Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)- Therapeutic uses, preparation and precautions?

Author: Dr Ranjeet Singh


Tea tree belongs to the genus Melaleuca, which includes some 200 species of evergreen trees and shrubs, most of which are native to Australia. Tea tree oil, distilled from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, is a fairly recent addition to Western herbal medicine. Primary uses of tea tree oil have historically capitalized on the antiseptic and anti-inflammatory actions of the oil. Tea tree oil is incorporated as the active ingredient in many topical formulations used to treat cutaneous infections. It is widely available over the counter in Australia, Europe and North America and is marketed as a remedy for various ailments. Tea tree oil is known by a number of synonyms including “melaleuca oil”and “ti tree oil.”

Therapeutic uses?

Sometimes called The Wonder from down under, the oil of Australia tea tree is unrivalled as an antiseptic. Two of tea tree oils compounds have been shown to inhibit the growth of many bacteria and fungi that cause human infections. They act to kill bacteria and fungi by disrupting cell membrane permeability and hampering cell metabolism.

Tea tree oil also may act against viruses, such as herpes and yeast infections, but it hasn’t been as well studied for this infections. It is being investigated for treating gingivitis, for fighting halitosis (bad breath), and for reducing plaque in the mouth, presumably by altering the presence of certain bacteria. With the growth of virulent drug resistant staphylococcus infections, such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), researches are turning to potent antibacterial such as tea tree oil for innovative treatments.

Tea tree oil has been studied extensively for its use in treating fungal infections. The formulation and concentration of the oil are important variables to consider when choosing the right product for a given use. For example, 25% oil in ethanol seems to work almost as well as pharmaceutical treatments for athlete’s foot infection, and this formulation also seems to limit the occurrence of adverse reactions, such as dermatitis, which often occur with higher concentrations of tea tree oil. It is difficult to treat toenail fungus with creams, but the use of tea tree oil added to antifungal creams may increase the cure rate.

How to use?

Essential oil

Steam distillation of the leaves and small branches yields a potent essential oil containing germ-killing chemicals. Various concentrations of the oil are mixed with the base of desired consistency to create products for various conditions.

Creams or gel

Preparations of 5% tea tree oil control acne as effectively as a commonly used medication, benzoyl peroxide, and possibly with fewer side effects.


Tea tree oil should never be taken internally; it can be toxic if ingested. Allergic reactions and contact dermatitis have also been documented. If redness, itching or oozing develops after the topical application of tea tree oil, use should be discontinued and a healthcare provider consulted.