We are surrounded by countless plants that have remained our ultimate source of food, nutrients and biological active molecules. Without mincing words, plants offer us several remarkable values apart from being a food and nutrient source.
Owing to their availability, socio-cultural, nutritional, therapeutic and medicinal attributes, plants are just impeccably essential for the survival of human race. They contain several chemical compounds that are undeniably required for metabolic functions in various ways.
Although some of these chemical compounds are non-nutrients, yet they benefit human beings in diverse ways. But notwithstanding their benefits, some of these chemical compounds from plants do trigger varying adverse reactions. This suggests the need to only consume or utilise the right plant’s proportions at any given time.
One captivating plant that is presently gaining global popularity is Melaleuca. There is no doubt that you will desire to learn more about the amazing benefits of melaleuca. Melaleuca belongs to the myrtle family of Myrtaceae and a genus that contains approximately 300 species of plants. This plant is originally from Australia before spreading to other parts of the world and is equally known by other names such as tea tree, paperbarks or honey-myrtles.
Melaleuca plants can thrive in swampy, sandy or rocky places. The flowers are usually clustered together and contain approximately eighty solitary flowers. Melaleuca flowers bear five sepals and five small petals and a papery bract usually form at the flower’s base.
The stamens can be purple, white, yellow, cream or reddish in colour with yellowish anthers (apex). The cup-shaped fruits are distinguished by their woody texture and are usually clustered along the stems. The seeds usually remain in the fruits even after several years without opening except in cases of harsh weather or fire outbreak.
Some melaleuca species include; Melaleuca wilsonii, Melaleuca alternifolia, Melaleuca macronychia, Melaleuca flavovirens, Melaleuca manglesii, Melaleuca biconvexa, Melaleuca bisulcata, Melaleuca marginata, Melaleuca megacephala, Melaleuca saligna, Melaleuca flammea, Melaleuca sapientes, Melaleuca megalongensis, Melaleuca concreta, Melaleuca condylosa, Melaleuca fissurata, Melaleuca citrina, Melaleuca leucadendra or Callistemon and Melaleuca hypericifolia.
An important extract from melaleuca leaves is the melaleuca essential oil, which is also known as tea tree oil or ti tree oil (TTO). Tea tree oil is distinguished by its camphoraceous odour in the sense that it has a similar scent with camphor. The oil looks colourless or pale yellow in appearance. Melaleuca oil is extracted through the process of distillation of Melaleuca species.
The oil contains terpene hydrocarbons as well as sesquiterpenes, monoterpenes and their alcohols. Studies reveal that the melaleuca oil contains several medicinal properties such as analgesic, antiseptic, antiviral, repellent, anti-protozoan, antimicrobial, antibiotic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antifungal and insecticidal. The high amount of terpenes in this oil is reported to be the brain behind these properties. Apart from the oil, it is worthy to note that melaleuca can also be formulated in various forms such as shampoos, gels, ointments, creams and lotions.
Benefits of Melaleuca
Medicinal Uses of Melaleuca Oil
Melaleuca oil contains essential properties such as; sudorific (induces sweating), cicatrisant (wound healing), antiviral (effective against viruses), disinfectant or antibacterial (destroys bacteria), balsamic (curative), stimulating (raises physiological or nervous activity), expectorant (aids the secretion of sputum), antifungal (destroys fungi), antimicrobial (active against microbes), insecticidal (kills insects), and antiseptic (prevents the growth of microorganism).
According to Lahkar et al., (2013) the antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties of the tea tree oil is attributed to its high constituent of terpinen–4-ol. Melaleuca oil is equally considered effective for treating gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), cervicitis (inflammation of the neck of the womb), vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina). It can also be used as a mouthwash for preventing and treating mouth odour, tonsillitis, dental plaque, gum infections, mouth ulcers and throat infections.
Sabir et al., (2014) reported the antimicrobial, disinfectant and antiseptic properties of the tea tree oil (TTO). These three key properties of this essential oil suggest its efficacy in tackling skin diseases and infections. Despite the high nutritional properties of the tea tree oil, it is worthy to note that the oil can equally be toxic if consumed in large quantities. Melaleuca oil is effective for treating cutaneous infections and other skin diseases.
Apart from cleaning, caring and exfoliating the skin, the oil can also be used as a face exfoliator, face cleanser, body cleanser and body toner etc. This essential oil tackles skin diseases such as dermatitis, itches, wart, dandruff, acne, rashes, cystitis MRSA infection, bed sores, boils, abscesses, bed sores, scalp disorders, head lice, cold sore, redness of the skin and psoriasis.
Sonia and Anupama (2010) attempted to formulate a microemulsion based transdermal drug delivery system for psoriasis using 5% Tea tree oil. They further introduced various concentrations of Polysorbate 80 as a surfactant, Isopropyl Myristate and Isopropyl alcohol as cosurfactants in the formulations. The results showed that at least 5% melaleuca oil is considered safe for topical application to the skin. Furthermore, the microemulsion system of melaleuca oil is effective for tackling psoriasis.
