If you’ve tapped into essential oils as a healing modality or a natural beauty tool at all, you’ll notice that Tea Tree is everywhere. This potent essential oil from the Melaleuca artinafolia tree from Australia and New Zealand has become as common as lavender once was in our modern Western Herbal and Beauty world. Marketing has led mainstreamers and many herbalists and cosmologists to believe that Tea Tree essential oil is both safe and effective for just about everything. The energetics and science of Tea Tree tell a different tale.
Melaleuca alternifolia had been a part of the healing tradition of Australia and New Zealand for centuries before the British discovered it in the late 18th century CE. Then and now, folks who have Tea Tree growing in their neighborhood have used the leaves to make healing teas, most often to manage cold and flu-like symptoms, fungal infections, and to support wound-healing. Today, we still use Tea Tree and his relatives, camphor and cajeput, for similar ailments, and with good cause. Tea Tree’s neutral to mildly warming, stimulating, mildly drying energy is perfect for supporting the body’s natural immune and restorative systems when faced with invading forces, like the microbes responsible for colds, flus, and similar illness, or when faced with the clean-up necessary after a trauma, like mild to deep wound healing.
From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, Tea Tree is best used when tonifiying is needed. The restorative action of tea tree’s essential oils works two-fold. First, Tea Tree helps clear toxins and stagnations. As a steam during a fever or cold, for instance, Tea Tree can help release external wind-heat in the sinuses and respiratory system, making way for the body to begin rebuilding or restoring balance. Topically, tea tree helps clear fire toxins, like those associated with painful, itchy rashes, excema, and acne. Tea Tree has also been used more recently by some TCM practitioners topically to help clear blood stagnations like those associated with vericose veins or edema. In all these cases, Tea Tree is clearing and moving energies to make space for healing and restoration. The second primary action Tea Tree offers to support restoration is in helping support the action needed to rebuild. Traditional Chinese Medicine describes this action as Nourishing the Yin and Qi. As Tea Tree clears the toxins or stagnant energies, it also draws in that which is needed to support Yin and Qi through the rebuilding phase. Together, Tea Tree’s affinitiy for helping clear and rebuild gives him a strong connection with the Lung, Heart, Stomach, and Kidney meridians in Traditional Chinese Medicine. (Holmes)
From an Ayurvedic perspective, Tea Tree would be considered an essential oil that helps clear excess Pitta and Vata while building Kapha. In helping to drive out pathogens from the system, be they cold and flu germs or topical infection, Tea Tree is working to restore balance and strength to the Kapha of the area. When Vata is disburbed, as in the later stages of a cold or flu, Tea Tree calms the area, aligning Vata toward the purpose of clearing out the microbes and debris associated with the illness while fortifying the Kapha toward rebuilding or restoring the body’s tissues and natural balance. Tea Tree can help in the later stages of a fever, too. Here, he’s helping to cool Pitta and again draw on Vata and Kapha to remove toxins and restore balance. When the body has an excess of Kapha, Tea Tree can be used to help dry the system, but he’d be best used in conjunction with more clearly drying herbs, such as Thyme or Lavender. Tea Tree essential oil will contribute a Vata- and Pitta- balancing action to the formula while the other herbs work to reduce excess Kapha. In this way, Tea Tree essential oil’s Kapha supportive energies are mild and flexible.
Most essential oils promote action, so they are classified as generally drying. Tea Tree is no exception, although he’s more a plant of resilliance and balance than one focused on clearing and drying. Traditional Australian and New Zealand use of Tea Tree’s whole herb form points solidly to the potential potency of this medicine for helping restore balance. Even today, we can see the resilliance and balance of Tea Tree’s energy in how his vigorous growth after withstanding severe cutting remains fairly contained in the Tea Tree essential oil fields in modern Australia, New Zealand, and Indonesia (Hunter and Sierralupe). That predilection toward balance is a key to the psychology of Tea Tree essential oil’s effect on depression and anxiety.
According to Gabriel Mojay, Tea Tree essential oil invigorates the Heart and Spirit while fortifying the Po. Translated into modern herbal terms, tea tree essential oil works to move mind and spirit out of a depressed or motionless, stuck state while helping the nervous system settle and find solidity, thus reducing overall anxiety. Tea Tree essential oil can be used in blends for depression and anxiety in modern aromatherapy formulas. The type of depression and anxiety that may most benefit from Tea Tree’s assistance would be that which is rooted in trauma, particularly that which leaves them feeling as if they cannot quite find their way back home or where loss has left them so devastated they can’t find the energy needed to rebuild. Tea Tree’s resilliant nature can help clear the debris from the trauma aside to begin the rebuilding phase and help them relax so they no longer feel as if an attack is just around every corner.
Looking purely at the energetics of Tea Tree, warming and drying with a gentle but firm action toward building tissues, thus creating appropriate tension and reducing laxity in tissues, Tea Tree essential oil is not a panacea at all but rather a distinct and purposeful healer with specific talents. It’s wise, for instance, to use Tea Tree toothpaste when you sense a cold coming on to help bring Vata balance to your sinuses. The small dose of Tea Tree essential oil applied to the upper palate and absorbed by those tissues can help strengthen the sinus tissues and thus drive out the pathogens before they bring on the full symptoms of a cold. It makes a great deal of sense to accompany that use with appropriate diet and lifestyle adjustments at least temporarily to support the body’s natural defenses.
It is unwise to use Tea Tree toothpaste daily, particularly if you have a more dry constitution. If, for instance, you generally have dry sinuses, Tea Tree essential oil for daily use may exacerbate that dryness. Likewise, some people may develop a sensitivity to Tea Tree when exposed to it regularly, indicating that the potential for Tea Tree to keep acting to clear, dry, and build tissues is not necessarily self-limiting. That means that for all of us, whether we are likely to develop a sensitivity or not, it is wise to save Tea Tree for when he’s needed much as you would an anti-biotic drug. Folks living in chronically dry, cold conditions may want to include Tea Tree in some of their cleaning formulas more often than those who live in hot, dry conditions, but even then it is wise to save Tea Tree for when need is higher, such as during cold and flu season.
- Holmes, Peter. Aromatica: A Clinical Guide to Essential Oil Therapeutics. Volume 1: Principles and Profiles
- Hunter, Candace and Sue Sierralupe. Tea Tree: Liquid First Aid (The Practical Herbalist’s Herbal Folio Book 2)
- Mojay, Gabriel. Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit: Restoring Emotional and Mental Balance with Essential Oils
- National Center for Complimentry and Integrative Health. “Tea Tree Oil.“