Nature’s Medicine Chest: the miracles of tea tree oil?

April 3, 2019 6:13 am Published by Leave your thoughts

You might have a First Aid box in your home. Chances are, it’s full of strange-looking Boy Scout-style bandages, some basic medication and a whole host of slightly-out-of-date antiseptic creams and lotions. They’re clearly effective: they’ve all been thoroughly tested by the big pharmaceutical companies and found to do their job well.

Does all medicine come in packets or bottles?

Sometimes, of course, you need proper pharmaceutical-grade drugs: there’s no two ways about it!  But often, if you’re looking to alleviate a problem, or to prevent one, a natural alternative can work just as well. This month, we’re taking the doctor’s surgery outside. We’re taking a look at Nature’s own medicine chest – at the trees, plants and foods all around us. Many of them are known (or rumoured) to have impressive medical properties. We’re asking: does all effective medicine come in packets and bottles – or does Nature have its own, perfectly good First Aid kit?

Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is an obvious place to start: it’s been a popular ‘natural’ remedy in the West for decades now (and was used by Australian aboriginal peoples well before us). The oil is derived from the leaves of the ‘tea tree’, which is found in various parts of Australia. It’s thought that its name came from Captain’s Cook’s description of the shrub, which he used to make an infusion to drink, instead of tea.

Tea tree oil is an essential oil (a concentrated liquid containing ‘volatile aroma compounds’). It has what is known as a ‘camphoraceous odour’ (meaning that it’s woody and herby, rather like a pine tree). It’s generally clear or pale yellow in colour.

Tea tree oil is known to have antiseptic properties: you’ll also see it described as an antibacterial, an antifungal, an anti-inflammatory and an antimicrobial. In short, these mean that it’s considered effective at dealing with infections, healing wounds and soothing skin. People promote it as a traditional remedy for things such as dandruff, acne, insect bites and a range of fungal and bacterial infections.

A word of warning before we go any further: tea tree oil is toxic if swallowed. It should be kept away from animals and children (and don’t add it to any home-made medicine to be swallowed). It’s also as well to dilute it in a carrier such as coconut oil, to prevent it being applied at too high a concentration, which could cause irritation.

What can you use it for?

Some serious health claims have been made for tea tree oil, which clearly fall outside the scope of this blog. We’re going to look instead at things that might be considered minor ailments – and how they could be treated with this oil.

Tea tree oil is sometimes applied directly to the skin: for acne, for example, where it might be daubed on the spots, or for dandruff, where it’s applied to the scalp. It has a popular following amongst people suffering from fungal foot infections, including athlete’s foot and nail infections, where again, it’s applied directly to the affected area.

Some people dilute tea tree oil and use it to treat small wounds and insect bites. Others find it soothes irritated skin, including haemorrhoids. Some like to add a drop or two to bath water, to treat coughs, congestion and breathing difficulties.

Does it work?

For once, the internet is fairly measured about the efficacy of tea tree oil. There’s easy access to plentiful research – but, it seems, virtually no hard and fast evidence that tea tree oil has any significant impact. However, almost all the research shows that for some people, the use of tea tree oil does bring an improvement in their condition: these people – often enthusiastic advocates for the stuff – aren’t simply making it all up or benefiting from a placebo effect. In short, tea tree oil works for some people, some of the time.

Let’s see how Wikipedia sums it all up:

‘A 2008 article from the American Cancer Society stated that “despite years of use, available clinical evidence does not support the effectiveness of tea tree oil for treating skin problems and infections in humans.” Other uses under preliminary research include applications for nail fungus, dandruff, acne, scabies, and athlete’s foot, but existing evidence is limited.’

And yet….it was a staff member who first suggested this blog – without having read any of the research or arguments online – because she found tea tree oil to be particularly effective for her own condition. Let’s take a look at her individual, entirely unscientific story!

Can tea tree oil combat a fungal toenail infection?

Her story is the story of a foot: a foot that wasn’t doing too well. The toenails were infected, but the doctor was refusing (on cost grounds) to prescribe the oral medication that had worked so well once before. The ‘paint on’ ointment available over the counter from the pharmacy was eye-wateringly expensive and appeared to be having no impact whatsoever.

A quick visit to Dr Google suggested tea tree oil as an alternative. This was a fraction of the cost and, crucially, had an almost immediate effect.

The staff member, as directed by fellow fungal sufferers, diluted ten drops of tea tree oil in a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil (coconut oil was also recommended). This was dabbed onto the affected toenails day and night. The result was almost instant. The dull, yellowish, white-streaked, infected toenails become brighter almost immediately.

The staff member continued to apply the oil morning and night. The nails began to grow a little faster and as they did so, the damaged parts of them were cut away. Underneath, the nails were becoming steadily healthier.

Progress wasn’t particularly fast: after the first, badly affected set of toenails was ‘grown out’, the second set proved to be pink in colour, but with white streaks. It wasn’t until the third set of nails started to come through that there were signs of complete recovery – and that took over a year. (Other sufferers recommended using ‘neat’ tea tree oil, which may have a faster impact.)

However, the staff member was content; it was clear, right from the initial application of the ointment, that a change for the better was occurring.

Tea tree oil does something for some people – that’s evident. If you’re thinking about using it, keep an eye on the scientific research out there and don’t be fooled by claims of miracles. But do give it a try for your own minor ailment: it might well work for you too.

Our tea tree oil

We sell tea tree essential oil from Absolute Aromas. You’ll also find tea tree oil in various of our other products, such as soap, handwash, shampoo, conditioner and foam bath from Faith in Nature, toothpaste from Kingfisher and shower cleaning spray from Earth Friendly.

Next week we’re going to look at another popular alternative remedy: coconut oil. Does it really work for skin conditions?

Naturally Good Reads v2

 

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This post was written by Yzanne

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