GROWN LOCALLY IN A HIDDEN VALLEY, TEA TREE OIL IS ONE OF NATURE’S MOST POTENT PANACEAS.
Story and pictures by Stephen Smith
It’s amazing what lies hidden in the hills and valleys of our area. If you drive along the R103 you’ll get glimpses of the 1 000 hills the area is named after, but it’s hard to come to terms with how much is there. For example, if you turn left just after the Comrade’s Wall, follow your nose and you’ll drive past plantations of litchis, macadamias, and a funny looking conifer tree that you can’t figure out why it would be farmed. If you were to stop and pop your hand through the fence and crush some leaves, the air would become fragrant with a healthy scent that you wouldn’t quite be able to put your finger on.
And that would be the aroma of tea tree oil, and the trees would be tea trees (Melaleuca alternifolia). No, don’t pick a few and expect to make a brew to drink with your afternoon rusk – the tea tree is not the plant that is used to make Five Roses.
To find out more about the plant, the oil and 1000 Hills Essential Oils, I visited Heather and Neil Mather at their farm in Drummond. “We bought the farm about three years ago, and we knew absolutely nothing about tea tree oil then. We did some research and Neil looked on YouTube to learn how to make a still, which he did. But it wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be! That first year we cut 800kg of plant matter. We loaded it into the still and waited for the liquid gold to pour out. I think we got five litres that first year, from 800kg … It seemed as though it was going to be far too much hard work to make it worthwhile,” says Heather.
But the Mather team persevered, and this year they got about four litres of oil from every 260kg load they put through their still, which would equate to about 14 litres from 800kg, and things are on the up and up. It doesn’t stop with extracting the oil, of course, and Heather has developed a range of tea tree oil based health products. When the oil is extracted, a by-product called hydrosol is produced, which is a 3% concentration of tea tree oil in the water used in the still. This is also incredibly useful with a wide range of benefits.
Heather makes all the products herself, and her catalogue now contains a gel, a cream, the hydrosol, a lip balm, soap in handy little cotton “socks”, an insect repellent, a liquid soap and a foot balm. Where to next? “Our market is developing, but it is incredibly frustrating. People are just unaware of what tea tree oil can do for them, although things are definitely changing, if slowly,” says Heather. “South Africa is so far behind in adopting tea tree oil and its many uses, but the change has started.”
The final goal for Heather and Neil is to have 20 000 tea trees, which will mean year-round harvesting and processing. They’re working on that slowly, with having recently planted another 2 800 trees to bring the total to 4 800, but they’ve also started planting lemongrass, rosemary and lavender to broaden the scope of their essential oil offerings.
Health benefits of tea tree oil
• Anti-inflammatory • Antiviral
This means you can use
the tea tree oil products for everything from fungal infections to scrapes, sore throats, cleaning toothbrushes, lice … you name it. Tea tree oil is for external use only – although you can use it as a mouth wash, as long as you don’t swallow it.
FOR MORE INFO
084 554 0418 W 1000 Hills Essential Oils