Tea tree is native to Australia, where it was a traditional medicine for the Aboriginal people, particularly for the Bundjalung tribe. Despite its name, it is unrelated to the tea which can be found in most kitchens. Rather it was named by Captain Cook who, upon reaching Australia, brewed a tea-like drink from the leaves.
The leaves and branches of the tea tree are the active components of the plant. They are distilled with steam to produce tea tree oil, which is widely available from pharmacies and health shops.
Tea tree oil has anaesthetic, anti-bacterial, antiseptic and anti-fungal properties. As such, it is valuable as a first aid treatment for a range of small complaints. It makes an excellent topical oil to prevent infections and accelerate the healing of small cuts and grazes, and also bruises. It removes the itch and irritation caused by insect bites. It can be applied directly to burns, after the area has been submerged in cold water for at least 10 minutes, to soothe the pain and hasten healing. Tea tree oil can also be applied to areas of severe sunburn to provide relief and prevent blistering.
For athlete's foot and ringworm, tea tree oil can be applied directly to the effected area. Alternatively, for athlete's foot, the oil can be added to a basin of hot water to create a foot bath. It is important to dry the feet thoroughly after this foot bath, and then wash the towel immediately after use to prevent the spread and re-infection of the fungus.
Tea tree oil combined with rose water and witch hazel will help to clear up acne. Combine 4 drops of oil with 4 tablespoons each of witch hazel and rose water, then apply directly to the effected area.
Combing tea tree oil through the hair will combat lice and nits. It is also beneficial to add the oil to shampoo to further help rid the hair of these nuisances.
Tea tree oil is beneficial for vaginal yeast infections. It can be used either as a douche or applied to a tampon. To make a douche, combine 1 part tea tree oil with 4 parts warm water. Douche with this mixture daily for at least a month. Alternatively, combine 4 drops of tea tree oil with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Place 5 drops of this oil onto a tampon and insert it into the vagina. Leave in place for several hours. As with the douche, repeat this regime each day for at least a month.
To eliminate warts, including plantar warts which occur on the soles of the feet and are painful to walk on, dab the area with tea tree oil three times daily until the growth has disappeared.
Inhaling tea tree oil will help ease respiratory tract infections and alleviate breathing difficulties associated with these. The oil can be sprinkled directly onto a pillow or tissue. This is particularly good for children who are having difficulty sleeping because of their illness. Alternatively, tea tree oil can be added to a basin of hot water and used as an inhalant. Five drops of oil to a small basin of hot water is sufficient. This will also unblock congested sinuses.
Rubbing a few drops of tea tree oil onto the muscles, or adding the oil to a bath, will ease muscular aches and pains after engaging in strenuous exercise.
Tea tree oil is excellent for disinfecting the home. Adding 20-40 drops to the water when cleaning floors or a couple of drops on a dusting cloth will be effective. In addition, tea tree oil repels insects. It can be vaporized in an aromatherapy oil burner for this purpose. A more pleasant aroma can be obtained by combining the tea tree oil with lavender or lemon oils.
Growing tea tree:
The tea tree is native to the Australian outback, and so it prefers hot and humid conditions, especially when young. It will grow to a height of about 6 metres. It is a particularly hardy plant, which will grow back rapidly even if reduced to a stump. Because of this, the tree can be vigorously harvested and will grow back to be harvestable within a year. However, because of the complexity of the procedure which is necessary to obtain tea tree oil, and the wide availability of the oil, it is recommended that it is purchased as a finished product rather than made from scratch.