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Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)

Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)

On James Cook's South Seas expedition of 1770, the crew is said to have missed their tea and, without further ado, learned from the Aborigines how to brew a drink from certain leaves. The traveling botanist Joseph Banks gave the plant, which grows as a tree or shrub, its name: Tea Tree. The strikingly long stamens of its white flowers give it a puffy appearance at flowering time.

Origin and cultivation.

Plantations in eastern Australia supply 90 percent of the tea tree oil traded, but the tea tree, which grows up to seven meters high, is also planted in India and southern Africa - it thrives in moist to swampy locations in subtropical climates. The essential oil, which smells a little strongly of turpentine, is distilled from the branch tips with the needle-like but soft leaves; about 100 kilograms of leaf material yield one liter of tea tree oil.


The light-transparent tea tree oil consists of over 60 percent compounds that belong to the substance group of terpenes. Among other things, they are responsible for the disinfecting and antiseptic effect of tea tree oil. It is significantly stronger than that of eucalyptus oil; when penicillin was not yet available in World War II, tea tree oil was part of the emergency equipment of Australian soldiers. A relatively high cineole content (five percent) additionally ensures an expectorant and bronchodilator effect.

Use of tea tree oil.

Tea tree oilTea tree oil
  • The highly effective tea tree oil is only suitable for external use; it should also not be inhaled. Mostly preparations with five to ten percent tea tree oil are used; for inflammations in the oral cavity and colds it is used even more diluted as a gargle solution
  • tea tree oil has antibacterial (against acne and other skin inflammations), antiviral (against herpes) and antifungal (against skin and nail fungus) effects.
  • The smell of tea tree oil drives away insects - for example, mosquitoes, fleas, ticks and lice - and soothes their bites
  • If about 20 drops are added to the washing machine or cleaning water, tea tree oil ensures hygiene in the home.
Here's what you should keep in mind when using tea tree oil.
  • Besides the essential oils of true lavender and roses, tea tree oil is probably the only essential plant oil that can be applied undiluted to the skin - locally limited, for example on insect bites. Nevertheless, small children and women should not use it during pregnancy and lactation, people with asthma only after consultation with the doctor
  • Tea tree oil must be stored in a cool and dark place, because otherwise it oxidizes quickly and then has a skin-irritating effect. It turned out that oxidized tea tree oil had been used inadvertently in studies in which the subjects often had contact eczema after treatment with tea tree oil.

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