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 commercial community is facilitating several new, smaller farmers to cultivate tea tree. Seedling control is implemented to ensure good quality for the new oil coming into the market. This includes both organic as well as conventional grades in roughly equal quantities. Tea tree is also an effective disinfectant and antimicrobial. Its usage in COVID-19 preventive household products has ensured a strong and steady demand for both organic and conventional varieties of oil. As a result, prices this year are about 10% to 12% higher than last year and are predicted to hold their place throughout the year. There are several new plantations that have come into the fold and are producing oil. The enhanced yield from the additional areas helped producers meet this sudden spike in demand. Currently, prices are stable but are anticipated to go up in early 2021.
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