PLAI & Tea Tree

Photo by Jeanne Rose of Plai and tea Tree oil enhanced by a paperweight.

SYNOPSIS ~ Tea Tree and Plai are two essential oils with many healing qualities.  They are used much in the same way, have the same main component, but yet, smell very different one from the other.


By Jeanne Rose ~ 11-12-22

NAME & FAMILY  ~ Tea Tree oil is steam-distilled from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, although other Melaleuca species are also called TeaTtree; this one mentioned is the primary tree used to distill Tea tree oil. Melaleuca is a genus of nearly 300 species of plants commonly known as honey myrtles, paperbarks, or tea trees.

            …..Family The Tea tree is a member of the Myrtaceae family, including plants such as Myrtle, Clove, Eucalyptus, and Bay rum.

            Plai is distilled from rhizomes of the plant Zingiber cassumunar. Cassumunar ginger or Zingiber cassumunar, now thought to be a synonym of Zingiber montanum Link ex A.Dietr. and is a species of plant in the ginger family and is also a relative of galangal. It is called Plai in Thailand.

….. Family – Plai is a member of the Zingiberaceae family, which also includes Ginger, Galangal, Cardamom, and Hedychium.

COUNTRIES OF ORIGINS ~ Plai originates in India and is often steam-distilled in Thailand. It may have originated in Southeast Asia and was introduced into China, Europe, and the Philippines, as well as the Caribbean Islands and the Americas.

…..Tea Tree is an Australian plant and can grow in many places. It prefers moist but well-drained soil. It grows well in the Botanical Gardens in San Francisco.

ENDANGERED OR INVASIVE ~ Plai is considered to be invasive in the warm, humid countries where it is at home, while Tea Tree is not endangered and in a certain area may also be considered to be invasive.

GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF PLANT HABITAT AND GROWTH ~ As interesting as these two essential oils are, they come from two different families and two different parts of the plant. Tea tree is a leaf part from a rather large tree with papery bark, while Plai is an underground, branched rhizome from a Ginger type plant. You can refer to botanical texts for descriptions of these two plants.

Photo by Jeanne Rose of Tea Tree tree and a botanical illustration of Plai plant with rhizome.

2. Teatree in San Francisco Botanical Garden and Plai in the botanical collection


Plai is steam-distilled from the freshly dug rhizome and  

…..Yield ~ Plai = 0.5-0.9 % (v/w)

Tea tree is distilled from the leaves of several trees, most often is M. alternifolia and

…..Yield ~ Tea Tree is 1-2%

SOURCE (S) ~ Plai is sourced in Indonesia, and Teatree is from both organic and cultivated trees in Australia.

A bottle of Plai and a bottle of Prima Fleur Tea Tree oil

A chart of the organoleptic or sensory qualities of Plai and Tea Tree oil.

4. Sensory qualities


CHEMISTRY ~ Both these essential oils and possibly the hydrosol contains terpinene-4-ol. Terpinene-4-ol is an antimicrobial effect; terpinene-4-ol promotes anti-inflammatory cytokine production while inhibiting proinflammatory cytokine expression. Plai also contains sabinene, which contributes to the spiciness of black pepper and is used in the perfume industry for its pleasant odor. Sabinene is also considered to be both anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory.

Tea Tree Oil was found to be composed of approximately 40% terpinene-4-ol, 23% y-terpinene, and 10% a-terpinene plus many other components, and terpinene-4-ol seems to be the most significant regarding the therapeutic values. It should be used freshly distilled and is otherwise is non-allergenic, not an irritant, and only slightly toxic.

Plai was in a 1992 study and discovered zerumbone was contained in the plant’s rhizomes, and it has antifungal properties against pathogenic fungi. It contains about 42% terpinene-4-ol, and that is the very same component that makes Tea Tree so healing. Plai also contains about 27% sabinene. This makes it a very pleasing-smelling essential oil, cool, green, and peppery.1



            The plant parts of these different plants, rhizome, and leaf, share terpinene-4-ol and share the properties as pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, with Plai having the addition of sabinene as a potent anti-fungal.

Lake Ainsworth in Australia

5. Lake Ainsworth

PROPERTIES AND USES OF TEA TREE AND PLAI ~ Plai and Tea Tree oil have many properties, particularly as an analgesic, anti-neuralgic, and anti-inflammatory. They are useful on sprains and strains, torn muscles, and ligaments.

On inflamed joints, applying Plai, straight on; it has been found to ease the pain for upwards of 18 hours, which is incredible since no other oil has been found to change pain levels so far. On joints that were inflamed due to injury, Plai was best combined with oils such as Black Pepper and Lemon or Neroli, Himalayan Cedar, and Orange. These combinations worked to take the swelling down, calm the pain, and speed up the healing time considerably.

