Obtained by steam distillation from foliage and terminal branchlets of Melaleuca alternifolia.
Tea tree grows naturally in South Africa but to date there are little in the way of commercial plantations. Much of the countries output is wild harvested and can be certified as organic. Some young plantations have started but output is relatively small on a global scale.
From seed to harvest usually takes around 12-15 months and trees will grow to around 2 metres high. The tree is then cut from just above the ground and the leaves are steam distilled in a process that takes around 1.5-2.0 hours per batch of around 250 kilos. Tea tree will regenerate quickly and over the next 2-3 years will yield higher levels of oil each year and establish a stronger root network ensuring it becomes more resilient to adverse weather conditions. Some more mature trees can yield higher levels of 1,8-cineole, which is undesirable so re-planting can occur every 6-7 years.
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The south African tea tree oil cycle begins in April and continues until October. It is only by the end of February that fresh estimates are available. Tea tree oil distillation is underway, but quantities are currently restricted. Demand for the organic variety of tea tree oil is particularly high, and the 2017 crop was exhausted within a very short span of time. Market predictions forecast that there will be no dent in demand in 2018.
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