The Herbs Section
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Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia [Latin]), also known as teatree oil and Australian teatree, is a relative of the eucalyptus tree, and is one of the best natural astringents available. It is not related to Camellia sinensis, the plant that produces the tea leaves used in beverages. Its confusing name comes from the travel writings of British explorer Captain James Cook, who referred to this tree as a "tea plant " when writing about his exploration of Australia. Tea tree is native to Australia, where aborigines have long used its leaves to treat wounds and infections.
Tea tree oil contains terpenes and other phytochemicals that kill bacteria and fungus. Australian studies have shown that tree oil works as well as benzoyl peroxide on inflamed acne; benzoyl peroxide worked faster, but tea tree caused with fewer drying side effects. A study at the University of Rochester School of Medicine found that tea tree oil was just as effective as 1 % clotrimazole for treating toenail fungus, and as effective as 1 % tolnaftate for treating athlete's foot. Laboratory studies have shown that tea tree helps kill yeast fungus as well.
As a member of the eucalyptus family, tea tree oil may offer some relief to those with respiratory infections. If a cold or flu has you congested, you might find that adding a few drops of tea tree oil to a nice hot bath or vaporizer offers some relief.
You can purchase pure tea tree oil at your local health food store-add a couple of drops to shampoo to treat dandruff, or mix with an equal amount of water for an astringent toner or antifungal. You can also apply tea tree oil directly to areas affected by athlete's foot or toenail fungus, or try adding a few drops to a tampon and insert for 24 hours as a natural treatment for yeast infection.
Tea tree oil is an active ingredient in a number of commercial scrubs, soaps, washes, shampoos, lotions, and toners. However, some people find tea tree oil to be irritating to their skin. It has also been reported to worsen eczema, and to cause vaginal irritation in some women. Tea tree oil should always be used topically, and is not meant for consumption-consuming even small amounts of this substance may be fatal.
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