Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) is a multi-purpose herb that traces its roots to the Aboriginal people of Australia. For thousands of years, they used the leaves as an antiseptic and antifungal by crushing the leaves and making a mudpack. However, the plant didn't receive the name "tea tree" until 1770, when the name was given by the British explorer Captain James Cook and his crew. Although Cook's crew first used the leaves for tea, they later mixed them with spruce leaves as a beer. The plant's medicinal properties remained a secret with the Australian aboriginal people until the early 1920s, when a Sydney, Australia chemist, Dr. Arthur Penfold, researched its antiseptic properties. In 1929, along with F.R. Morrison, Penfold published "Australian Tea Trees of Economic Value." This study started a flurry of research into tea tree oil. The Australian government considered tea tree oil a World War II essential for their armed forces' first aid kits. After the war, increased use of pharmaceutical antibiotics decreased tea tree oil's appeal everywhere except in Australia. Tea tree oil started to regain its popularity in 1960, with a recharge in its research around the world. Today, Melaleuca alternifolia is also grown in California.
Properties of tea tree oil
Tea tree oil's properties are contained in the oils of its leaves. The oil is steam-distilled from the leaves and then tested for chemical properties, which can number between 50 and 100. The number of components may explain tea tree oil's many beneficial uses. The main active components are terpinen-4-ol, 1,8-cineole, gamma-terpinene, p-cymene and other turpenes. Its aroma is one of a healthy pleasant disinfectant.
The most promising new function of tea tree oil is to counter methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), also called the hospital super bug. In United States and European hospitals, MRSA grew from under 3% in the 1980s to 40% in the late 1990s. This super bug attacks people who have wounds, such as post-operative infections, and a depressed immune system. MRSA resists conventional antibiotics, except Vancomycin. A Thursday Plantation in vitro study, at East London University, comparing Vancomycin and tea tree oil, shows the latter as a powerful alternative. This study corroborated the University of Western Australia study by Thomas Riley and Christine Carson. Because the spread of MRSA occurs mainly by hands, one London hospital uses tea tree oil soap for staff and patient hygiene.
Research reported on in 2002 reported that tea tree oil performed better than certain antibiotics in fighting MRSA, but the sample size of the study was small. Later studies involving herpes simplex and orthopedic infections also showed promising results for tea tree oil, but again failed to show enough statistical significance to prove tea tree oil works better than antibiotics.
Tea tree oil works as an expectorant when inhaled or taken internally and has a soothing effect; therefore, it can be used for throat and chest infections, and clearing up mucus. It is also effective against earaches, cystitis, and gingivitis. Inhaling steaming hot water with 5 drops of tea tree essential oil added can not only soothe coughing and plugged noses, but doing so at the start of the infection might stop it from spreading. Gargling with 6 drops of tea tree oil in a glass of warm water may soothe sore throats.
Tea tree essential oil is an excellent natural antiseptic for skin infections. The oil immediately penetrates outer skin layers and mixes with body oils to treat such conditions as insect bites, cuts, burns, acne, infected wounds, bruises, boils, scabies, lice, chillblains, diaper rash, hives, poison ivy and oak, prickly heat, and sunburn.
A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia, in 1990 outlined the results of using 5% tea tree oil gel versus 5% benzoyl peroxide lotion for acne. The 124 participants showed improvement with both treatments. Benzoyl peroxide worked better with non-inflamed acne while the tea tree gel caused only 44% of side effects such as dryness and red skin compared to benzoyl peroxide's 79%.
The simplest methods to treat acne with tea tree oil are to wash the face with soap containing tea tree essential oil or swab pure tea tree oil on the acne twice daily. (Too high a percentage or direct application of essential oil can cause irritation and blistering.) Applying tea tree oil cream can also prevent blistering from sunburns.
Tea tree oil has pain-numbing properties and can be used topically for sprains, arthritis, bunions, bursitis, eczema, gout, carpal tunnel syndrome, and hemorrhoids. It is best to use products containing essential tea tree oil, since the pure essential oil would be irritating to sensitive areas.
A study at the Flinders University of Adelaide researched tea tree oil's effects on various inflammations in the body to discover if the essential oil reduces the inflammation besides killing the microorganisms causing it.
For relief from pain caused by the various arthritic afflictions (rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, etc.), 18 drops of tea tree oil can be combined with 1/8 cup of almond oil, then put in a dark bottle and shaken before applying topically two to four times a day as a massage oil. It can also be used to massage the wrists for carpal tunnel syndrome. A dozen drops of tea tree oil can be added to bath water.
A study published in the Journal of Family Practice in 1994 compared the treatment of onychomycosis with a pharmaceutical clotrimazole solution at 1% to tea tree oil at 100% on 117 patients. After six months, the two groups had similar results, with the culture from the clotrimazole group showing 11% infection and that of the tea tree oil group, 18%.
For ringworm and nail infections, besides applying a tea tree gel, cream, or essential oil, bath and laundry water can be disinfected by adding a few drops of tea tree essential oil to the tub and washing machine.
Tea tree oil can boost suppressed immune systems and help those with chronic illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome. Surgeons in Australian hospitals treat patients in these situations with tea tree oil before surgery.
To increase the power of the immune system, several drops of tea tree oil can be added to the bath or weekly massages. A few drops of tea tree oil can also be added to vaporizers.
To fight plaque, brushing with toothpaste containing tea tree oil or adding some to regular toothpaste is advised, as is adding a few drops of tea tree oil to mouthwash. The latter helps both teeth and gums. For sore gums, a few drops of the oil can be swabbed on the sore area.
Tea tree oil's natural solvent properties make it an excellent biodegradable cleaning product. It can be used for washing cotton diapers; as a deodorizer, or disinfectant; to remove mold; and to treat houseplants for molds, fungus, and parasitic infections.
Because pets also suffer many of the same diseases as humans, tea tree oil can also be used as treatment for such diseases as arthritis, fleas, bad breath, gum disease, abscesses, dermatitis, lice, parasites, ringworm, rashes and sprains. Dogs in particular are susceptible to mange, a hard-to-eliminate skin disorder causing hair loss and itching. Washing a dog or cat using a mild soap and water, then clipping or shaving excess hair before soaking a cotton puff with tea tree oil and saturating specific areas twice daily will help treat mange. For overall application, mixing 1 teaspoon tea tree oil with 1/3 cup of water and spraying the mixture from a plant mister onto the mangy areas is advised.
When using tea tree oil for animals, it should always be diluted, as full strength can cause such reactions as muscle tremors and poor coordination. The oil should be kept away from the eyes.
It is wise to check with your health care practitioner when using tea tree oil internally. Some people might be
Australian Standard No. AS 2782-1985 requires tea tree oil to contain a minimum of terpinen-4-ol over 30% and cineole content of 15%. Tea tree oil is not to be used for daily hygiene, and is toxic to the liver and kidneys in high or chronic doses. High doses can also be irritating to the skin and provoke an allergic reaction in some people.
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"Antimicrobial activity of Tea Tree Oil." http://www.pharminfo.com/pubs/msb/teaoil240.html.
Australian Tea Tree Oil—Product Safety and recent progress in Research and Development. Courtesy of Robert Riedl, Technical Manager, Regional Affairs, from his lecture in London, England, September, 1999, Thursday Plantation Laboratories Limited, New South Wales, Australia.
The Tea Tree Oil Information Site. http://www.teatree.co.uk.
Thursday Plantation. http://www.thursdayplantation.com.
Teresa G. Odle