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Tea Tree Oil

Melaleuca alternifolia (family: Myrtaceae)


The name originates from the Greek ‘melas’  meaning ‘black' and 'leukos’ meaning white referring to the contrast between the white bark and dark green foliage of the tree

Tea Tree is one of 34 species of Melaleuca (Paperbark) trees unique to New South Wales. There are as many as 100 species of Melaleuca found the world over.  
Others familiar to aromatherapists are: 

  • Melaleuca quinquenervia syn M. viridiflora  (Niaouli/Broad Leaved Paperbark ) 
  • Melaleuca leucadendron syn. M. cajeputi  (Cajeput) 
  • Melaleuca halmaturorum  syn ericifolia  (Swamp Paperback) 
  • Melaleuca linariifolia  (Narrow Leaved Paperbark/Snow-in -Summer) 
  • Melaleuca bracteatam  (River Tea Tree) 
  • Melaleuca uncinata  (Broombush)


Thrives in a relatively small area of New South Wales, Australia, in swampy low lying land surrounding flood prone river systems.  Because the tree favours rather remote wetlands, it makes harvesting the leaves for the oil difficult. 

Tea tree is a small tree growing to a height of 7m with narrow soft alternate leaves which are dark green, almost black in colour. The flowers are yellow and shaped like bottlebrushes.


The loose, paper- thin white bark peels away from the tree easily, making it a useful  waterproofing material which the aboriginal peoples of Australia used for small canoes, knife sheaths and thatching.  They soaked the spicy pungent leaves in hot water to brew a cure all for colds, flu and headaches.  The leaves were also picked and eaten straight from the tree.     

The early European settlers to Australia learnt to brewing tea from the leaves too and named the Melaleuca the Tea Tree.  It became part of their bush remedies. 

Dr Penfold, an Australian scientist, conducted a study of Tea Tree in 1923 and discovered it to be 12 times stronger as an antiseptic than carbolic acid.


The leaf and terminal branches are used in steam distillation, with a resulting yield of 0.6-0.73% of clear coloured oil. 

The odour profile is strong, camphoraceous and medicinal with slightly spicy edge. There are top, middle and base notes. 

The main chemical constituents are monoterpenols including:

  • terpin-4-ol(25-45%)
  • α- terpineol
  • β- terpineol and para cymenol
  • sesquiterpenols including globule and viridifloral
  • monoterpenes including α- terpinene (7-8%1%), ?-terpinene (12-18%), terpinolene (2-3%), para-cymeme (3-16%), α- pinene (3%) and β-pinene (0.4-1%)
  • aromadendrene (2.3-2.7%) and cadinene (1.4-3%)
  • oxides including 1,8 cineole (5- 17%)
  • numerous trace compounds.

The oil blends well with eucalyptus, myrtle, ginger, juniper, lavender, lemon, mandarin, orange, peppermint, pine, rosemary, thyme, cajeput, frankincense, cinnamon and clove.


Analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, immune tonic, general tonic, anti-infectious, anti catarrhal, anti-parasitic, antiviral, balsamic, cicatrisant, vulnerary,  expectorant, cardiotonic, neurotonic.


Tea Tree is one of the tools to consider when there are skin infections and an oil to promote tissue repair and restrain infection is needed so think of it for cuts, wounds, acne, cold sores, shingles, herpes, veruccas, warts and athletes foot. Its antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial properties make it an essential item in your first aid kit. 

Tea Tree is used when there is gingivitis, pyorrhoea, dental abscess, and stomatitis.  IT can be used in a mouth rinse or throat gargle when there is pain or infection.  It can be added to a shampoo where there is dandruff, head lice or pimples.  Can be added to jojoba and used as a remedy for cradle cap. 

Use as a disinfectant and as a wash for dirty wounds.  Definitely keep a bottle with you when going on a hike or taking the children to the scooter park. A drop can be applied undiluted to any graze, cut or wound. 

Energetically, Tea Tree oil is classified as warm and dry.  It is used in Oriental Medicine to tonify Lung-yang, clear Phlegm-Cold and expel Wind-Cold, and restraining infection.  It is thus suitable in situations of lethargy, white or clear catarrh, coughs, colds, flu, bronchitis, sinusitis, laryngitis, tonsilities and otitis. 

