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"Libraries: The medicine chest of the soul."
Library at Thebes, inscription over the door
Making Scents of Information
Tea tree, sometimes known as Ti-tree, refers in general to the collective name for the various members of the Melaleuca plant species; however, in aromatherapy practice, tea tree essential oil is usually a reference to Melaleuca alternifolia.

Botanical Profile of Tea Tree

Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) is a member of the Myrtaceae plant family and is related to myrtle, clove and eucalyptus; it is a small tree with yellow/purple flowers and leaves that resemble needles.  It should not be confused with other plant family members, such as niaouli (Melaleuca viridiflora) and cajeput (Melaleuca cajeputi).  Tea tree is native to Australia and the true tea tree essential oil industry is predominant to Australia.

Australian History of Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree was being used by the Aboriginal people of Australia long before its “discovery” by British explorer Captain James Cook (1728- 1779) on his travels around the world.  It gained its misleading common English name from the actions of Captain Cook on the discovery of the tree on an expedition to Botany Bay, Australia in 1770; the expedition party boiled the highly fragrant leaves of the tea tree to make a cup of spicy tea. Samples of the plant were collected by botanist Sir Joseph Banks for further examination and study in England.

Chemical Components of Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree essential oil is predominately made up of the chemical components monoterpenes (25-40 %), alcohols and oxides. It has been recognized as an extremely effective anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral and immuno-stimulant oil through the conduction of several scientific studies (such as Bassett, Pannowitz & Barnetson, 1990; Lis-Balchin, Deans & Hart, 1994; Carson et al 1995).  In 1923, an Australian government chemist by the name of Dr A.R. Penfold, concluded that tea tree essential oil was 12 times stronger as an antiseptic bacteriacide than carbolic acid.

For these reasons, tea tree oil was used in military first aid kits during World War II and was classed as a necessary commodity in Australia.  According to Sue Clarke in Essential Chemistry for Aromatherapy, clinical studies have shown that tea tree oil is effective as an antiseptic for acne, foot infections, dandruff and in dentistry practice.

Aromatherapy Uses of Tea Tree Essential Oil

Tea tree oil is a staple component of the majority of aromatherapy “first aid” kits.  Use tea tree oil for acne, burns, cold sores, dandruff, asthma, bronchitis, warts, insect bites, colds, flu and infectious illnesses.

Cautions for Using Tea Tree Oil in Aromatherapy

In general, tea tree oil is a non-irritating oil with no known contra-indications; however it may cause some skin sensitization in certain individuals.  If you are unfamiliar with the use of essential oils, consult a qualified aromatherapist for further advice before using them.


-Clarke, Sue, 2002, Essential Chemistry for Aromatherapy UK: Churchill Livingstone
-Davis, Patricia, 1999, Aromatherapy: An A-Z UK: Vermilion
-Lawless, Julia, 1995, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils UK: Thorsons
-Olsen, Cynthia B., Australian Tea Tree Oil USA: Kali Press
-Price, Shirley, Price, Len, 2002, Aromatherapy for Health Professionals UK: Churchill Livingstone

It is expressively prohibited to copy or use this article in any way unless written permission is given by the author Sharon Falsetto.  If it is discovered that copyright laws have not been complied with, legal action will be pursued by the author Sharon Falsetto.
aromatherapy library text image
tea tree essential oil profile text image
the melaleuca species are very similar in appearance, Susan Trigg, istockphoto, used with permission