Tea Tree – A Personal View April 27, 2016

April 2016


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Growing up in the United Kingdom in the 1980’s there wasn’t the tradition or growing awareness like there is today, for the uses of essential oils around the home or in daily life. Aromatherapy wasn’t either fashionable or as accepted like in other cultures and counties so it wasn’t until my late teens when I was first introduced to an essential oil, the first of which was Australian Tea Tree. It was recommended to me as a cure for a spate of cold sores I’d been suffering with and to my surprised it actually worked! What I didn’t know at that time was this was to the beginning of a long and interesting journey for me and Tea Tree.

Like many I assume, I stumbled across the F&F industry with my first real job as an ingredients buyer for a local fragrance & flavour company, which was followed by a job trading and distributing natural and synthetic ingredients – all the while Tea Tree was in the portfolio. I was privy to many new and interesting end-user development projects using tea tree for the personal care sector which continued to stir my interest. Today your local pharmacy, health shop and supermarkets will be full of personal care products citing ‘Tea Tree’ as the products main active – and with good reason!

Its therapeutic benefits include being anti-fungal, anti-microbial and even antiseptic. It’s so good that during World War II every Australian soldier’s kit included tea tree oil, which could be one of the reasons why others around the world first started to learn of its medicinal benefits. Many locals call it ‘First Aid’ in a bottle – very appropriate!  It’s not just the main active of terpineol-4-ol in isolation which gives tea tree these medicinal benefits but some of the smaller 100 components in combination with each other that are the real performers!

Back in 2009 I emigrated to Australia and immersed myself in the local market for 5 years which focused on the production of Tea Tree Oil.

The connection with the local producers, their families and the stories they shared on Tea Tree just emphasised what a special oil this really is and the history is noting short of fascinating.

There are legendary stories available that would suggest the tea tree plant (Melaleuca alternifolia) was somehow born from the Gods to reward a young princess for her bravery but more truthfully the aboriginals in Australia discovered the product. Indigenous aboriginals used the tea tree plant as a traditional medicine in a number of ways for treating many skin irritations and cold and flu symptoms.

One of the traditional growing areas in Eastern Australia is called Bundjalung, which translates to ‘healing ground’. It is thought that Captain James Cook himself named the product ‘Tea Tree’ after observing the people of Bundjalung using the leaves to prepare a healing tea! Whatever the truth Tea Tree already has around 70 years of modern day history.

The tree itself isn’t anything fancy to look at. It could be described as a mis-shaped Christmas Tree, growing up to 2 metres in height before harvesting. The odour also isn’t for everyone – you either love it or hate it, but I for one like the smell and that tingly sensation of the oil on the skin. It makes you feel like it’s actually working!

If you want to see tea tree in its natural habitat then there’s nothing like a trip to the remote areas of North Queensland or the intriguing Northern New South Wales and Gold Coast areas in Australia, where the heart of tea tree lies. Harvesting can last throughout the year now with most farms or small co-operatives self contained with their own harvesting and steam distillation facilities. It’s worth a trip, believe me!

20 years on in the industry and Tea Tree is now at the forefront of my business activities and there’s nothing better than believing in what you sell. I’m an advocate of this oil and if you haven’t already tried it then it comes personally recommended. So when you see something that ’contains tea tree’, you can be confident the product actually does what it is you’re buying it for!

‘Tea Tree Oil’ by Jonpaul Howarth