To the naked eye, all honey appears to be just honey. But a rare seasonal honey from the remote forests of New Zealand isn’t just a tasty natural sweetener, it’s functional too ... and it’s finding its way into pantries and medicine cabinets across America.
Derived from the nectar of the flower of the Manuka bush (Leptospermum scoparium), which is indigenous to New Zealand, the healing properties of Manuka honey have been touted for centuries in folk medicine. While Manuka honey may be a new household name in some regions, its healing potential was not lost on Claude Stratford and Alan Bougen, health pioneers who in 1974 founded Comvita, a company best known for its research into the wonders of Manuka honey. Based in Paengaroa, a small village in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, the company’s premise was to build a community based on quality nutrition, healthy lifestyle and spirituality. Now, more than four decades later, a growing body of research is driving increased interest in Manuka honey—far beyond traditional folklore.
Traditional and modern uses of Manuka honey
Manuka honey has been revered around the world as a remedy for a host of different uses. It is often used to help treat wounds and boils, soothe sore throats, prevent tooth decay, and even address digestive issues. Researchers have also been studying its topical applications; because of its unique properties, it has been used in burn care clinics and hospitals for wounds and burns.
Comvita’s Medihoney brand is a line of medical grade Manuka honey-infused wound care dressings (bandages) and gels that are administered in hospital wound care clinics. Research has found that Medihoney’s primary ingredient, Leptospermum honey, has unique properties that assist wound healing and maintaining a moist environment for healing. Beyond its treatment of wounds and burns, Manuka honey is also used to support healthy skin and is praised as an active ingredient in a range of topical skin care products and DIY beauty recipes.
Understanding purity, potency and quality
The UMFHA (Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association) is an independent organization created to use a science-based method to measure the unique compounds in Manuka honey, which also verifies its authenticity. As international interest in Manuka honey grows and consumers begin to see it as a viable remedy for health issues, UMF certification not only guarantees the purity and quality, but also asseses Manuka’s unique signature compounds, which determine its UMF level. UMF can range from 5+ to a rare 20+. UMF is the only independent standard and certification to ensure Manuka’s authenticity and bioactivity level.
“Comvita is proud to be a member of UMFHA for over two decades,” says Corey Blick, senior VP of Comvita North America. “We firmly believe UMF is the gold standard for Manuka honey, and the only rating system that quality-minded retailers should offer their consumers.”
The New Zealand Government’s Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI)—which helps protect the integrity of exports—set new standards effective late 2018 for all packaged “Manuka honey” as well as “Multifloral Manuka honey” leaving the country. “We’re pleased to see this minimum standard as many consumers have been misled by some marketers offering ‘Manuka’ honey, when sadly it hasn’t been genuine, monofloral Manuka, but instead a cheaper blend of honeys,” says Blick. “While we embrace MPI’s definition, it’s important to know that there remains a large quality variance within Manuka honey, and that MPI’s new standard only provides a base level of what can legally be exported. As the global leader in Manuka, Comvita advises retailers and consumers to seek out UMF Certified Manuka honey, which goes above and beyond MPI’s definition. UMF authenticates that it is genuine and measures a range of the key compounds that Manuka honey is revered for, indicating a number (from UMF 5+ to UMF 20+) to help consumers make wise purchasing decisions based on their budget and needs.”
So, what makes Manuka so unique? The key markers of Manuka honey include Leptosperin, DHA, and Methylglyoxal (MGO). Leptosperin is simply a naturally occurring chemical marker that is the most discerning characteristic of Manuka honey. It is used to verify Manuka’s authenticity and distinguish it from other types of honey. DHA is found in the nectar of Manuka flowers and converts to MGO once the bees have gathered it and turned it into honey. MGO is the key compound chiefly responsible for the Non-Peroxide property of Manuka honey. MGO forms the basis of the UMF grading system. The higher the UMF number, the stronger the potency of MGO in the honey.
Co-founders Claude Stratford and Alan Bougen were well ahead of the market when starting Comvita, and their New Zealand community is thankful for that. As one of Manuka honey’s longest-standing brands, Comvita is committed to sustainable practices regarding how Manuka is harvested, as well as maintaining quality across the supply chain––to growing long-term and transparent relationships with beekeepers, giving back to the community through the Beekeeping Cadet Program, planting millions of Manuka tree seedlings across the country and many other sustainable initiatives. They started the company on the premise of giving health to the community and to the environment in New Zealand; today, appreciation of Manuka honey and its versatility has spread well beyond their rural tip of the island town.