February 23, 2017

Where mānuka honey comes from


You might enjoy high-UMF mānuka honey in your tea, but have you ever wondered where it all comes from?

Mānuka – the bush regenerator

Mānuka, otherwise known as kahikatoa, is a medium-size native New Zealand tree. It’s one of the first to grow when cleared land is left to ‘go native’. A hardy evergreen, with dense branches and small leaves, mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium) grows from about 5 metres (16 ft) to 15 metres (49 ft) in height. It’s found in a wide range of habitats, including wetlands, colder climates and acidic soils.[1] But enough of the botany!

Mānuka – super useful right from the start

Well before Captain Cook arrived in New Zealand, native Maori used mānuka for a whole lot of things, including tools, containers and building materials. The hard, red wood made excellent paddles, spades, bird spears, building mallets and weapons. Water containers and water-proof roofing layers came from mānuka bark.

Healing in all kinds of ways

Maori also used mānuka in their traditional medicine. Infusions of bark were used as a sedative, and as a treatment for burns. Boiled inner bark produced mouthwash, and the vapour from boiled leaves was used for colds. Skin diseases were rubbed with bark ash. One thing Maori didn’t use mānuka for was firewood, unless they were smoking fish or meat to preserve it.

Captain Cook’s ‘tea tree’ – back in favour

Although they are genetically different, Captain Cook dubbed both the mānuka and kānuka ‘tea trees’. Many early European settlers used the aromatic leaves as a substitute for tea, but later on, farmers generally regarded mānuka as a pest and tried their best to get rid of it.[2]

Now we know better. Hardy mānuka shades and protects slower-growing natives, and helps regenerate bush. And then there’s that amazing high-UMF mānuka honey!

Flowers with that Unique Mānuka Factor (UMF)

Have we mentioned mānuka flowers? They’re small and numerous, with a very sweet scent. Honey was first collected from them by Mary Bumby, who brought two hives of honey bees from Sydney in 1839.

It took about 150 years to find the real mānuka magic. It wasn’t until the 1980s and 90s that Dr Peter Molan, and Phil and Sharan Caskey were among the first to investigate the Unique Mānuka Factor (UMF) and health-promoting properties of mānuka honey.

[1] http://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-plants/mānuka-kahikatoa-and-kanuka/

[2] https://meaningoftrees.com/2013/07/24/mānuka-leptospermum-scoparium/