A History of Antimicrobial Manuka Honey
A History of Antimicrobial Manuka Honey

Thanks to its antimicrobial activity, Manuka honey has grown a great reputation, making it a sought-after product for culinary, beauty and even medicinal uses. Created from the Manuka flower (Leptospermum scoparium), the plant is native to New Zealand and blooms for just 2-6 weeks every year. Together with its benefits and great taste, this rarity is another reason why antimicrobial Manuka honey is so revered – making possessing some, a true gift from nature.

But what is the history behind it? How did people find out about the plant’s medicinal uses? How was the honey first created? And what do producers do to ensure that only genuine Manuka honey is sold? Let’s take a look…

 

The History of Antimicrobial Manuka Honey

Early use of the Manuka Tree.

The Manuka tree has a long history of use in its native country of New Zealand. The indigenous Māori valued it for its wide variety of uses, referring to the plant as ‘taonga’ – ‘treasure’. As stated in Manuka, A Honey of a Plant, the plant was used medicinally; infusions were made from the leaves to reduce fevers and to treat stomach and urinary problems. Gum that was produced from the tree was used as a moisturiser for burns, as well as to ease coughs. The bark was boiled to be used as mouthwash, sedatives and to treat diarrhoea and fever.

Early European settlers were introduced to the plant by the Māori and would go on to use the leaves to make tea and brew beer. They learned how to extract oil from the leaves and used it for medicinal and cosmetic purposes, while wood was used to create tools and furniture.

Creating antimicrobial Manuka honey.

While the settlers noted the native uses of the Manuka tree, it was their introduction of beekeeping that created Manuka honey – as it’s only the European honeybee that can produce it. Mary Bumby, an English beekeeper who settled on New Zealand’s North Island in the 1830s, is thought to be the first European to transport these types of bees to the country. She went on to set up her hives on the East Coast, where there was an abundance of Manuka plants – the bees going on to pollinate them and Mary, creating the honey. It is even thought that Manuka honey is the first-ever type of honey to be produced in New Zealand.

Despite being produced for a century-and-a-half, it was only in the 1980s that the unique antibacterial benefits of the plant were confirmed by scientists (its healing properties were already well known by Māori’s, of course). This news saw a sharp rise in demand for antimicrobial Manuka honey, leading to many producers being established – some more honourable than others.

   

Ensuring the Manuka you buy is genuine.

There was concern in the industry that any old honey could be passed off as Manuka, meaning that the market would be diluted with poor-quality products. As a result, the New Zealand Ministry of food intervened and stated Manuka Honey, must meet particular standards to be exported as Manuka honey:

  1. Labelled as Multifloral Manuka Honey or Monofloral manuka honey – Multifloral must be clearly labelled on the jar, if the Manuka honey is Monofloral then the honey many be called Manuka honey.
  2. Manuka may not have a health claim, but this can have a nutrition claim which must be clear and easily identifiable. This is the strength of the Manuka honey, labelled as the MGO grade.
  3. Produced and packed in New Zealand – all of Manuka Lab’s Manuka honey is produced and packed in New Zealand, this ensure we have tested the Manuka honey prior to packing and that it adheres to New Zealands strict guidelines for genuine Manuka honey.

The MGO rating system was established – this is a measure of methylglyoxal (which is the unique, natural chemical found only in Manuka, and is related to its potency); the higher the MGO, the higher the grade of honey.

So, if you’re shopping for genuine New Zealand Manuka honey, always be sure to look out for  the MGO ratings.

Manuka: A New Zealand institution.

The influence of Manuka is omnipresent in New Zealand; the local economy in Auckland sees it sold in several ways, including as part of drinks in coffee shops and cocktail bars. Considering the product’s impact on the local area, a British equivalent would be Cornwall and its pasty industry – an instantly identifiable symbol of the area. Like Cornwall, there are copycats afoot, however – Australia, which has a comparable climate, have established their own industry and have been battling over the use of the term ‘Manuka’.

In 2017, both the UK Trademark Registry and the New Zealand Intellectual Property Office have decided that the term ‘Manuka’ is a Māori word and therefore, only products made in New Zealand can be sold bearing the name. This is just like Champagne, which can only be made in a certain region of France and of course, Cornish Pasties which must be prepared in Cornwall!

So that was the history of antimicrobial Manuka honey up to the present day – if you’re interested in experiencing the benefits for yourself, why not browse our wide and varied selection of MGO Manuka?

Choose The Gift of Nature, From The Manuka Lab

Here at the Manuka Lab, we are leading providers of Manuka honey in the UK. Our genuine New Zealand Manuka honey is sustainably harvested from the indigenous ‘Super Plant’ grown in the remotest areas of the East Cape region, ensuring quality, potency and origin.

Please take the time to browse our product selection – each clickable product page contains specific information about the items; their uses, ingredients and more. If you have any questions about the items you see, or on any aspect of antimicrobial Manuka honey, we would be pleased to hear from you. Send us an e-mail at wecare@manukalab.co.uk
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