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Tea tree oil - manufacture, properties and application

Tea Tree Oil - Melaleuca alternifolia

The tea tree oil (Tea Tree Oil) is the essence of the Australian tea tree and
is obtained by steam distillation of the leaves. The Australian tea tree belongs to the myrtle family and, within this family, to the genus Melaleuca. Over 300 varieties of Melaleuca are spread across Australia. They differ in appearance and in the quality of the essential oil. Only the essential oil of the species Melaleuca alternifolia has extraordinary properties. Due to its unique composition, it has an extremely strong, germicidal effect and is an excellent antiseptic. The oil from Melaleuca alternifolia is considered the "real tea tree oil", which is used by the Australian quality standards. According to Wikipedia, tea tree oil is a mixture of around 100 substances. (+) - Terpinen-4-ol (about 40%), a-Terpinene (about 20%), Terpinolene, Terpineol (3 to 4% each), Pinene, Myrcene, Phellandren, p-Cymene, Limonene, 1 , 8-cineole.


The Australian natives, the Aborigines, have valued the healing power of the tea tree for thousands of years. They treated wounds and ulcers with shredded tea tree leaves. With colds, flu, fever and constipation, they inhaled the steam of crushed leaves boiled in water or sipped their brew.

The name "tea tree" can be traced back to Captain Cook, who visited the Australian coastal region in 1770. He and his sailors made a fresh, aromatic tea from the leaves. The tea tree, however, has nothing to do with the tea bush (camellia sinensis) from which the leaves for black tea are harvested.

The first scientific findings about the effects of tea tree oil were published by A. Penfold in 1925. He found that tea tree oil contains much stronger, germicidal ingredients (about 12x stronger) than the antiseptic phenol used at the time. Research carried out in the 1970s showed that tea tree oil also has strong fungicidal properties.

It is possible that the Aborigines traditionally used the leaves of small-leaved tea tree species such as Melaleuca alternifolia as a wound dressing. Because of the manufacturing process, however, the traditional use of tea tree oil by the indigenous people of Australia seems absurd.

A scientific distillation of tea tree oil was first achieved in 1925. Shortly afterwards, extensive fungicidal and bactericidal properties were described. Until the discovery of penicillin, tea tree oil was considered an antiseptic alternative to phenol. It practically achieved the importance of a standard antiseptic for operations, especially in the oral cavity.

The oil production at that time was based on Australian wild stocks and was less than 10 tons per year [5]. During the Second World War, tea tree oil was part of all first aid kits for Australian troops stationed in the tropics.

When penicillin and very soon other antibiotics became available after the war, it was initially forgotten. From the 1970s onwards, tea tree oil enjoyed increasing popularity again as a "natural product". The increasing population interest in preparations of ethnomedicine increased the oil production from 80 tons in 1987 to 750 tons in 1992.

Properties of tea tree oil

Tea tree oil has a very strong antimicrobial effect. Compared to the relatively poisonous phenol, tea tree oil is 11 to 13 times more effective and therefore much more bactericidal than eucalyptus oil (phenol coefficient about 3.5), for example. In addition to the proven antimicrobial effect of tea tree oil, other effects are claimed, such as the interception of excessive immune reactions after insect bites. If used in too low doses, tea tree oil can increase the resistance and resistance of bacteria to antibiotics. Because of possible skin irritation, the oil should be applied diluted.

Current application

Because of its antiseptic, antibacterial and fungicidal properties, tea tree oil is used in its pure form in alternative medicine, e.g. B. for the therapy of acne, neurodermatitis, psoriasis vulgaris, in wound treatment, corns, diabetic health problems, lice, scabies, flea and tick infestations, and warts. It is also recommended for muscle pain, rheumatism, smoker's cough and varicose veins.

For (alternative) medicinal purposes, tea tree oil is extracted from the Australian tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia). In addition, essential oils from Leptospermum species and other Melaleuca species, such as the cajeput oil obtained from Melaleuca leucadendra and the niauli oil obtained from Melaleuca viridiflora, are listed under the name "tea tree oil". A pharmaceutical grade of tea tree oil is described in the European Pharmacopoeia. Tea tree oil is also used in cosmetic preparations: in shampoos, hand and body creams (especially for blemished skin such as acne), in deodorants, bath additives, soaps, toothpaste, mouthwashes, shaving oils. In the case of fungal and bacterial attack on the skin (e.g. acne, athlete's foot), preparations with 5 to 10% tea tree oil are usually used. When used in the oral cavity, tea tree oil must be diluted very heavily. Many cosmetic products can be preserved with tea tree oil. 1

External uses of tea tree oil are also known in animal care, but should be discussed with an expert therapist because of the appropriate dosage, as the ingredients can be toxic to animals.

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