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Essential Oils

Kanuka Essential Oil – A Potent Antibacterial

Kanuka essential oil comes from the Myrtaceae family, which also includes tea tree and manuka. It is a powerful essential oil also referred to as "white tea tree." Because kanuka, manuka, and tea tree all come from the same family of plants, they have similar health benefits. Although kanuka isn’t as widely known as its siblings, it is no less powerful.

While it may not be as well-known in other parts of the world, the Maori people of New Zealand have been using kanuka for its medicinal properties for years. Today, with the widespread popularity of aromatherapy, everyone can benefit from this healing oil.

The History of Kanuka

Kanuka essential oil is steam distilled from the leaves, twigs, and branches of Kunzea ericoides. The resulting oil is pale yellow in color and has a soft, fresh, herbaceous scent with floral and citrus notes. 1 Kanuka essential oil is a wonderful alternative to tea tree oil because it boasts a lot of the same health benefits but has a more delicate scent.

The tree itself is a part of the Myrtaceae family, which also includes melaleuca, manuka, eucalyptus, clove, myrtle, and Nerolina. 1 Kunzea eriocoides is native to New Zealand, although is now cultivated in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. The tree can grow up to 30 meters tall and has small clusters of white flowers. 2

The Maori people of New Zealand use various parts of the kanuka plant to treat a range of ailments. They brew the leaves and drink them as a tea to reduce fever and treat urinary problems. Furthermore, they chew young shoots to remedy dysentery and diarrhea. They also boil the bark and use the resulting liquid to reduce fevers, treat constipation, promote a good night sleep, and treat minor cuts and burns. 3

Chemical Properties

Kanuka essential oil is known to have antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, analgesic, and antiseptic properties. This is all due to its composition, which is primarily:

This oil has a high percentage of A-pinene, which is known for its ability to clear the sinuses and increase airflow to the lungs. It is also known for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal and antispasmodic properties.

kanuka Uses for Kanuka Essential Oil

Kanuka essential oil can be used both topically and aromatically. It is commonly used to reduce the chances of infection in minor wounds, keep skin and hair healthy, reduce muscle pain, and calm the mind. The most common benefits that kanuka essential oil provides are highlighted below.

Reduces Dandruff

Dandruff is dry, itchy, flaky skin on the scalp. This can be a frustrating condition to have, and constant itching can lead to infections and other issues. Luckily, kanuka essential oil can help. 2 Add a drop or two of this oil to your shampoo and wash as necessary. Repeat every shower until the scalp is healed. You can also add a few drops of the oil to a glass of warm water and pour over your scalp as a disinfecting rinse, or add a few drops to a warm bath and soak your scalp for approximately 15 minutes.

Treats Acne

Acne is often caused by bacteria, so fighting acne with a powerful antibacterial oil can reduce breakouts and cleanse the skin. To spot treat acne, mix a couple of drops of kanuka essential oil with a carrier oil and apply directly onto the acne with a cotton swab. You can also add a couple of drops to a fragrance-free moisturizer, your daily cleanser, or mix with water and use as a disinfecting rinse.

Prevents Infections in Minor Wounds

If you’re suffering from a minor cut, burn, bite, scrape, or other minor wounds, using kanuka essential oil can reduce the chances of developing an infection and speed up healing time. The powerful antiseptic, antifungal, and antibacterial properties fight harmful pathogens and keep the wound clean. The analgesic properties in kanuka essential oil also provide pain relief. 2

To treat minor wounds, mix a couple of drops of kanuka essential oil with a carrier oil and apply to the affected areas.

Remedies Skin Conditions

The antifungal and antibacterial properties in kanuka essential oil help fight ringworm, athlete’s foot, rashes, and other skin conditions. The anti-inflammatory properties also help heal psoriasis and eczema. 2 Simply mix a few drops of kanuka essential oil with a carrier oil and apply to the affected areas. If you have a problem that covers a larger area of your body, you can also add a few drops to a bath and soak for 15–20 minutes.