As it also strengthens the Defensive Qi, Tea Tree is suitable when there is weakened immunity, eg recurrent colds, coughs and flu.  It can be used along with good nutrition and Vitamin C  to strengthen one’s immunity and resistance to illness. 

Tea Tree is said to clear Damp-Cold from the Lower Burner and restrain infection which translates to situations of cystitis, thrush and leucorrhoea. 

By tonifying the Heart-yang and circulating the Blood, Tea Tree restores the nerve and supports the Shen so useful when one has poor circulation or concentration and nervous debility. 

Gabriel Mojay recommends using Tea Tree when one is suffering from ill health and low morale.  He writes that the camphoraceous pungency will promote a positive outlook and the healing instinct, while the bittersweet spiciness will invigorate and uplift the spirit bringing confidence.  He says it suits physically delicate individuals who struggle not only with their bodies but with the feelings of victimisation and doom that can easily accompany and exacerbate chronic ill-health. 

Says Kurt Schnaubelt, an important synergy is encountered in oils of the Myrtaceae family, which are distinguished by proportions of the terpene alcohols, terpineol (most often) and, cineole, and terpene hydrocarbons with their distinctive medicinal smell. Between these three types of compounds, the oils have  strong antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal effects and are useful for upper-respiratory viral infections.  He provides readers an unusual recipe for making nose straws using tea tree, thyme, lavender, sage and peppermint. He suggests using Tea Tree for athletes foot, candida overgrowth and bladder infection. 

In another interesting and useful reference book, Life helping Life, Daniel and Rose- Marie Pénoël write positively about the healing powers of Tea Tree: Melaleuca alternifolia has great potential as an antibacterial agent, but it is different from conventional antibiotics in that it attacks only destructive bacteria.  A trace of tea tree oil is estimated to have 4,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules of terpineol-4, with the total aromatic molecules probably 3 times this amount.   

The Pénoëls believe that illness usually stems from a weak immune system and congestive toxaemia, which are both invariably tied to problems in the digestive tract particularly the intestines.   Tea Tree can be used to disinfect the digestive system.  They often use one drop of tea tree in a glass of fresh apple or orange juice, or with honey in a herbal tea as well as applying a drop of tea tree externally to the kidney areas. 

Naturopath and Aromatic Kineseologist,  Robbi Zeck,  provides an aromatic meditation on Tea Tree and says the spicy, bittersweet scent promotes  patience and understanding and assists in extending your tolerance when dealing with challenging situations.  Tea Tree will take you beyond any points of difference, raise your tolerance levels and encourage you to see the bigger picture.  Use it for win-win thinking and transforming intolerance into understanding.


Tea Tree, along with Lavender, should be in every first aid box. Keep a small bottle in your luggage when travelling to disinfect yourself and any unsanitary surfaces. It is one of the few oils that can be used neat on the skin. Extremely concentrated a drop is sufficient on a cut, cold sore or insect bite.  

It makes a good addition to a diffuser when one is suffering from colds or flu. If you are commuting or working in an office, a few drops added to a tissue or strip of paper which can be carried in the pocket and then placed on your desk.  Tea Tree blends well with other respiratory oils such as Niaouli, Eucalyptus radiate and Ravensara. 

Add 6-8 drops in the bath when feeling congested with catarrh, or when you have a cough. Add some orange to bring a sweeter note to the blend. 

Add a drop to a teaspoon of almond oil and give a sickly child a foot massage before bed.  The oils will penetrate the sole of the foot and travel via the blood stream to assist the child in recovery. 

Make your own gargle for mouth and throat infections by using a cup of warm water with half a teaspoon of sea salt and 2 drops of tea tree. 

Teenagers suffering with acne or pimples, can use tea tree along with thyme linalool and lavender in a gel base.


  • Life helping life by Daniel and Rose-Marie Pénoël 
  • The Blossoming Heart by Robbi Zeck 
  • Medical Aromatherapy by Kurt Schnaubelt 
  • ITHMA Course Notes 
  • The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy by Salvatore Battaglia