Dilutions were 10% concentration in a vegetable gel or oil or small roller top.
            A Japanese study from 1991 suggest that sabinene, a terpene, an active ingredient of Z. cassumunar rhizomes, has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, an American study found that Plai oil exhibits antimicrobial activity against a wide range of Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, an anti-fungal that require keratin (skin cells) to grow (dermatophytes), and yeasts.  A study also showed that the essential oil from Z. cassumunar had anti-microbial activity and worked well with medically useful antibiotics. __ Wikipedia

PLAI – Zingiber cassumunar

Working with Plai that is blended

It is wonderful and very most splendid

With a hidey-high-ho

There it goes on my toe

And thus have a cut that is mended.


Pain relief with Plai and Tea Tree oil – These oils work well for minor pain relief by applying a 2-5% mixture in a carrier oil 2-3 times per day.  I personally prefer Plai for this as I prefer the scent, and I think the chemical composition with sabinene is more effective.  I usually blend 5% with Marjoram and sometimes high-altitude Lavender.

            There are many formulas using these two oils externally in so many different ways, and just too many to list here.  You can add to your formulations starting at just 5% and work up or down as you wish.

INTERNAL USES such as pessaries, gels, and douche preparations have been made using these EO as part of the product. However, only Tea tree has extensive published results of the antimicrobial activity. Some of the reports are complicated by the lack of a scientific name or description of the oil discussed and where no data is given on the chemical composition.

            “Allergic reactions to Tea Tree Oil occur in predisposed individuals and may be due to the various oxidation products formed by exposure of the oil to light and/or air. Adverse reactions may be minimized by avoiding ingestion, applying only diluted oil topically, and using oil that has been stored correctly.” 4

… “With digestive upsets, Plai, along with Black Pepper, Orange, and Tarragon, has been used to counter irritable bowel syndrome. This blend was used, as a massage blend, across the abdomen after each bowel movement or anytime there was any cramping or pain in the abdominal area.5

BLENDING & PERFUMERY ~ There is a significant difference in the scent of Tea Tree and Plai, mainly because Plai contains fragrant sabinene and Tea tree does not. I prefer using Plai if I have it, therapeutically, in massage blends, and even in certain perfumes.  Tea tree I would only use it as an application in a therapeutic sense.

Blends Best ~ Plai blends best with citrus, spice, and floral scents and, in a small amount in perfumery will lift and brighten any scent made with a mixture of absolutes.

Since I only use Tea Tree in certain therapeutic blends, I really don’t worry too much about the odor profile, only how effective the therapeutics of the blend will be.

Inhalation Blending Formula – 7-16-22 , Anti-inflammatory and inhalation formula. I  used this mixture of oils at 15% in an Olive oil and Maqui berry mixture as a carrier oil at 85% (about 85-90 drops): Clove (2 drops), Eucalyptus, Peppermint, and Plai (5 drops of each).  I wasn’t too concerned  about the exact numbers as this was mainly an inhalation. I always mix the essential oils together first and then succuss them, then add the carrier oil, and always label the container immediately with the contents and the use and always list the date as well.

Jeanne Rose photo of Prima Fleur oil of Plai and Tea Tree, 2022

6. both oils

DIFFUSE/DIFFUSION ~ EMOTIONAL/ENERGETIC USE ~ The mystery of aromatherapy is that you get to know these scents that can create a variety of emotional and physical changes. Plai and Tea Tree, these are two powerful healing oils and can be used with care and attention to detail. However, it is not wise to diffuse them, and certainly not with young children and pets nearby.


            “ … I should mention that the Tea Tree  I distilled was one of two Melaleuca linariifolia that grew in Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park.  It was quietly cut down by city gardeners. When I was informed that this magnificent tree which was in full flower at the time, was lying in heaps on the ground, another person and I gathered all that we could and sent 250 lbs. to an Aromatic Plant Project distiller to be distilled.  In Australia, the Tea tree is harvested several times per year and thus never is allowed to flower.  Our Tea tree was in full flower, and the resulting hydrosol and essential oil were unlike anything I had ever experienced.  Instead of the scent being fungal and herbaceous, the scent was highly floral-sweet and with a hint of herbal and some citrus notes.

Tea Tree Hydrosol is used as a wash for any sort of skin infection, fungal or bacterial. It makes a great wash for any deep wound that needs to be bandaged. I used it on my dog, Sumo, who had a 12-inch long cut that was stapled and needed to be washed, and the bandage changed daily.

         It is also a useful gargle or mouthwash for a sore throat or daily usage; it can be taken as a drink when you have a cold or flu (1 t/glass of water, 3 x/day) and many other uses.

            Since that hydrosol was never analyzed, we only know that the alcohols probably come over into the hydrosol (esters and acids as well); we can assume that some of the terpinene-4-ol is also in the hydrosol and thus has somewhat the same uses as the essential oil.

            I obtained both excellent quality hydrosol and essential oil that were authenticated by the Aromatic Plant Project and given its Seal of Authenticity for true essential oil and hydrosol.

            It was an excellent summer for distillation.  The days were cool, the still worked efficiently, and the plants were perfect.”5

Jeanne Rose photo of a bottle of Tea Tree hydrosol from 2007

7. Tea tree hydrosol from 2007

HERBAL & CULINARY USES ~ I have used only the freshly picked leaves and flowers of Tea tree in tea to drink, and while not my favorite scent, it tasted okay and was a hot relief to my sinus and throat when I had a cold.  I certainly would enjoy trying the Plai rhizome but have not as yet experienced it.  They are generally not used in a culinary sense.

