The Many Benefits of Tea Tree Oil

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Humans have long enjoyed aromatic oils. Greeks, Egyptians, and other ancient cultures were well versed with the properties of certain scents to enhance mood and nurture emotional well-being.

Yet one essential oil made from the Australian tea tree Melaleuca alternifolia is a substance that goes far beyond a sensual experience. Tea tree oil boasts a variety of uses.

The Many Benefits of Tea Tree OilHerbalist Jeanne Rose, known for her extensive study of essential oils, said of tea tree in her publication, "The Aromatherapy Book—Applications and Inhalations," "This is one oil that most definitely will get lots of use in your medicine chest and should positively be part of the home first-aid kit." First used by Australian aborigines who applied the crushed leaves to wounds and scrapes, the tea tree has no actual relation to the plant from which tea, the beverage, is made— Camellia sinesis. The name tea tree originated in 1770 when British explorer James Cook made a drink from this long-leaved herb found only in the coastal wetlands of Australia. While Cook realized that this new found herb could treat scurvy, only recently have the myriad of health benefits from tea tree oil been discovered.

In the early 1920's Australian chemist, Dr. A.R. Penfold conducted the initial research on tea tree leaves. The health benefits he revealed prompted several subsequent studies from other British and Australian scientists. During WWII it was considered so beneficial it was included in the first-aid kits of Australian soldiers during the war.

"Tea tree oil can be used on any area of the skin that's inflamed or itchy," explains Mary Helen Lee, Chicago acupuncturist and a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild. Lee mentions insect bites, acne, mouth ulcers, cuts, and scrapes as several conditions that call for tea tree oil.

"It's an antiseptic, but it also has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties," says Lee adding that ailments ranging from ringworm to toe nail fungus can also benefit from its application.

Using tea tree directly on the skin makes this oil unique. Many essential oils are so caustic and can cause painful burns when applied topically, but external use of tea tree oil is generally quite safe. However, it should never be applied to eczematous skin.

Using the steam-distilled oil, tea tree medicines take many forms for a variety of conditions—from shampoos and conditioners for dandruff and itchy scalp to toothpaste, deodorant, and soap. Lee also mentions another product by Thursday Plantation, a highly regarded tea tree oil manufacturer, that utilizes the benefits of tea tree in a cocoa butter suppository for yeast infections. "It's really helpful to women so they don't have to use those chemical anti-fungal suppositories," she notes.

Small amounts of tea tree oil are added to supplements to be taken internally for Candida yeast overgrowth or to a mouthwash for inflamed gums, but Lee warns that ingesting too much can be dangerous. "It can be used internally, but only under the supervision of a licensed health care practitioner," she warns, "and be careful of the mucus membranes." Usually, remedies containing tea tree for internal use include merely one or two drops of the potent oil mixed in a formula with other herbs.

This caution should also be exercised when treating pets with tea tree. While some find the oil effective for fleas or inflamed skin patches on animals, one needs to be careful that a pet does not ingest too much oil as they lick the treated area.

Still, for a generally safe medicine that treats such a wide range of issues, it might be surprising to note that tea tree oil is also an effective cleaning solvent. While commercial cleaning preparations using the oil are available, making a solution at home is pretty easy.

Environmental health researcher, Sharon Delia, writes, "Tea tree oil has many uses for housekeeping.
You can prove to yourself how well it works to kill mold and mildew with this simple test: Put two teaspoons of Australian tea tree oil in a spray bottle with two cups of water. Spray the mixture on something musty. Let the smell dissipate (it will take a few days). The smell of mold and must will be gone, too, never to return as long as the source of moisture has been removed."

While tea tree oil has a strong scent, it's an effective and safe alternative to several commercial cleaning projects. Besides its ability to kill germs, tea tree works wonders with cleaning projects that would otherwise be a drudgery. That gummy stuff clinging to bottles after the labels has been torn off removes effortlessly with a little tea tree oil.

With so many uses from healing to cleaning, it pays to become familiar with this multipurpose and relatively inexpensive essential oil from Down Under—tea tree.


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