Manuka: the tea, the oil, the honey… the weed?
Like all honey, manuka honey hails from a plant (Find out how bees make honey). Belonging to the Leptospermum genus, manuka is one of about 80 species of shrub/bush/small tree that grows both indigenously and prolifically in Australia and New Zealand. Interestingly, for farmers trying to force land into the configuration they need to grow crops or pasture livestock, manuka can be a ‘weed’ as it is persistent and pervasive.
To many others, however, there are several medicinal properties that make the plant invaluable.
‘Manuka’ generally refers to two of these species of plant.
Leptospermum scoparium or Mānuka in Maori. [Also, Tea Tree, Red Tea Tree]
Leptospermum ericoides or Kānuka in Maori. [Also, White Tea Tree, Burgan]
Traditionally – first by the Maori, and later by colonists – several parts of the plant have been used medicinally. There is a recent, heightened interest in manuka products, including honey, as therapeutic aids. Some manuka medicinal uses and claims include:
- seed extract: antimicrobial action against S.aureus and E.coli bacteria
- shoots: muscle soreness and sprains, dysentery
- tea made from leaves and bark: fever reduction, urinary problems
- vapour from boiled leaves: head colds
- oil from leaves: wounds, skin problems, fungal infections
- honey: sore throats, burns, pressure sores, skin ulcers, staphylococcus aureus infections, stomach ulcers and upsets
Manuka and its properties are on the research agenda at the following centre(s):
- Waikato Honey Research Unit at the University of Waikato in New Zealand
What Does UMF Mean?
Not all honeys are created equal, and what sets them apart is antibacterial strength, which can be measured and rated. Discovered by the Honey Research Unit mentioned above, an industry standard has been set. In a nutshell, all honeys contain hydrogen peroxide, which has antibacterial qualities. In manuka, however, there is additional (unique) antibacterial activity present. To measure this unique potency, the non-peroxide antibacterial activity in manuka can be compared with phenol, which is a standard antibacterial agent. This unique activity or agent has been called ‘Unique Manuka Factor’ or UMF® (yes, it has been registered). When you buy manuka honey, the good stuff will have a UMF rating attached to the name. UMF10, for example, means that the antibacterial potency is equivalent to a solution containing 10% phenol. The higher the UMF rating, the higher the antibacterial strength of the honey (and of course, the higher the price).
Raw, organic manuka honey is available for sale HERE.