this mixture to 85ml of distilled water. Fill this cleanser into a brown glass bottle and shake well before each use.
This illness is an inflammation of the tissues in one or more joints, and this generally causes pains and swellings. The following massage oil blend is recommendable as a first aid for pain-relief:
100ml of cold pressed vegetable oil mixed with 40 drops of tea tree oil.
Massage this blend well into your skin and you will feel a noticeable relief. As tea tree oil has a slightly numbing effect, it can also soothe arthritic pains.
Especially with fungal infections the germicidal quality of tea tree oil is of great use. Fungal infections are passed on very easily and spread particularly quickly in public indoor and outdoor swimming baths. Athlete's foot has the following symptoms: The skin between the toes begins to swell and flakes off. Small, inflamed blisters start to form around the toes and on the soles.
Take a foot bath with 30 drops of tea tree oil in it before going to bed. After this rub your feet with the following blend: 50ml of alcohol (spirits) with 30 drops of tea tree oil.
Cuts and Grazes
Small cuts and grazes need not be treated. Merely thorough cleansing with a disinfectant is necessary to protect the wound from a possible infection. Unfortunately most cleansers cause a stinging sensation on the wound and thus cause more pain than the wound itself.
Tea tree oil is an excellent antiseptic. Even in a dilution of 1:100 it still has a germicidal effect.
Mix 10 drops of tea tree oil with a tablespoon of water and clean the wound with this solution
Cystic catarrh is an infection of the bladder, caused by germs, which in most cases make their way into the bladder via the intestine and the urethra. Since a woman's urethra is shorter and its outlet nearer to the anus than a man's, women generally suffer more frequently from cystic catarrh than men. Frequent urination, turbid urine, and pains when urinating are some of the typical symptoms. Sometimes, also a temperature can develop. Extensive research into tea tree oil as a form of treatment for cystic catarrh proved that the essential oil extracted from the Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) is an appropriate remedy for chronic cystic catarrh caused by colonic bacteria. Tea tree oil does not irritate the mucous membranes, it is very agreeable and has strong germicidal properties.
Have a teaspoon of honey with 1-2 drops of tea tree oil three times daily before meals.
Lately cases of head lice have repeatedly occurred at schools and kindergartens, although they had long been thought exterminated.
These small pests suck blood (usually from the scalp) and cause extreme irritation. Head lice can easily jump from one child to the other and are not put off even by the cleanest head. What makes it especially bothersome is that their eggs at first sight are hardly recognizable, they cling firmly to the hair and they are very difficult to get rid of. For those who want to protect their children from chemical shampoos, tea tree oil is a very efficient alternative.
Mix 200ml of shampoo base (available at chemists' and drugstores) with 30 drops of tea tree oil. Shake well and wash your hair at least three times a week.
Prepare the following hair rinse for the daily care: Blend 50ml of alcohol (spirits) with 30 drops of tea tree oil and add 50ml of distilled water. Shake well and rub it into your hair before going to bed.
In the summer months, when we spend a lot of time outside, we are unfortunately often bitten or stung by various insects. In Australia tea tree oil has not only been well-known as a natural insect repellent for hundreds of years, but also as a soothing and disinfectant cure for itchy stings and bites. Especially children are in danger of getting infections, because they scratch the itchy insect bites till they bleed. But since tea tree oil is extremely skin-friendly, it is possible to use it on the same bites time and time again, without having to worry about an irritation of the skin. Ticks can also be easily removed with tea tree oil. Put a few drops onto the tick and it will die off, leaving its bite disinfected. Tea tree oil also brings relief when applied to painful bee- and wasp stings.
As an Insect Repellent:
Blend 30 drops of tea tree oil with 5 drops of clove oil and50ml of cold pressed vegetable oil. Fill this mixture into a brown glass bottle and shake it well. This natural insect repellent is also suitable for very sensitive skin.
