Antimicrobial activity of the major components of the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia

J Appl Bacteriol. 1995 Mar;78(3):264-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2672.1995.tb05025.x.


Tea tree oil, or the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia, is becoming increasingly popular as a naturally occurring antimicrobial agent. The antimicrobial activity of eight components of tea tree oil was evaluated using disc diffusion and broth microdilution methods. Attempts were also made to overcome methodological problems encountered with testing compounds which have limited solubility in aqueous media. After assessing media with and without solubilizing agents, the disc diffusion method was used to determine the susceptibility of a range of micro-organisms to 1,8-cineole, 1-terpinen-4-ol, rho-cymene, linalool, alpha-terpinene, gamma-terpinene, alpha-terpineol and terpinolene. While the disc diffusion method lacked reproducibility, it was considered useful as a procedure for screening for antimicrobial activity. Terpinen-4-ol was active against all the test organisms while rho-cymene demonstrated no antimicrobial activity. Linalool and alpha-terpineol were active against all organisms with the exception of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Minimum inhibitory and minimum cidal concentrations of each component against Candida albicans, Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus were determined using a broth microdilution method. Modifications to this method overcame solubility and turbidity problems associated with the oil components and allowed the antimicrobial activity of each of the components to be quantified reproducibly. There was reasonable agreement between minimum inhibitory concentrations and zones of inhibition. These results may have significant implications for the future development of tea tree oil as an antimicrobial agent.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / pharmacology*
  • Bacteria / drug effects
  • Candida albicans / drug effects
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests / methods*
  • Oils, Volatile / pharmacology*
  • Plant Oils / pharmacology*
  • Plants, Medicinal*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Tea Tree Oil


  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local
  • Oils, Volatile
  • Plant Oils
  • Tea Tree Oil