As anyone who has ever dabbled in essential oils knows, the Australian Tea Tree Melaleuca alternifolia is proclaimed as a medicine cabinet in a bottle. And if you have ever spent any time in a natural food store skin care aisle, you know that it is in almost every product – from face wash and wound cleansing antiseptic to antifungal foot cream. And even if you haven’t done either, Tea Tree has gotten so popular that you probably have at least heard of it. And that is fantastic! However, the hidden danger of popular essential oils in that when the demand is so high, like in the case of Tea Tree, the practice of adulteration to produce a higher yield is just as high. The result is a mediocre oil that can produce skin irritation or be completely ineffective. If you buy Tea Tree essential oil, it is best purchased from small suppliers via catalog or internet. I would never buy it (or any essential oil!) from a health food store- especially if sold in clear bottles as commonly seen.
Another downside to Tea Tree is its strong, medicinal aroma. It’s a difficult oil to blend and I usually end up just using it by itself…which is a shame as its therapeutic properties can really give blends a strong antibacterial, antiseptic and antifungal boost.
Recently I have found myself being attracted to its gentler relative Niaouli Melaleuca quinquenervia viridiflora from Madagascar more and more and I often wonder if it will replace Tea Tree for me. Not only is the aroma more pleasing but the cineole chemotype that I use is about 50% 1,8 cineole making it a strong antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and skin penetration enhancer (which helps with transdermal delivery of therapeutic components much like, for example, the nicotine patch does). True, Niaouli essential oil by itself may be a bit less effective than Tea Tree on the antiseptic & antibacterial side of things, but blending it with antiseptic heavy Thyme or Clove and antibacterial strong Melissa or Lemongrass can easily fix that. These are all really irritating essential oils and require a lot more dilution (1%) while being blended with skin nourishing oils to counteract their harsh nature. I’d probably go with 2 or more oils of Palmarosa, Geranium, Patchouli, Lavender, Rose or Sandalwood. With this, not only are you getting a more balanced and pleasing aroma for the mind and spirit, but a wealth of other therapeutic components that pick-up where the other(s) leave off.
Apparently once the Niaouli tree has taken route, it refuses to go away and takes over whatever is in it’s way. Clearing the trees doesn’t help as even stumps grow back. I am reminded of the abundant Kudzu down here in Atlanta when I read about this. The Niaouli tree tends to become a bit of a menace and is all the more reason to use the oils from this tree as opposed to Tea Tree!
The pollen of Niaouli trees is a powerful allergen which makes it a very strong anti-allergenic. It is just another example of the phenomenon that an agent that causes a condition can also heal it. Since I live in allergy central, this is my favorite use for the oil.
The jury is still out on whether or not Niaouli will replace Tea Tree for me. Afterall, one does have to be cautious with it when using it with children or pregnant women (esp. the cineole chemotype) and it is also known to have a hormone-like effect This is something to consider if working with a woman who has an estrogen imbalance. Tea Tree is safe for everyone and every occasion – something that definitely makes it more appealing. As of now Niaouli has my attention and I will probably continue to use it more due to the its aromatic versatility. Perhaps this is because the oil is somewhat new to me. Only time and experience will tell!