Tea Tree Oil (also known as melaleuca oil) is a very popular and useful essential oil that is obtained from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia plant. This unique plant is native only to Southeast Queensland and the Northwest coast of New South Wales, Australia. Melaleuca is a combination of two Greek words: melas (black) and leukos (white) pertaining to the contrasting black trunk and young white stems that are characteristic of the tree.
Although Tea Tree Oil is toxic when taken by mouth, it is commonly used in low concentrations in cosmetics and skin care products. Tea tree oil has been useful for treating a wide variety of conditions and shows promise as an antimicrobial and antiseptic. Tea tree oil may also be helpful in dealing with dandruff, acne and lice.
The tea tree plant has been used for hundreds of years by the indigenous Bundjalung people of eastern Australia. They often used the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia plant as medicine by inhaling the oil from crushed leaves in order to soothe coughs and colds, applying leaves on wounds to promote healing, and making tea infusions to treat wounds and sore throats.
In fact, it is believed that in 1770, the British sailor Captain James Cook named the Melaleuca alternifolia plant “tea tree” after observing the Bundjalung using the leaves to make a healing tea! Additionally, the oral history of Aborigines also tells of healing lakes which were really just lagoons into which Melaleuca alternifolia leaves had fallen and decayed over time. Use of the oil did not become common until the 1920’s.
Contemporary scientific data has shown that Tea Tree Oil possesses antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral activity. When examined in the lab, it is observed that Tea Tree Oil is composed of many different components, nearly 100 different compounds, in fact! The major component of the Tea Tree Oil is terpinen-4-ol:
This particular component is responsible for much of the biological activity observed. Interestingly, in vitro studies have found that tea tree oil kills the notorious methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA.) Much more clinical research is needed, but it is already clear that Tea Tree Oil is a very useful essential oil that holds much promise!
At Wild Earth Apothecary, you can find Tea Tree Oil in our foaming face wash and face spritz. The tea tree oil is gentle, refreshing and helps deal with those pesky imperfections.
Find all of Wild Earth’s tea tree oil products by visiting the Etsy shop: Wild Earth Apothecary
Article written by Lauren Beihoffer, a biochemist and lover of natural, holistic skin care