Melaleuca alternifolia has its origins on the Eastern coast of Australia in New South Wales and Queensland. For centuries or more, the Aboriginal tribes in these parts used the Melaleuca alternifolia tree (also called the paperbark tree) extensively in their daily life.
The leaves were used in a plethora of ways. They were chewed to treat headaches, crushed to treat skin irritations and symptoms of the cold and flu, and steeped into a form of healing tea. (1)
The waters of freshwater lakes around which stands of Melaleuca trees grew were considered sacred. The waters were colored brown from the fallen leaves and indigenous Aboriginals reserved these spots for women only and birthing ceremonies. Even today the locals revere these lakes which bring healing and renewal to those who bathe in them. (2)
The Aboriginals also used the bark of the Melaleuca (Paperbark) tree. It was used to line their coolamons (bowls 12 to 28 inches used for carrying water and food). Its softest parts were used to line their cradles and beds. The bark was used to bind wounds and as a wrapping in which to cook food. And if their canoe sprang a leak, the inner most and thicker parts of the bark was used as a plug. (3)
The rest of the world would be introduced to the healing powers of the Melaleuca tree via Captain James Cook. Captain James Cook was one of the most influential explorers of the 18th century. It is said that upon landing on the shores of Eastern Australia, he observed members of the Bundjalung tribe of Aboriginals steeping the leaves to make a medicinal tea. He dubbed the tree from which the leave came “Tea Tree” and the rest of the known world did as well. (4)
About Tea Tree Essential Oil
Though native to Eastern Australia, Melaleuca alternifolia is also cultivated in other counties such as South Africa (though most are small, privately owned farms). It is an evergreen tree that can grow up to 6.5 feet tall. It thrives best in warmer climates with well-drained soil and is resilient to flooding and fires.
Melaleuca alternifolia is a hermaphrodite plant species so the plants are grown from seed. It takes 12 to 15 months from seed to harvest. At harvest time the tree is cut close to the ground and the leaves and twigs used to extract the prized Tea Tree essential oil. The extraction method is via steam distillation.
In the past, as the tree aged the essences became stronger and more concentrated in 1.8 Cineole. This is a compound which is not desirable in high levels for tea tree essential oil. Thus, farms would be replanted every 6 or 7 years. Today, seed technology has improved so this characteristic is minimized. (5)(6)
Melaleuca alternifolia essence is one of Mother Nature’s best medicinal recipes for fighting microbes, viruses, bacteria, and inflammation. It is used to treat a plethora of bothersome human conditions. But what is very cool as well is that the whole tree is very useful. The outer bark is used as bedding for adults and infants, the inner thicker bark is used to plugging holes in canoes and on top of huts to keep rain out.
Over 200 species of Melaleuca grow in Australia. Melaleuca alternifolia is just one but by far the most used medicinally. Other larger species, like the Melaleuca leucadendron, grown in northern New South Wales, Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia are harvest for their wood as well. The wood is used for railroad ties, fencing, boat knees (props for boat making), mining posts, framing, and flooring. Wood from the melaleuca species is highly water and termite resistant.
Identifying a Pure source of Tea Tree Oil
The primary constituents of Pure Tea Tree essential oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) are
Terpinene-4-OL – 30-48%
γ-Terpinene – 10-28%
α-Terpinene – 5-13%
There are over 113 different compounds in Tea Tree oil (TTO). The current standard for testing TTO (ISO 4730) calls for only 15 compounds to be identified for purity. However, the standard does not call for chiral testing. This in currently being challenged by the ATTIA (Australian Tea Tree Industry Association).
Chiral testing measures the percentage of a mirror image compound in a substance. Nature creates these mirror image compounds but in certain percentages. One main source of adulteration is the cheaper Chinese Tea Tree oil which contains terpinol-4-ol but a mirror image of the terpinol-4-ol that exists in pure TTO.
Most companies that look for purity have a certain percentage of chiral compounds (mirror image) they deem acceptable. For TTO this ratio (Left :Right)) is 30:70. That means that anything greater than 30% L may be considered adulterated. Other cheaper tea tree essential oils will also have higher amounts of limonene as well. Also, 5 trace compounds should not be overlooked when deciding on a tea tree oil. If these 5 are not present you may have an adulterated TTO. (7)(8)
Critical Trace Constituents:
Aromadenrene – 1.09%
Ledene – 1.05%
δ-Cudinene – 1.43%
Globulol – 0.19%
Viridiflorol – 0.09%
The percentages here are for reference only. Other lots may have variations but close.
Properties: Anti-bacterial, Anti-microbial, Anti-viral, Anti-septic, Anti-fungal, Anti-inflammatory, Decongestant, Stimulates the immune system, Kills parasites, Wound healing, Vasodilator
• Wound healing – Helps guard against bacterial and fungal infections
• Used to kill head lice and other parasitic infestations
• Reduces effects of toenail fungus and Athletes Foot
• Aids in oral health – Fight cold sores and gingivitis – Use only pharmaceutical grade Tea Tree
• Helps relieve symptoms due to cold or flu
• Effective reducing symptoms of psoriasis and acne
• Household cleaner – Add to laundry, spritz in shoes to fight odor, use in carpet cleaner to freshen and deodorize carpets
• Spray on as insect repellent – Add to water and spritz it on. Be sure to shake well before applying.
How to Use Tea Tree Essential Oil
Diffuse – Place 10 to 15 drops in a diffuser. Diffuse 15 minutes every two hours during the day.
Inhale – Inhale from bottle or lid 2 to 3 times a day, Place 2 drops on a cotton ball and inhale, rub 1 to 2 drops on hand, hold near the face (avoid touching face), and inhale.
Mist – Add 30 to 40 drops to a half cup of water. Shake vigorously before each use and apply lightly to areas of concern. Use solution above to spray on as insect repellent or on flip flops, tennis shoes and sports bags to kill germs and odors. Avoid getting it in the eyes.
Rub – Place 6 to 8 drops in one ounce (2 TBS) of massage cream or oil. Apply to areas of concern.
Oral Health – Place a few drops along with baking soda to clean your teeth, 1 drop on finger applied to the tongue. Swish and swallow to help with sore throats. Place a drop on a Q-tip and apply directly on canker sores.
** Caution – Use only Pharmaceutical grade!
AIA Internal Use Statement
AIA does not endorse internal therapeutic use (oral, vaginal, or rectal) of essential oils unless recommended by a health care practitioner trained at an appropriate clinical level. An appropriate level of training must include chemistry, anatomy, diagnostics, physiology, formulation guidelines, and safety issues regarding each specific internal route (oral, vaginal or rectal). Please refer to the AIA Safety Guidelines for essential oil use.
*DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for educational purposes only, not to treat, cure, prevent, or diagnose any disease or condition, or prescribe in any way. The data presented here may not be complete or fully accurate. As with all essential oils, do not take internally unless working with a qualified and expert practitioner.
*SAFETY WARNING: If applying an essential oil to the skin, always perform a small patch test by properly diluting the oil in an appropriate carrier oil and applying to an insensitive part of the body, such as inside of the elbow. Use vegetable or milk to remove any essential oils causing irritation. Always keep essential oils and blends away from children. To slow oxidation and protect shelf life, store in a cool, dark place with lids tightly secured. Never put oils in the ear canal or eyes. Tell all your health care providers about any Alternative health products you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.
How to Choose and Use an Essential Oil
Essential Oil Basics
Essential Oil Extraction Methods