What is Melaleuca Alternifolia?

Dee S.
Dee S.

Melaleuca alternifolia, or tea tree, is one of the most widely-used homeopathic antiseptics. The oil from the tea tree is helpful to treat stings, wounds, burns, and a variety of skin infections. It is also used as an antibacterial, an antifungal, and an antiviral. It is native to Australia and has been used as medicinal treatments for centuries by the Aborigines. Research has been conducted on its therapeutic properties, making it popular across Australia, Europe, and North America.

Melaleuca alternifolia oil can be mixed with cream to treat athlete's foot.
Melaleuca alternifolia oil can be mixed with cream to treat athlete's foot.

An evergreen, melaleuca alternifolia can grow to 22 feet (6.7 m) tall. It has layer upon layer of paper-like bark. The leaves are pointed and have a strong aroma when they are crushed. They have a large quantity of antiseptic, volatile oil and are often used in making preparations for skin infections. In addition, the tree often has white flowers that look like wispy spikes.

As a mouthwash, melaleuca alternifolia can treat sore throats and gum disease.
As a mouthwash, melaleuca alternifolia can treat sore throats and gum disease.

The Aborigine people of Australia used melaleuca to treat coughs, colds, and infections of the skin. They typically crushed the leaves. Then, they would smoke the leaves or brew them into a tea-like infusion.

The oil from melaleuca alternifolia can be mixed with cream and used to treat warts.
The oil from melaleuca alternifolia can be mixed with cream and used to treat warts.

The antiseptic properties of melaleuca alternifolia are well researched and established. In clinical trials, it has been proven to treat a wide range of infections. For example, it can be used as a suppository, or the oil can be soaked on a tampon to treat vaginal yeast infections. It is also widely used for skin problems. For example, the oil from melaleuca alternifolia can be mixed with cream and then may be used to treat acne, athlete’s foot, warts, corns, boils, and ringworm.

People with more serious ailments may benefit from using melaleuca alternifolia as well. For example, if taken internally, it may treat cystitis, post-viral fatigue syndrome, and mononucleosis. If it is used as a mouthwash, it may treat gum disease and even sore throats. Internal use should only occur under the supervision of a professional homeopathic remedy practitioner, as it may decrease immune function, cause diarrhea, and damage the central nervous system.

There are other side effects that have been reported from people using melaleuca alternifolia. There are several reports that indicate it may change hormone levels. In fact, there have been a few case reports where tea tree oil caused enlarged breast in boys. Consequently, people suffering from hormone-sensitive ailments and women who are pregnant or who are nursing should avoid using it. In addition, people who are allergic to tea tree oil may break out in a rash, blisters, or dermatitis.

Melaleuca alternifolia can be used to treat ringworm.
Melaleuca alternifolia can be used to treat ringworm.
Dee S.
Dee S.

Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is especially interested in topics relating to medicine, legal issues, and home improvement, which are her specialty when contributing to wiseGEEK.

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Discussion Comments


I buy tea tree oil to mix with a gentle shampoo, and I use it to treat my dandruff. I find that the odor of regular dandruff shampoos is overwhelming and unpleasant, so I like to make my own.

I get a sixteen ounce bottle of shampoo and add twenty drops of tea tree oil to it. I shake it up, and it is ready to use. I only use it when I have flareups of dandruff, so a bottle will last me for a long time.

Unlike store-bought dandruff shampoo, which I have to use for several days before it starts working, the tea tree oil shampoo works after just one use. My flakes and itchiness are gone, and I don't have to worry about dandruff showing up on the shoulders of my dark clothing.


@seag47 – I have also used it on burns, and I was impressed with how much it seemed to help them heal. I keep a bottle of tea tree oil in my medicine cabinet at all times, because you never know when burns might happen.

I was glad I had the oil when I read about another condition it can treat. I frequently get painful canker sores in my mouth, and I have never known of anything that could make them go away any faster. I had a couple of severe ones last month when I found an article about using tea tree oil as treatment.

I put it directly on the sores. After the first application, I could tell that it had healed a little. After the second one, it was nearly gone.

Since canker sores take nearly two weeks to heal on their own, this was highly impressive. They cause a significant amount of pain while eating and drinking, and getting rid of them quickly saved me a lot of misery.


I used tea tree oil on my skin when my husband accidentally spilled hot bacon grease on my legs. I screamed and ran to the bathroom, where I jumped in the shower and started running cold water on them.

After about a minute of standing under the cold water, I blotted the area dry and got out the tea tree oil. I didn't dilute it at all. I slathered it on the burns.

The good thing about tea tree oil as a burn treatment is that whatever portion of it that the skin doesn't absorb evaporates, so your skin can get oxygen. I put tea tree oil on my legs three times a day until the burns went away, which was sooner than they would have healed without the oil.


I have found that tea tree oil works great at repelling ants. I have had a problem with them crawling along the side of my house, across the porch, and into my kitchen for months. Once I started using the oil on them, they found a different place to march.

I have a sprayer that holds about a quart of water. I put fifteen drops of the oil into it, and then I spray the entire path of ants with it.

Something about the tea tree oil makes the ants turn around and run away. I don't know the science behind it, but it works, so I'm going to keep on using it. I love not having to spray harsh chemicals around my house, because I worry about the effects they might have on animals.


I've seen a statement from the American Cancer Society saying that melaleuca alternifolia is toxic and should not be ingested, especially by kids and pets because it could kill them.

But I know that quite a few people take tea tree oil for its antifungal effects or to help kill bacterial infections. They talk about it all the time on various homeopathy forums. The amount they ingest is really small, something like 5 drops of oil and it is diluted with water or something else. But still, isn't this dangerous?

I honestly don't know how people can take this risk. I mean, there are no specific studies or reports clarifying if tea tree should be ingested at all or how much of it is safe to consume over a period of time. I personally cannot take that risk no matter how many people tell me that it's beneficial for me.

What do you think? Would you take that risk?


I had no idea that tea tree oil originates from Australia!

I've used tea tree oil before, when I had scabies. My doctor had me on medications to kill the infection but I heard from a nurse that applying some diluted tea tree oil on the areas where the infection was prevents it from coming back.

So after my treatment was over, I diluted some tea tree oil with water and applied on those areas regularly and I never got the infection again. So I think that fighting and preventing skin infections is definitely one of tea tree uses.

I can't imagine using it without diluting first though. It's a pretty strong oil and smells really strong too. I can see how some people are allergic or are really sensitive to it, especially if they applied it on their skin without diluting.

I'm sure that using the leaves and boiling them would make something that's a lot easier on sensitive skin though.


My sister uses tea tree oil soap in the shower to treat body acne and as well as a spot treatment for pimples on her face. She's really happy with the results and says that it dries out acne really well and prevents new breakouts from happening.

Since she recommended it to me, I purchased face cleanser with tea tree oil in it because I also have very oily and acne-prone skin. After I used it though, my face become really red and was burning.

I didn't use it for about six months and then I decided to give it a try again because I had also started using a new face cream the first time which I thought I might be allergic to. But I had the same exact reaction to it the second time so I'm pretty sure that I'm allergic to tea tree oil.

I know tea tree oil is antiseptic and is really beneficial for acne. I wish I could use it too, but unfortunately, I get a really painful rash from it.

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