These herbs are used in their plant (herbal) form as a compress, macerated in oil for massage oil, and in many other ways. The pulverized rhizome of Plai simmered in water is effective in relieving asthmatic symptoms in children by inhalation and by sipping the tea.

“The herbs Plai, Turmeric, and fresh Ginger rhizomes and plant material are contained in a muslin poultice, which is steamed and rubbed into the body after a deep tissue massage. This tradition dates back over 1000 years.In the 14th century, the Thai developed this form of herbal relief combined with massage to help their soldiers recover after battle. Massage with Thai herbs and rhizomes, like Plai, was used to treat inflammation, sprains, infections, contusions, and other injuries. A poultice was used to treat infection and topical wounds while the massage itself increased blood flow and encouraged the essential oils to penetrate affected areas. . Today, Plai is used in the same way in the form of a balm, oil, or cream.7

PET CARE ~ Be careful and use only fresh and diluted Tea tree oil on your pet, as it can oxidize and become toxic.  Pets sniffing or ingesting Teatree oil can cause a low body temperature, weakness, walking drunk, inability to walk, tremors, coma, increased liver enzymes, and even death. In my personal uses of Tea Tree oil on my dogs, I recommend only using the hydrosol on the skin. See the Tomato Tale that follows.

            I do not have any information or personal knowledge on using Plai oil or hydrosol on pets.

Warning -do not trap a pet near a diffuser without a way for it to get away.
Some  odors are just too strong for a dog’s sensitive sense of smell.

KEY USE ~ Two oils of Healing

HISTORICAL USES ~ Tea tree has been used as a folk medicine treatment among the indigenous Australians of eastern inland areas who use tea tree leaves by inhaling the oils from the crushed leaves to treat coughs and colds. They also sprinkle leaves on wounds, after which a poultice is applied. In addition, tea tree leaves are soaked to make an infusion to treat sore throats or skin ailments. Characteristic of the myrtle family Myrtaceae, it is used to distill Tea Tree essential oil.2

INTERESTING INFORMATION ~ If ingested, tea tree oil is toxic with serious side effects, including coma, and may cause skin irritation if used topically in high concentrations. As of 2006, no deaths were reported in the medical literature.2

This work is sponsored and supported by Prima Fleur Botanicals.



Scent snapshots of Plai and Tea Tree oil.


Many who have the books of Jeanne Rose, aromatherapist and author of many books concerning herbs and aromatherapy, know the story of her dog, Sumo.  Sumo-dog, a full-grown Akita-Shepherd cross with the face of a puppy, was run over by a car and dragged along the pavement on his right side for some distance.  The injury to his rear right leg was severe, including severed ligaments and tendons, torn off skin and muscles in a 180-degree rotation around the hock joint!

Veterinarians recommended amputation.  Jeanne refused to allow this and treated the dog’s wounds with Tea Tree and Lavender oils and hydrosols.  Today there is only an almost unnoticeable scar the length of his leg and a slight limp in Sumo’s happy gait.  At the same time, Jeanne used diluted Ylang-Ylang oil in a diffuser to treat her other dog, Wolfie-dog, which was emotionally traumatized by the terrible incident.

            Tea Tree oil can be one of the most useful of essential oils for pet care.  The only drawback is that cats and dogs usually hate the smell and run, crawl, or hide under the bed when the bottle is opened and give the most heartbreaking sorrowful looks when being treated with it.  BUT IT WORKS!  “Tea Tree oil is 4-5 times stronger than household antiseptic and must be diluted to 10% or less. And the oil must be fresh.  Its bacterial action is increased where blood or pus is present.  Externally used in deep wounds or cuts it will remove necrotic tissue and leave a healthy surface”.__ Jeanne Rose’s The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations


1. A Review of the Biomedical Applications of Zerumbone and the Techniques for Its Extraction from Ginger Rhizomes.


3. Rose, Jeanne.  The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations.  San Francisco, California, p.109-110

4. Hammer, Carson, etc. A review of the toxicity of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil •Food and Chemical Toxicology, vol. 44, Issue 5, May 2006, pp. 616-625

5.Rose, Jeanne. personal and distillation notes.

6. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2006 Jan: 19(I):50-62. doi:10.1128/CMR.19.1.50-62.2006



Mabberley, D. J. Mabberley’s Plant-Book, 3rd edition, 2014 printing, Cambridge University Press.

Rose, Jeanne.  375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols.  Berkeley, California: Frog, Ltd., 1999

Rose, Jeanne.  The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations.  San Francisco, California:

Herbal Studies Course/ Jeanne Rose, California: 1992.


SOME CAUTIONS TO REMEMBER for all Plants and their Parts

Cautions to remember about using essential oils.
Jeanne Rose perfume photo

Thank you for reading and your comments.