CAJUPUT (Melaleuca leucadendron – Myrtaceae)

Cajuput oil comes from a tree thought to have originated in the Moluccas, but which is now found in the East Indies, Malaysia and tropical Australia. The name of the oil is derived from the Malay Kayu-Puti or CaJu-Puti meaning white tree, as the trunk with its irregular ascending branches has a whitish bark. This is remarkably fibrous, loose and scaly and may be pulled off in large strips. There are more than a dozen varieties of Melaleuca from which essential oil is distilled: among them M. hypericifolia, M. veridifolia (niaouli), M. decussata, M. erucifolia and M. altemifolia (the Australian tea tree). It is the young twigs, leaves and buds which are fermented before distillation.
The oil only seems to have made an appearance in the early seven¬teenth century in Europe, while in Malaysia and other Indonesian islands it had long been known for its therapeutic properties. It was considered particularly valuable for colds, ‘flu and chronic rheumatism, and was prescribed for cholera as well, because it is sudorific. The bark was also used by native doctors. Until the Dutch gained territory in the Moluccas, it remained a very rare and expensive remedy in Europe.
One of the first French mentions of the therapeutic properties of the tree was in The Natural History of Simple Drugs by Dr G Guibourt in 1876. In a long study of Melaleuca, he described its properties as antiseptic for intestinal problems, dysentery, enteritis, urinary complaints, cystitis and infections of the urethra. They were also considered good for the respiratory system and for virus infections like ‘flu. These researches were much later confirmed by the 1963 work of Dr Costet.


Description: The oil distilled from young twigs, leaves and buds is colourless and limpid, with a very strong aroma reminiscent of camphor and spicy pepper, hot followed by a feeling of cold.
The principal constituents: Cineol (45 -70 per cent), followed by several aldehydes such as benzoic, butyric, valeric, pinene and terpineol.

Dangers: Couvreur, a pharmacist writing in 1939, warns the practitioner to be on guard against cajuput oil being taken internally: he said that vomiting followed by internal bleeding could occur. It can be a very dangerous remedy, so must always be used externally only, and for complete safety store it out of the reach of small children.
The essential oil is often adulterated with other essential oils such as rosemaryturpentine and camphor, and with colorant. If this is the case, the oil will have none of its natural therapeutic properties and, in skin conditions, could cause further blistering and eruptions.
Only use cajuput oil if you are absolutely sure of its purity, and on the recommendation of a practitioner.


In illness
I have had good results in many cases of rheumatism and stiff joints, Mix 10 ml (2 tsp) soya oil with a few drops of wheatgerm and 10 drops cajuput. Rub gently on the affected parts, repeating several times a day whenever pain is felt.

Cajuput is also a valuable treatment for cystitis: add 3 drops to a warm bath. Niaouli, cajuput’s close relative is even more effective.
(See also bursitis, chest infections, colds, coughing, hayfever, head¬aches, pneumonia, psoriasis, sinusitis and throat, sore.)

In beauty
Cajuput is good for any skin eruptions. Mix 5 ml (1 tsp) each of almond oil and castor oil with 2 drops wheatgerm and 5 drops cajuput. Apply gently on the skin eruption, and repeat a few times until better. This acts as a mild counter-irritant.

A to Z of Plants