After an Insect Bite or Sting:
Treat the affected area with some drops of tea tree oil a few times daily
Herpes (Cold Sores, Vesicular Rash)
The term herpes comprises a wide range of viruses. Cold sores and vesicular rashes on the genitals belong to some of the familiar forms of herpes.
Cold sores are inflamed areas with blisters, which mostly occur around the lips or other parts of the face and last for about a week. Cold sores are infectious, that is to say , they can spread all over the body and infect other people.
Genital herpes is a formation of blisters on the genitals. This venereal disease is becoming more and more common in our age. It is characterized by extreme irritation and reddening of the genitals. Small blisters that can be very painful start to form. The basic causes of this complaint are stress and other infections within the body. Genital herpes is very infectious and is transmitted through sexual intercourse. As with cold sores this disease does not react to antibiotics. The immediate aim is to soothe the pain and irritation and to minimize the danger of further infection.
For Cold Sores:
Apply pure tea tree oil on the cold sore. It does not sting, but soothes the pain, has an antiseptic effect, prevents the infection from spreading and dries out the blisters.
For Herpes Genitalis:
Add 30 drops of tea tree oil to every bath. Blend 30 drops of tea tree oil with 10ml of alcohol (spirits) and add 90ml of distilled water to this mixture. Dab or spray the affected areas with it.
Tea tree oil is also ideal for tooth care. It kills off the bacteria in the oral cavity and it is capable of getting rid of even the worst cases of halitosis. Regular use of tea tree oil in tooth care prevents sore gums, the forming of decay and paradentosis. Regular cleaning of the teeth and the use of a mouth rinse containing tea tree oil will keep your teeth healthy and fit.
Add 3 drops of tea tree oil to a glass of water and rinse your mouth with it every evening.
The flu , sore throats, and colds are amongst the most common viral infections. Especially in times of acute flu, it is wise to have a bottle of tea tree oil at home. If the nose is blocked put a few drops of tea tree oil onto your handkerchief, and you will be able to breathe freely again. On account of its germicidal qualities, tea tree oil is also suitable as an air-disinfectant.
Fill 1/2 litre of hot water into a bowl and add 5 drops of tea tree oil. Cover your head with a towel and hold it over the bowl. Breathe in deeply the vapours for ten minutes. Before going to bed rub the chest and back with a few drops of tea tree oil. With a chronic dry cough add 3 drops of tea tree oil to a teaspoon of honey and let this mixture dissolve in the mouth.
For Sore Throats:
Add 6 drops of tea tree oil to a glass of warm water and gargle twice daily with this mixture. 3 drops of tea tree oil in a glass of pure lemonade is also a recommendable recipe against this complaint.
Since all infections can be passed on to others, it is advisable to disinfect the rooms with the following disinfectant-spray twice daily: Mix 100ml of alcohol (spirits) with 50 drops of tea tree oil and add 100ml of water to this blend. Shake well and fill into a plant spray. Shake before each use.
Infections of the vagina and labia are mostly accompanied by symptoms such as reddening of the affected area, irritation and discharge. Some of the frequent forms are thrush (Candida albicans) and trichomonas.
In most cases these infections develop when the immune system has been weakened by antibiotics or emotional stress, or when the acidity of the mucous membrane in the vaginal tract changes on account of hormonal influences. Normally this mucous membrane is acidic as a natural protection against infections. Only when the woman is ready to conceive, during pregnancy and when taking the pill, this changes and the mucous membrane becomes basic. In such situations the vagina is particularly prone to infections. Also, too frequent washing of the genital area with soaps or lotions or the use of a vaginal spray can disturb the delicate balance of the vaginal flora.
Washing of the Genital Area:
Add 5 drops of tea tree oil to 1 litre of luke-warm water and wash the genital area.
Note: Change the flannel daily!
Dip a tampon into tea tree oil and insert it into the vagina. Change it in the morning, at mid-day and in the evening. Do not apply this form of treatment during the menstrual period.
It is advisable to consult a gynaecologist after the treatment. Furthermore a specialist should be consulted if no improvement is noticeable after a week.