Manuka Honey: Its Origins and Benefits

Words BAO Agency Photography Various

Naturally-based sweeteners such as honey, stevia and maple syrup have become very popular in cooking due to the huge surge in healthy and ‘clean eating’ movements. And while the nutritional value or, indeed, the advantages to some of these can really be arguable, honey and Manuka honey in particular deserve a special look, in our opinion.

What is it: Rich, dark, strong-flavoured Manuka honey is produced by honeybees that pollinate the native Manuka bush (Lat. Leptospermum Scoparium) in New Zealand. This unusual plant is seriously treasured by the locals, and can grow up to 15 meters in height.

Manuka honey has been considered as a therapeutic treatment for many internal and external ailments, both serious and minor, for generations of the native Maoris of New Zealand.

Manuka tree

While in their beehive, the bees add an enzyme called Glucose Oxidase to the nectar to preserve the honey.

Why: In theory, most pure organic honey is good for you because pure honey contains a varying level of this Glucose Oxidase enzyme. It slowly releases the antiseptic properties of Hydrogen Peroxide, effectively killing harmful bacteria without damaging the body tissue. However, this medicinal component is easily destroyed when exposed to heat and light.

Manuka honey, on the other hand, contains an extra component that differentiates it from other types of honey. This additional component is stable and doesn’t lose its potency when exposed to light or heat. Moreover, Manuka contains 70 times more of the Methylglyoxal (MG) element than normal honey, and it’s this MG that is responsible for the antibacterial activity. Thus the more there is MG, the better. Manuka also boasts a wide range of vitamins and minerals, much more so than any other type of honey.

Honey bee
An apiary for the bees near Manuka trees in New Zealand

Watch for – UMF: In the 1990s an industry standard for the classification of the antibacterial activity of honey was established, based on Professor Peter Molan’s research conducted in New Zealand a decade earlier.

Real Manuka should come with a classification factor of UMF.

▪    UMF stands for Unique Manuka Factor

▪    UMF is a quality trademark and grading system identifying natural unadulterated Manuka honey that has a special unique natural property found only in some strains of the honey.

▪    The UMF grading system appraises natural properties found in Manuka Honey, and assures purity and quality.

UMF is a quality trademark that can be used only by licensed users who must be New Zealand-based and meet the set criteria.

The higher the UMF number, the more potent is the honey and its healing properties. Look out for UMF of 10 or higher for the honey to be properly effective.

Make sure you only buy Manuka with the UMF® registered trademark as there are a lot of counterfeit products with normal honey being passed for the more expensive Manuka. While it may not harm you, it will not have the desired antibacterial and other healing qualities. The main rule is that the Manuka honey label should contain the words Active UMF (MG) Manuka Honey followed by the number. If the label only has the words Active or Active Manuka, you are buying a product that does not contain enough MG, and is thus not strong enough.

Natural pools of water surrounded by Manuka trees
New Zealand – natural pools of water surrounded by Manuka trees

Uses: According to research, Manuka honey’s high sugar content creates a waterless environment in which the bacteria that would infect a wound are unable to survive. Moreover, comparing UMF manuka honey with a standard antiseptic (carbolic, or phenol) in its ability to fight bacteria produced astonishing results: it has worked on bacteria, fungi, and protozoa.

Here is a list of some ailments that Manuka honey may be beneficial for or has a considerable positive influence on:

Internal indications:

  • Sore Throat
  • Stomach ulcer
  • Pain in the stomach
  • Gum Disease
  • Acid reflux
  • Arthritis
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome

External indications:

  • Insect Bites
  • Acne
  • Eczema and dermatitis
  • Rash
  • Staph infection
  • Chronic wounds
  • Bedsores
  • Surgical wounds
  • Psoriasis
  • Herpes
  • Candida Albicans
  • Burns
  • Nail Fungus
  • Skin ulcers

Due to the presence of the Glucose Oxidase enzyme, the honey is highly acidic, which adds to its unique antibacterial properties. It has an anti-inflammatory effect, can help boost skin renewal, aid digestion, fight diseases and most importantly help satisfy our sugar cravings in a healthier way. However, those with diabetes or, indeed, with any chronic illness or health issues still need to check with their doctor prior to consuming Manuka.

We also love Manuka in smoothies – combined with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, spinach and kale. Quite a refreshing option, especially this time of year!

It’s also works nicely in baths or as a moisturising face mask. Try the following for a relaxing evening:

1. Mash ¼ of an avocado in a mixing bowl and once it’s smooth add 1 teaspoon of coconut oil and 1 teaspoon of Manuka honey. Mix together thoroughly. ((Make sure not to eat the whole thing!)

2. With slightly damp fingers, apply the mask in a circular motion and then leave on for 15 minutes.

3. Remove it with warm water.

4. Splash cold water on your face to close the pores.

There are so many ways to enjoy this lovely, tasty treat. And while it has become more popular in recent years, we sincerely feel that it’s not just another fad ingredient or a superfood, but something that should be a part of everyone’s pantry. Just make sure to find an original, quality product to get the most out of Manuka.

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