The tea tree is native to Southeast Queensland and New South Wales, in Australia, which is why it is such a popular essential oil in that country. Tea tree oil is derived from the leaves of the tea tree. The tea tree was named by eighteenth century sailors, who used to make tea that smelled like nutmeg from the leaves of the tree growing on the swampy southeast Australian coast.
Australians have made use of the medicinal properties of tea tree oil for centuries — legend has it that during World War II, the Australian army required soldiers to carry a bottle of it with them. The Australian aborigines have applied tea tree oil from crushed leaves to heal cuts, burns, and bites.
The essential oil of tea tree is extracted through steam distillation of the twigs and leaves of tea tree. Tea tree oil comes from the Australian Melaleuca alternifolia plant, which is why it is also known as melaleuca oil. The reputation as a cure-all given to this oil is not an exaggeration. Tea tree oil can be used to relieve many topical infections. The antibacterial properties of tea tree oil make it an effective wound healer.
Studies show that thanks to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, tea tree oil heals and shrinks wounds when applied topically. A nearly 100-year-old study in the British Medical Journal found tea tree oil was non-caustic to the skin while still proving 11 times more effective than carbolic acid for killing bacteria. The oil can help sooth insect bites as well.
While there are more than 100 natural chemicals in the oil, the primary active ingredients in tea tree are monoterpenes, hydrocarbons, and sesquiterpenes, which give the essential oil its antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.
Tea tree oil can help manage skin conditions such as psoriasis, acne, and eczema, and can be applied to the skin for infections such as acne, nail fungus, athlete’s foot and ringworm.