Monday, 18 July 2011


The Australian tea tree is the plant we get tea tree oil from; despite the name this oil doesn’t come from the tea plant (Camellia sinensis), which doesn’t have oil in its leaves, or not so you’d notice.
   The Tea tree can grow to heights of 19 feet or 6 metres, and can be 4 metres or 13 feet broad. It has a bushy crown and papery bark, and the oil is extracted from the leaves and twigs. It is a member of the Myrtaceae or myrtle family of plants. So it is related to the eucalyptus trees (safeda), also native to Australia, allspice, guava (amrood), and cloves.
It is a native of New South Wales. It is actually more of an aromatic shrub than a tree in most cases, as you can see from the photos. It is self-pollinating as the flowers are hermaphrodites, having both male and female organs.
  In May 2011 the tea tree and the eucalyptus, honey and macadamia nuts were featured on a set of stamps which commemorate the plant industries of Australia. The industry surrounding tea tree oil is now expanding, although after the Second World War it fell into decline.
  Tea tree oil has been used by the aborigines for centuries for curing skin infections and to cleanse wounds and promote healing. They would run bruised leaves directly onto the area of skin affected to cure the wound, or rash or fungal infection. They also made a tisane from the leaves. When Captain James Cook began his exploration of Australia in the 1770s he came across a group of Bandjalunga aborigines who would bathe in a lagoon where tea tree leaves had fallen and been steeping for some time. He was given a tisane made from the leaves and believed it was a tea substitute. This is how the tree probably got its English name.
  The tea tree and its oil has been used in Australia for centuries, then, although it wasn’t until 1922 that Dr Arthur Penfold, an Australian chemist, carried out research into tea tree oil’s antiseptic properties. His research proved it to be a powerful cleanser and healer, and it became a must-have item in Australian medicine cabinets.
  During World War II there was a need for antiseptics to prevent infections from wounds, and soon the stocks of tea tree oil had been depleted. It was expensive too and cheaper antiseptics were produced. It wasn’t until the 1960s that tea tree oil became sought after again and farms were established to produce more tea tree oil. It is known to help cure fungal infections such as thrush (candida) and during the sixties the sexual revolution was taking place, partly due to the freedom offered by the contraceptive pill. Since that time tea tree oil has gone from strength to strength and today it is farmed in a sustainable way.
  .Tea tree oil can be used to get rid of dandruff, so is good for the hair, and it is often used as mouthwash to kill germs. It is also useful to stop acne.Apart from that it can be used for fungal infections under the nails and on the skin, as it can cure athletes’ foot and ringworm. It has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and antiseptic properties and research published in 2010 found that it could inhibit the growth of cancerous tumours in mice in the lab. However it is too early to say if it can do the same in humans. It can also be used as an expectorant and to promote sweating during fevers.
  Pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers should not use tea tree oil, as it may alter hormone levels. It has cause breast enlargement in young boys, and if you use it as a mouthwash, don’t swallow it.
  Tea tree oil has a lot of benefits if it is used with care. Don’t use too much of it.

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