Honey is often used as a natural sweetener, but it’s also championed for its possible healing properties.

In recent years, Manuka honey, a type of honey made from the flower nectar of the Manuka tree, a shrub native to New Zealand, has earned the spotlight for its potential medicinal value.

Manuka honey is a monofloral honey, which means honeybees produce it mainly from the nectar of a single plant species, in this case, the Manuka tree. Monofloral kinds of honey are considered especially desirable due to their rich phenolic content, a type of compound that may provide antioxidants and other health benefits.

Manuka honey also contains a high amount of methylglyoxal (MGO), an antimicrobial marker that may be helpful in controlling microbial infection.

We’ve partnered with Manuka honey brand Comvita to bring you five remarkable facts about this versatile product.

Researchers have studied Manuka honey for its use in various medical capacities, with a particular interest in its possible use in preventing infections and the growth of bacteria.

In 2008, research identified methylglyoxal (MGO) as an antimicrobial activity compound in Manuka honey. It’s produced from the dehydration of dihydroxyacetone, a natural phytochemical that occurs in Manuka flower nectar.

illustration of person rubbing honey onto inflammed shoulder

Research suggests Manuka honey may be helpful when used topically to treat burns, ulcers, and other wounds. For example, studies from clinical trials have found that Manuka honey may be promising when it comes to treating damage to the epithelial barriers of the skin in burn victims by helping prevent bacterial growth.

Additionally, antimicrobial properties may make Manuka honey a potential candidate to use in natural antibiotics.

Keep in mind not all Manuka honey has the same amount of antibacterial activity. The antibacterial strength of Manuka honey is graded based on a Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) rating, which is measured by the honey’s MGO and total phenols content. Research suggests that honey with a UMF over 10+ is considered therapeutically potent.

Due to Manuka honey’s unique benefits and its specific production requirements, prices are often higher than other types of honey, ranging from around $30 to over $1,000 a bottle based on the honey’s UMF.

A lack of early regulation combined with high demand led to a flood of counterfeit Manuka honey sellers. At times, sellers may incorrectly identify multifloral honey or lower quality diluted honey as monofloral Manuka honey.

On top of counterfeits, Manuka honey’s popularity also contributed to an increase in beehive theft and honey poachers.

In December 2017, New Zealand’s ​​Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) Science Program created regulations to verify the quality of Manuka honey and standardize its scientific definition. However, it’s important to note the MPI only began to enforce the regulations in August 2018. Per regulations, honey must pass a DNA test to confirm DNA from Manuka pollen.

In addition to the testing, MPI introduced supply chain requirements to help trace Manuka products.

If you’re purchasing Manuka honey, here are some things to look for to help determine that it’s genuine:

  • The honey should be labeled with the guaranteed MGO content listed.
  • The label should have a trademark UMF which guarantees the purity, potency, and authenticity of Manuka honey.
  • The label states that it comes from New Zealand.

The Comvita premium monofloral raw Manuka Honey from New Zealand is UMF™ certified and independently tested.

For Manuka honey to be considered monofloral, the bees that create it must get the majority of their nectar from Manuka trees. This raises several challenges.

First, the flowering season only occurs for about 6 to 12 weeks across all of New Zealand or about 4 to 6 weeks in any particular location, so there’s only a short window for bees to get the right nectar for Manuka honey. If it’s rainy or windy during the flowering season, bees may reduce their time spent foraging and Manuka flowers may get damaged.

Second, according to The Manuka and Kanuka Plantation Guide from 2017, some experienced beekeepers report Manuka is not a favorite flower of bees which can result in them foraging from other sources. This is because Manuka flowers only produce very small droplets of nectar, whereas other flowers produce larger volumes of nectar (e.g., clover).

At times, bees may search for more attractive nectar sources. This can decrease the honey’s MGO and also result in it becoming multifloral.

The Manuka and Kanuka Plantation Guide shares that some honey producers surround their hives with at least 99 to 124 acres (40 to 50ha) of Manuka shrubs to try to reduce the likelihood of bees flying outside this range and diluting nectar.

It takes beekeepers with decades of experience to navigate weather conditions and floral locations to source pure Manuka honey.

Not only do Manuka products contain properties that may be beneficial to our health, but Manuka is also helpful for the environment. Manuka shrubs provide benefits, including reducing erosion, improving the condition of streams, and fostering biodiversity.

Some of the ways Manuka plants boost the health of streams are by providing shade for other plants to grow and by establishing roots near banks which reduces erosion. This nurtures biodiversity because the Manuka bushes attract birds, insects, and livestock.

Manuka seedlings are also an important part of the forest regeneration process since they’re often some of the first plants to grow after a fire. They can survive in harsh conditions and help establish a suitable environment for other plant species to take over.

To support this ongoing regeneration process, Comvita continues to plant Manuka seedlings and has planted over 7 million trees in New Zealand to date.

There are around 300 types of honey, but the sources of nectar used to produce each honey result in different nutrient compositions.

Research shows that honey’s composition includes carbohydrates, proteins, minerals, organic acids, and important amino acids. Although many vitamins can be found in honey, they are only present in trace levels.

What makes Manuka honey unique from other types of honey is that the nectar of Manuka flowers provides a high amount of MGO and phenolic compounds. These nutrients correlate with rich antibacterial and antioxidant values. Manuka’s honey’s benefits include:

  • High in antioxidants: Research suggests Manuka honey may help protect against oxidative stress and aid in wound healing.
  • Antimicrobial: Manuka honey’s antibacterial activity may be useful in boosting the immune system and (when used topically) fighting infections such as diabetic ulcers.
  • Energy boosting: Honey is high in carbohydrates, a source of energy.

Manuka honey, a monofloral honey made from Manuka flower nectar, is unique from other types of honey because it contains high amounts of methylglyoxal and phenolic compounds. These substances are associated with rich antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, contributing to Manuka honey’s health benefits.

Consider incorporating Manuka honey into your everyday routine by adding a teaspoon or 2 to your tea, smoothies, yogurt, toast, or favorite recipes.

While honey is safe for most adults, it should not be given to children under 12 months old due to the potential for botulism poisoning at this age. It should also be avoided by those with pollen allergies. Honey may have interactions with certain medications and supplements, so consult with your healthcare professional to determine if it’s right for your daily routine.