Melaleuca (tea tree).

Date: Wed, 18 May 1994 23:50:58 MDT
Sender: "Medicinal and Aromatic Plants discussion list <HERB.TREARN.BITNET>
From: Michael Moore <hrbmoore.EINET.COM>
Subject: Re: Tea Tree oil sources.

Good LORD! I come back from a long day of teaching, sit down, pull down Eudora, check HERB%TREARN...and have to read through FOURTEEN goddamn Tea Tree messages. And to think that it took three weeks to finally log on to what promised to be a SERIOUS medicinal plant discussion group, only to find an extension of Alt/folklore/herbs, barely a step up (herbwise) from the New Age forum on Compuserve, and several steps below Holistic Health Forum, where at least I get to bicker with and out-talk some equally curmudgeoned M.D.s (MY database is bigger than YOUR database...nyah nyah nyah). I looked forward to signing on, because, frankly, I have been a professional herbalist for 25 years and I ALWAYS know more about herbs than the people I am with (students and ex-students) and I need to learn stuff from people who know stuff I don't know, and offer the same in return. And I keep running into this damned Tea Tree thing (the object changes every 14 months, since there is always some NEW GREAT YOUMUSTHAVEIT semi-scam running around new herb folks, raised in a consumer society).

First of all, Melaleuca oil has been around for CENTURIES, and used to be an official drug substance here in the US, and still is widely used in other parts of the world...its found in Tiger Balm and several brands of White Flower Oil, as an example. It was used in Bag Balms up until very recently and it was a standard item in virtually every aromatic skin dressing offered in the old days of pharmacy (by my standards up to the mid-60's) and is readily available wholesale for about $12 for eight ounces (cheaper in larger quantities). It is called Oil of Cajeput. It is distilled, these days, from several trees, including Melaleuca leucadendra, M. cajeputum, AND M. alternifolia. One of the older pharmaceutical names for Cajeput Oil was White Tea Tree Oil.

The distilling of the single species, M. alternifolia, used to be in the hands of a single family in NE Australia...perhaps more are involved these days, since destructive distillation entails a fairly large facility (by herb standards), and one that is near the crude drug source. The difference in constituents between Cajeput Oil ( Melaleuca spp.) and "Tea Tree Oil" (M. alternifolia) is literally LESS than that between two batches of Oil of Peppermint from consecutive years. Tea Tree and Melaleuca sales are at least partially "pyramid" sales (like the tiresome quarrels between three different Aloe Vera Juice hustlers at three different tables at a Saturday swap-meet), and partially reasonably well-made products available in health food stores, drug stores, etc. The problem is, IT IS NOTHING NEW, the "name brand" species is virtually undistinguishable from the old Oil of Cajeput, and it cost 5 to 10 times as much. And, lets face it, who could tell it apart if some of the sources simply use the generic Cajeput in place of the single species oil...different year's batches of M. alternifolia could vary more than M. alternifolia might vary from Cajeput.

These are, after all, refined fractions from REAL LIVING PLANTS, and will differ a bit from harvest to harvest.

Anyway, my suggestion is, Melaleuca is good stuff, doesn't cause stinging, has a long history of viable use...even the Merck Index classes it as a mycostatic agent...and get it as the far less expensive Cajeput Oil.

Does anyone out there remember Fo-Ti-Tieng? how about F*T*Tieng? how about LBT? Red American Ginseng? Cinema Tablets? New Zealand Green-Lipped Mussel Extract? California Ginseng? Jason Winter's mysterious "herbalina"? Exultation of Flowers? How about Willard Water? Hydrocotyle asiatica minor? The misterious Black Salve? O.K. More recently...the Pau d"Arco/Ipe Roxo /Lapacho/Amapa debates (all the same genus, different importers), or the original Siberian "Ginseng" name (it's still wrong, but let that go for's good medicine anyway) or the Prince Ginseng fiasco (aint Ginseng)...or the "Brazilian Ginseng" Suma (Pfaffia paniculata) or the NEW and BEST antioxidant Una de Gato, or the Aloe Vera Wars...or the re-emergence of that nasty little shit, Yohimbe and its alkaloids in over-the-counter "health food store" packaging (as if America needs more erections!...or vascular and renal disease, for that matter).

What these all have in common is that THEY were the big new breakthrough of their year in health-foods merchandising...some are STILL valid, some were frauds, all are nearly forgotten...except by old farts like myself who spent too many years retailing and wholesaling and now teach and write and politely flame.

If the quality of discourse in this discussion group doesn't pick up (by my standards, at least), I will have no option, but the final one...throw a tantrum. And if someone so much as MENTIONS that new "miracle-of-the-month" accursed Tibetan Fungus-For-The-Ages, I'm Outahere!

Grumpy old Michael