Tea Tree

A small tree with small leaves, growing up to 6 m and found in marshy areas; now cultivated on plantations.

This large genus of some 150 species of evergreen trees and shrubs is distributed mainly in Australia. Closely related to Callistemon (bottlebrushes), many are cultivated for their spiky, often brightly colored flowers, though some species are difficult to tell apart. They may be grown outdoors in mild areas or under cover in cool temperate regions. Melaleucas are rich in germicidal volatile oils, notably cineole (as found in Eucalyptus, See, Eucalyptus), which can irritate skin and mucous membranes. The cineole content varies according to species, genetic constitution, and growing conditions. The best tea tree oil (from M. alternifolia) has a higher proportion of terpenes, notably terpinen-4-ol, which is an excellent, non-irritant antiseptic. Tea tree oil was used by Australian forces in World War II for dressing wounds. After the war, as synthetic pharmaceuticals gained favor, production almost ceased. Research during the 1990s revived interest in its antiseptic properties, which are effective against a wide range of pathogens, including antibiotic-resistant "superbugs". Cajuput oil was first exported from Malaysia in the 17th century — hence its name, which is derived from the Malaysian kayu-puti, "white wood". It is obtained mainly from M. leucandendra (sometimes spelled leucadendron) and the closely related M. cajuputi. Melaleuca quinquenervia as well as M. viridifolia yield a similar oil (niaouli) that is used in perfumery and has strong antiseptic properties, especially against yeast.

Shrub or small tree with papery bark in several layers, and linear, pointed leaves, to 3.5cm (1½in) long. Small, white, 5-petaled flowers are borne in dense spikes, to 5cm (2½in) long in spring, followed by tiny, cup-shaped to cylindrical, woody capsules.

Common Name:
Tea Tree
Botanical Name:
Melaleuca alternifolia
Native Location:
N Australia, S New Guinea, and the Moluccas
Moisture-retentive to wet, neutral to acid soil in sun; M. leucadendra tolerates light to saline soils. Pinch out young, pot growing plants to induce bushiness.
By seed sown in spring at 13-24°C (55-75°F); by semi-ripe cuttings in summer.
Oil is distilled from leaves and twigs, used directly, or in spirits and ointments.
5-7m (15-22ft)
3-5m (10-15ft)
Steam Distillation
Parts Used:
Color and Odor:
The essential oil is colorless with a fresh, sharp, pungent and camphorous aroma.
Long used by the Australian aborigines for its medicinal properties. It was used by the British Colonists as a substitute brew for tea, hence its present name. Tea tree was introduced into European use in 1927.
Antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-fungal, stimulant, expectorant.
An aromatic, antiseptic herb that is expectorant, increases perspiration, and stimulates the immune system. It is effective against bacterial and fungus infections.
Medicinal Uses:
Externally for yeast, vaginal infection, acne, athletes foot, plantar warts, warts, insect bites, cold sores, nits (eggs of head lice). May be applied directly to plantar warts, warts, and nits, but dilute with a carrier oil (such as almond oil) for other uses.
Economic Uses:
Oil used in deodorants, soaps, antiseptic creams, mouthwashes, and toilet waters.
  • Urinary System—Good for cystitis.
  • Respiratory System—Valuable for colds and flu, relieving catarrh and sinusitis.
  • Reproductive System—Good for all kinds of vaginal infections such as thrush. Also good for genital and anal itching.
  • Skin—Very effective in clearing infected wounds, especially where there is pus. Tea tree is excellent for all types of skin problems, particularly those affecting the feet (ie Athlete's foot, corns, callouses, verrucas). Also good for warts and pierced ear and nail bed infections. An effective treatment for cold sores, shingles, and chicken pox. A good cleanser and deodorizer.
  • Emotions—Tea tree is very clarifying and head clearing, cleansing the imagination of disturbing thoughts.
Tea Tree 6 Tea Tree 5 Tea Tree 5
Sandalwood 3 Pine 3 Myrrh 4
Myrrh 3 Thyme 2 Chamomile (R) 3

Tea Tree 7 Tea Tree 5
Eucalyptus 3 Juniper 4
Bergamot 2 Frankincense 2
Aromatherapy Blends and recipes by Franzesca Watson Copyright © 1995 Thorsons, Harper Parker Publishing Inc. Pp 172-173
The Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Bown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited. Pg. 273