Reduces Muscle and Joint Pain

Kanuka essential oil can help relieve muscle and joint pain. 4 To ease sore muscles, add a few drops of this oil to a carrier oil and gently massage onto the sore areas. Alternatively, add a few drops into a relaxing bath.

Improves Respiratory Function

As mentioned before, A-pinene is known for its ability to clear the sinuses and increase airflow to the lungs. If you’re suffering from a cough, cold, allergies, or other respiratory conditions, kanuka essential oil can help. Simply diffuse kanuka essential oil throughout your home to ease your symptoms. If you have a lot of congestion, you can also add a couple of drops to a bowl of steaming water. Cover your head with a towel, and breathe in the vapors for approximately five minutes.

Alleviates Stress and Anxiety

A-pinene plays a large role in " forest bathing." Forest bathing is a concept that originated in Japan which claims that simply taking time to connect to nature in a forest environment can improve mood and general well-being.

Forest bathing isn’t going on a hike or doing any sort of exercise, but rather being in the presence of trees or going on a leisurely walk through the forest and appreciating nature. It has been proven that forest bathing can help lower heart rate and blood pressure, improve mood, and boost immune system function. 5

While diffusing kanuka essential isn’t exactly the same as meandering through a forest, the effects of A-pinene are still strong. Whenever you feel stressed or overwhelmed throughout the day, diffuse this oil throughout your home or dab a small amount behind your ears and on your wrists.

Reduces Odor

Body odor is caused by bacteria, and kanuka essential oil has powerful antibacterial properties. To keep yourself smelling fresh and clean, use kanuka essential oil in homemade soaps and deodorants. The antibacterial properties fight off odor while adding a delightfully fresh, floral, herbaceous scent. You can also use this essential oil as a natural perfume, or add 10–15 drops to a spray bottle filled with water to use as a natural room freshener.

Promotes Sleep

The soothing and calming effects of kanuka essential oil can help promote better sleep for those who suffer from insomnia or tend to wake up throughout the night. 1 To get a good night's sleep, diffuse kanuka essential oil throughout your room about 20 minutes before bedtime. You can also add a few drops of this oil to a spray bottle filled with water and gently spray your pillowcases and sheets.

Kanuka oil infographic

How To Use Kanuka Essential Oil kanuka

Kanuka essential oil blends well with cedarwood, lemon, lavender, lemon myrtle, and sandalwood essential oils.

You can use it on its own or create a blend of oils to further enhance its healing properties. It can be used in a diffuser, as a natural perfume, or added to homemade soaps, shampoos, cleansers, moisturizers, massage oils, and deodorants. Kanuka essential oil is incredibly versatile, and there are a variety of ways to benefit from its healing properties.

The essential oils you choose to mix kanuka with will all depend on your personal scent preferences as well as the particular symptoms you are trying to treat. If one combination doesn't work for you, keep experimenting until you find the perfect mix.

Safety and Precautions

Kanuka essential oil is safe for topical and aromatic use but should not be ingested.

This essential oil may irritate those with sensitive skin, so it is recommended to conduct a patch skin test before use and dilute with a carrier oil before using topically. Avoid getting essential oils near the eyes or mucous membranes.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should consult with a doctor before using any essential oils. Do not attempt to use kanuka essential oil as a substitute for a prescription medication or as a treatment for a chronic condition before first consulting with a medical professional.

If stored correctly in a cool, dark place, kanuka essential oil should last for 4–5 years. Be sure to close the bottle tightly when not in use, and always check the aroma when opening. If you suspect the oil has oxidized, discontinue use immediately.


Kanuka essential oil can be used aromatically to reduce stress and increase general well-being. It is a powerful antibacterial, yet doesn’t have the medicinal scent of tea tree oil. The potent medicinal properties that kanuka essential oil provides makes it a perfect oil to add to your medicine cabinet.

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