What mom wouldn’t want a small, inexpensive, easy to keep, proven germ killer in her purse? Tea tree oil has a much wider range of use than those hand sanitizers, is natural, and goes further. Native to Australia, melaleuca alternifolia, or tea tree, has been used by the Aborigines for centuries. They would crush the leaves, place on a wound, burn, or skin infections, and hold them in place with a mud pack.Thought to be one hundred times more powerful than carbolic acid, yet non-poisonous to humans, the antiseptic action of tea tree is astonishing.
Sometimes spelled Ti-Tree to avoid confusion with camellia thea, the tea bush that the black tea we drink comes from, tea tree comes from a completely different botanical family, called the Myrtaceae group, which includes niaouli, cajeput, clove, eucalyptus, and myrtle, all known for their anti-infectious action.
Tea tree’s wide range of applications
The reason tea tree essential oil is useful in so many applications is because of its unusual ability to work effectively against all three categories of infectious organisms: bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Additionally, it increases the body’s ability to respond to an attack by any organism because tea tree is a very powerful immune-stimulant. This is an astounding property that has incited much research as it seems effective at helping people with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV. Tea tree is even used as a preventive, to build up the strength of patients before surgery. Candidates for surgery will use the oil in baths and massages for some weeks prior to their procedure, and after, avoiding the operation wound, to reduce post-operative shock.
Tea tree is not generally found to be a skin irritant and can in fact be used in “neat,” or undiluted, applications. People with sensitive skin should be cautious just in case, and start with a test patch. If sensitive, use a carrier oil or dilute. As few as three drops in a full bathtub has been shown to have the anti-infection properties described above for adults, so even if you do find neat applications uncomfortable, it is still quite useful.
Some tried and true uses for tea tree oil
Tea tree oil has been widely used for the following ailments:
• Skin problems – Apply diluted oil to lesions to kill the bacteria that causes acne. Alternate with lavender. Dilute one or two drops in aloe vera gel for burns and sunburn, or other inflamed and sensitive areas, such as those with eczema or psoriasis. Add a couple drops to diaper cream to help kill diaper rash. Add tea tree oil to cloth diaper rinse water as a preventative measure.
• Fungal infections – Treat ringworm, athlete’s foot, or nail infections with undiluted tea tree oil. Rub with cotton ball, or add drops to a moisturizer.
• Otitis – Use diluted tea tree oil in the ear for ear infection
• Insect bites – Place a drop of undiluted tea tree on all manner of insect bites, including spider bites and scorpion stings. Also works as insect repellent.
• Yeast infections – Mix in a salve or almond oil and use as an antiseptic. Mix five drops of tea tree oil in a half pint of water to make a vaginal douche to treat vaginal yeast infection, or other infections such as trichomoniasis, vaginitis, or cystitis. A study from the 1960s showed that 100 percent of the women with trichomoniasis treated with a tampon prepared with tea tree oil recovered fully.
• Outbreaks – Skin eruptions and viral outbreaks such as herpes and cold sores can be treated with undiluted tea tree applied topically. Warts should also be treated with full strength tea tree oil. Some people find it useful to mix it in a little alcohol, such as vodka. Treat shingles and chicken pox blisters this way as well.
• Dental infections – Use diluted tea tree oil to treat toothaches or thrush, and pyorrhea or other periodontal diseases. Five drops with three ounces of water, swish and gargle, keeping in your mouth in contact with the affected area for at least a minute, twice a day. Disinfect toothbrush by putting a couple drops on it. The gargle will also help a sore throat.
• Boils – Apply undiluted oil directly on cotton swab several times per day, disposing of carefully to avoid spreading the highly contagious infection. Also works on abscesses.
• Body odor – Add several drops to bath water to treat body odor and relax sore muscles
• Colds and flus – Use in the bath at first signs of cold or flu and it will induce profuse sweating, a valuable response to infection. If you catch it early enough it may stop the virus from developing. Otherwise, it will reduce its severity and duration, and help prevent secondary infections.
• Sinusitis, bronchitis, catarrh – Add several drops to hot water and breathe the steam. Place a towel over your head and the bowl of hot water to intensify. Alternately, place in burners or vaporizers.
• Seek out commercial products – There are a lot: lozenges, toothpastes, lotions, creams, etc.
Standard essential oil warnings apply: do not use internally, do not store near homeopathy remedies, do not use with homeopathy or flower essence protocols, check with a qualified practitioner if you have any serious and acute health challenges.
There are a lot of wonderful essential oils that have antiseptic properties, and that provide effective defense against bacteria and viruses, but anti-fungal oils are very few. Tea tree essential oil is an inexpensive, safe, versatile addition to any natural health medicine cabinet.
Sources for this article include:
Davis, Patricia. Aromatherapy: An A-Z. Barnes and Noble Books, New York 1995. P. 315-317.
Fischer-Rizzi, Susanne. Complete Aromatherapy Handbook. Sterling Publishing Co, New York 1990. p. 212.
Worwood, Valerie Ann. The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy. New World Library, San Rafael, CA, 1991. P. 20.