To treat skin infections, melaleuca leaves can be squeezed and applied topically on the skin after which the area is finally covered with a warm mudpack.
Calcabrini et al., (2004) analysed the potential anti-tumoral effects of melaleuca oil, distilled from Melaleuca alternifolia against human melanoma M14 WT cells including their drug-resistant counterparts, M14 adriamycin-resistant cells. Both sensitive and resistant cells were grown using melaleuca oil at concentrations between 0.005 to 0.03%. The results of the study showed that melaleuca oil and terpinen-4-ol can hinder the growth of human M14 melanoma cells.
Hammer et al., (2003) investigated the in vitro antifungal activity of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil components. The experiment was carried out using broth microdilution and macrodilution, as well as time kill methods. The tea tree oil components that exhibited the most activity with minimum inhibitory concentrations and minimum fungicidal concentrations were terpinen-4-ol, a-terpineol, linalool, a-pinene, b-pinene and 1,8-cineole respectively. However, b-myrcene showed no observable activity. The results suggest that all melaleuca oil components, apart from b-myrcene possess antifungal activity.
Using broth microdilution and quantitative in vitro time–kill test methods, Brady (2006) compared the susceptibility of Staphylococcus aureus [meticillin-resistant (MRSA), meticillin-sensitive (MSSA)] and coagulase-negative staphylococci (CoNS), which respectively form part of the transient and commensal skin flora to the melaleuca oil.
When measured by both the MIC and minimum bactericidal concentration, it was observed that both the MRSA and MSSA isolates were significantly less susceptible than the CoNS isolates. Using the time–kill assays, a significant reduction in the mean viable count of all the isolates in comparison with the control was observed at each time interval. Based on further experiments on these isolates and the research findings, it was deduced that melaleuca oil exhibits a greater bactericidal activity against biofilm-grown MRSA and MSSA isolates, unlike some biofilm-grown CoNS isolates.
Traditional Uses of Melaleuca
Melaleuca tree is durable thus can be used for building roofs for houses, rafts and bandages.
Melaleuca plant parts serve as food source for animals, mammals, birds and insects.
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DISCLAIMER This post is for enlightenment purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for professional diagnosis and treatments. Remember to always consult your healthcare provider before making any health-related decisions or for counselling, guidance and treatment about a specific medical condition.
1] Brady, A., Loughlin, R., Gilpin, D., Kearney, P. and Tunney, M. (2006), In vitro activity of tea-tree oil against clinical skin isolates of meticillin-resistant and -sensitive Staphylococcus aureus and coagulase-negative staphylococci growing planktonically and as biofilms, Journal of Medical Microbiology (2006), 55, pp.1375–1380.
2] Calcabrini A., Stringaro A., Toccacieli L., Meschini S., Marra M., Colone M., Salvatore G., Mondellow F., Arancia G. and Molinari A. (2004), Terpinen-4-ol, The main component of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil inhibits the in vitro growth of human melanoma cells, The Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 122. pp.349-360.
3] Carson C. F., Riley T. V. and Cookson B. D. (1998), Efficacy and safety of tea tree oil as a topical antimicrobial agent. Journal of Hospital Infection, 40: pp.175-178.
4] Flaxman D. and Griffiths P. (2005), Is tea tree oil effective at eradicating MRSA colonization? A review.British Journal of Community Nursing 10, pp. 123-126. http://dx.doi.org/10.12968/bjcn.2005.10.3.17615
5] Hammer K. A. (2015), Treatment of acne with tea tree oil (melaleuca) products: A review of efficacy, tolerability and potential modes of action. International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents 45: pp.106-110.
6] Hammer, K. A., Carson, C. F. and Riley, T. V. (2003), Antifungal activity of the components of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil, Journal of Applied Microbiology, 95, pp.853–860.
7] Lahkar, S., Das, M. K. and Bora, S. (2013), An overview on tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil, International Journal of Pharmaceutical and Phytopharmacological Research (eIJPPR), 2250-1029.
8] Millar B. C. and Moore J. E. (2008) Successful topical treatment of hand warts in a paediatric patient with tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia). Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 14, pp. 225-227. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2008.05.003
9] Pixabay (2016) All images from Pixabay
10] Ramadass, M. and Thiagarajan, P. (2015), A review on Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea tree) oil, International Journal of Pharma and Bio Sciences, 6(4): pp. 655-661.
11] Sabir, S., Arshad, M., Zahara, K., Tabassum, S. and Chaudhari, S. K. (2014), Pharmacological attributes and nutritional benefits of tea tree oil, A review paper, International Journal of Biosciences, Vol. 5, No. 2, p. 80-91, pp.80-87.
12] Sonia, K. and Anupama, D. (2010), Microemulsion Based Transdermal Drug Delivery of Tea Tree Oil, International Journal of Drug Development & Research, Vol. 3, Issue 1, pp. 191-197.