Tea Tree or Medicine Chest Herb
The one and only true Tea Tree from Australia, not to be confused with the many other Melaleuca species found in gardens. A quick growing, evergreen tree or large shrub (up to 7 metres tall) with fine, thinly pointed pale green leaves, it produces small creamy-white bottlebrush-like flowers in summer. The trees grow well in coastal conditions but can also withstand light frosts. Tea trees are attractive garden plants though their primary usage is the oil extracted from the plant. Tea tree oil is used in the treatment of many bacterial and fungal infections – notably skin problems, rashes, boils and insect bites. There is a great deal of information available regarding the beneficial properties of the plant and it is a most useful acquisition for a garden. Tea made from the leaves is used for overcoming the symptoms of common colds and coughs, while the fresh sprigs rubbed onto windowsills and kitchen counters help control flies and mosquitoes.
Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) will thrive in any soil but it needs full sun and a deeply dug and well-composted hole in which to begin its life.
It will grow up to seven metres in height if left free but the secret is to cut it back to knee height every two or three years. This is what keeps it softly vigorous, tidy and attractive. It has a paper bark and the bark is used medicinally too, to bind over sores, wounds, corns and cracked heels. An easy-to-make lotion of leaves, sprigs and pieces of bark is a superb wash or spray for bites, rashes, scratches, heat rash, itchiness, fungal infections, acne and oily skin, and can be used as a rinse for oily hair and athletes foot.
Tea tree cleanser
The leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, the ‘tea tree’, have refreshing, healing and cleansing properties and, as a bonus, they keep the mosquitoes away, so grow one of your own! Simmer 1½ cups tea tree sprigs in 1-cup natural aqueous cream for 20 minutes (use a double boiler), then strain out the sprigs and store the cream in a glass jar. Three teaspoons of vitamin E oil mixed into the cream will help preserve it. Natural aqueous cream also makes a good base for herbal moisturizing creams and scrubs for problem skin.