Melaleuca alternifolia: common name of Tea Tree Oil. A member of the laurel tree family, unusual variety indigenous to the east coast of New South Wales, Australia. Natural stands of trees usually found in low lying, swampy areas. Trees produced from seed are now being grown on plantations in the region. Seeds are quite small, and the quality of the seed affects the output of the plantation. Seedlings take seven to ten days to germinate in the summer months; when ten to fifteen cm. tall, they are transplanted.
The basis of any good tea tree oil crop is the genetic characteristics of the plant stock from which the oil is distilled. When the genetic blueprint for the highest quality essential oil is rigorously selected, there is no need to isolate or blend particular portions of the crop to produce an acceptable quality oil.
The only commercially viable method of extracting Australian tea tree oil is by distillation; most producers use steam distillation. Mechanical harvesters mulch the entire tree into large field bins which are then towed back to the distillery where, with the attachment of a steam hose to their base and a condenser mounted on their top, they become the distillation pot. The oil contained in the leaves and terminal branchlets of the plant is readily vaporized by the steam. Upon cooling, the pure oil is separated from the condensate and without further processing is ready for analysis and shipment.
When a sufficient batch of oil is accumulated, retention and analysis samples are drawn off and sent to an independent accredited laboratory for gas chromatographic analysis. The laboratory also examines the physical constants of the oil (relative density, optical rotation, refractive index, and solubility). These are combined with the GC results of the components stipulated under ISO 4730 to give a full certificate of compliance to the international standard Oil of Melaleuca Terpinen-4-ol Type (Tea Tree Oil).
On at least one of the larger plantations, crops are ecologically sustainable with a very low reliance on chemical control measures. The large flocks of sheep that graze the plantation do an excellent job of grass and weed control, and at the same time convert unwanted plant matter to a soil-enhancing natural manure. Non-toxic vegetable extracts deter insects from feeding on the lush tea tree leaf, while careful husbandry prevents the plants being exposed to principal pests at the time they are most susceptible.
Composition of Tea Tree Essential Oil: Naturally-occurring essential oil, colorless or pale yellow. If discolorations appear, it usually indicates an inferior distillation process. Impurities and weeds in the distillation process may also affect the color. The oil is distilled from leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, consisting chiefly of terpinenes, cymenes, pinenes, terpineols, cineole, sesquiterpenes, and sequiterpene alcohols. Pleasant characteristic odor with a terebinthinate taste. If odor is strong and varies from batch to batch, it may indicate impurities at the time of distillation.
Action: Pure tea tree oil conforming to Australian standard A.S.D. 175, revised 1985 (AS 2782-1985) and 1996 (ISO 4730) is a powerful broad-range antiseptic, fungicide, and bactericide. The main component is terpinen-4-ol (T-4-ol). Optimal activity at 35-40% w/v. Its bacterial action is increased in the presence of blood, serum, pus, and necrotic tissue. It is able to penetrate deeply into infected tissue and pus, mix with these, and cause them to slough off while leaving a healthy surface. The oil has a very low toxicity, and is virtually a non-irritant even to sensitive tissues. Because of its lower cineole level, tea tree oil is less toxic and less irritating than eucalyptus oil. Be aware that some unknown eucalyptus oils have been blended with a synthetic form of terpinen-4-ol, which alters the chemical composition.
Indications: Cuts, scratches, abrasions, burns, sunburn, prickly heat, insect bites, scalds, allergic and itching dermatoses, napkin and cosmetic rashes, senile, anal and genital pruritus, and lesions caused by herpes simplex virus including herpes labialis and herpes progenitalis. Impetigo contagiosa, furunculosis, psoriasis, and infected seborrhoeic dermatitis. Ringworm of scalp (microsporum canis), tropical ringworm (triphyton), becubitis and stasis ulcers, paronychia, oral thrush (candidiasis), tinea pedis, bromidrosis, and infestation with head, body, or pubic lice. As a gargle, throat spray, and nasal spray. Treatment of cutaneous staphylococcal reservoirs, boils and pimples. Pyorrhea, gingivitis, halitosis, and bronchial and sinus congestion. Gynecological conditions such as trichonomal vaginitis, moniliasis, and endocervicitis.
Precautions: Pure oil will dissolve certain plastics. Store only in glass (preferably amber) containers in a cool place. Extremely sensitive skin may need dilutions of the pure oil. Dilutions of 1:250 are still bacteriostatic against pathogenic streptococci and staphylococci, typhous, pneumococcus, and gonococcus.