Tea tree grows as a shrub or small tree in Australia. It is a member of the family Myrtaceae. Its leaves are slender, like needles, and the flowers are either yellow or purple in color.
The leaves of the tree have a very long history of use by the aboriginal people of Australia, who used them to make an infusion for drinking – hence the name ‘tea tree’. The leaves were also used, crushed, for application to wounds and sores. The properties for which the tree has been appreciated for many hundreds of years make the essential oil of tea tree one of the most exciting and versatile oils in aromatherapy.
Tea-tree oil is extracted from the leaves of the tree by steam distillation. It is pale yellow-green in color and has a strong, spicy and pleasant odor reminiscent of camphor. It is used very extensively in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries in the manufacture of antiseptic and germicidal preparations, gargles, toothpastes, bath products and skin treatments. Organically produced tea-tree oil is now widely available.
Tea tree essential oil is one of the most useful oils in aromatherapy – many would claim it is the most useful. It is safe to use, it can be applied neat to the skin, and it has powerful antiseptic, disinfectant, antiviral, antifungal and bactericidal properties, which make it of value in the treatment of a wide variety of ailments. It also stimulates the body’s immune response against infection. Therefore, tea tree essential oil is a ‘must’ for the first aid kit.
The immuno-stimulant, antiviral and bactericidal properties of tea-tree oil make it particularly beneficial in the treatment of colds and influenza and other respiratory tract infections. For this purpose, steam inhalation is recommended. Alternatively, use the oil in a massage blend. For throat infections and painful mouth infections, for example oral thrush, gingivitis and ulcers, tea tree oil can be used in mouthwashes and gargles. It is also effective in combating bad breath and can be used to treat cold sores.
For treating genito-urinary infections, such as cystitis, thrush, herpes, pruritis and urethritis, tea-tree oil can be used in a bath, or a sitz bath. It is very soothing and will combat infection.
In the area of skin care, tea tree oil can be used to good effect for the treatment of a wide variety of problems. It can be used in facial steam treatments, lotions and massage blends for the skin. It can be dabbed neat onto spots and blemishes, insect bites, minor bums and stings. It is antiseptic and will also bring relief from discomfort. It can be used to treat fungal skin infections such as athlete’s foot and ringworm. Leg wounds and ulcers that are difficult to heal, particularly if the sufferer is elderly and has poor circulation, can benefit from treatment with tea-tree oil in a bland carrier such as almond oil.
Research continues into the therapeutic applications of this oil and there is optimism that there are still further benefits to be derived from its immunostimulant and antimicrobial properties.
Suitable Methods of Use
Can be applied neat to the skin.
Tea tree essential oil is nontoxic and nonirritant. There is a small chance of sensitization in a few individuals, but this is rare.