Manuka honey has been one of the hottest natural health products for years now—and looks unlikely to be toppled from its throne anytime soon. Tennis champ, Novak Djokovic, wrote in his memoir that eating two spoonfuls a day gives him a boost on the court. Gwyneth Paltrow recommends it on her lifestyle site, Goop. And Scarlett Johansson told Style.com that when she applies manuka honey to her skin, she gets “an amazing glow.” Health professionals around the world praise it for its nutritional benefits.
Typically a dark brown color, manuka is a smooth, rich-tasting honey from New Zealand. Two thousand honeybees make 10 million trips to produce just one pot. They create this most sought-after of honeys by feeding on manuka tree flowers, a beautiful plant with white flowers, that grows uncultivated and flowers for just 2-6 weeks a year. The manuka tree was originally used by the native Maori people for a number of medicinal complaints. This was picked up by early leaders in the New Zealand honey industry, who quickly identified its potential to support a healthy lifestyle in a variety of different ways.
Is it really worth the extra money?
These days, manuka honey is still sought after and used worldwide in the treatment of infection, allergies, digestions, wounds, and burns. But is manuka honey really worth the premium price tag—or would any old honey do the same job?
While it’s true that all honey has trace amounts of B-complex vitamins and vitamin C, potassium, calcium, copper, iron, zinc, magnesium, manganese, amino acids, and enzymes, the evidence so far suggests that manuka honey is superior to any other type. For starters, it is the only 100 percent natural food in the world that has been shown to have effective antibacterial activity due to the active compound—dietary Methylglyoxal (MGO)—that forms naturally in the manuka plant.
Other honeys do contain some levels of MGO but in all others tested, none have exceeded 5-10 mg/kg of MGO per kilo. According to research, a minimum level required to reliably inhibit major bacteria is 100mg/kg. These higher levels are only found in manuka honey, ranging from 100 to a massive 800 mg/kg.
MGO’s ability to mitigate medical conditions brought on by the presence of bacteria means it has a wide range of uses. For example, it might aid in balancing bacteria (harmful and friendly) in the gastrointestinal system, reduce plaque in the mouth and help heal wounds, burns, ulcers, and cuts. Manuka honey is also renowned for supporting and building the immune system and many use it to soothe coughs, sore throats, and flu.
“I was diagnosed with acute gastritis (inflammation of the stomach) and a lax esophageal sphincter (causing the reflux),” shares manuka honey convert, Dr. Judy Courtin. “As soon as I had a diagnosis, I researched natural treatments. This led me to manuka honey. Within four or five days, I experienced considerable relief of my symptoms. To cut a long story short, after two months, I would have the occasional coffee, glass of wine or richer foods, all without ill effect. I now eat and drink whatever I like and I have been back at the gym since July. I have decided to keep the honey going. I take a couple of teaspoons a day. I do love it.”
A beauty lover’s best friend
Along with its medical uses, manuka honey has also become widely celebrated as a beauty and skincare treatment, due to its healing, anti-inflammatory properties. Some use manuka honey to treat acne and eczema, applying it directly to affected areas and leaving it on for a few minutes before washing it off with gentle soap and water. Others use it as a facial mask to moisturise and protect the skin.
“For as long as I can remember I have suffered with eczema,” says Donna, one manuka honey user. “When I discovered manuka honey, I was using it traditionally—cuts and grazes, coughs and colds. One evening I thought I would just plaster it on my face. It was the first thing I had put on my face that did not make it sting. I was using MGO 400+ Manuka honey and I left it on for 10 minutes. When I went to wash it off I was amazed at how easily it rinsed off. My skin felt so soft. I continued applying the honey every second evening for about two weeks and the improvement was unbelievable.
“My life is so different now after a year using MGO 400+ Manuka honey. I still use it two to three times each week. I can now wear make-up and the redness has disappeared. So many people have commented on the improvement in my skin and my confidence has been restored.”
The healing effect of manuka honey is increasingly being supported by scientific studies and clinical trials, with some astonishing findings. A 2011 study that appeared in the journal, The Laryngoscope, found that the methylglyoxal in manuka honey could in high doses kill staph infections while in lower doses help ease chronic sinus infections. It has even been shown to kill off the uber-resilient MRSA. According to researcher Dr. Rowena Jenkins of the University of Wales Institute, manuka honey killed off a certain protein required for the MRSA bacteria to survive, effectively killing it, something that antibiotics are usually unable to do.
Shopping for the best manuka honey
All manuka honey begins its journey in the same way. The bees are faultless in their work but despite their best efforts, the quality and potency of the end product can vary—whether it is a jar of honey, dietary supplement, or a tube of manuka honey-based skincare. Honey can be damaged if it isn’t stored, processed, or packaged properly, and there are also strict guidelines around what can be labelled as genuine manuka honey. As with any food or health product, it’s important to be informed on how to identify the real deal.
Those wanting to purchase the best manuka honey products can find genuine, undamaged, premium manuka honey by following a few simple rules. One way to distinguish authentic manuka is to look for honey with proven MGO content. MGO 550+ is the highest level of methylglyoxal available from most producers and indicates an exceptionally powerful manuka honey.
It is also important to determine that manuka honey has come from New Zealand, renowned for its native manuka plant, and for producing honey untainted by antibiotics, additives, and other chemicals. With some brands, this information can be found on the back of the jar or packet. If consumers choose a honey that is proven to be of a high MGO level and is produced from manuka plants grown in New Zealand, they can be confident that they will get the genuine manuka honey experience.
There are a number of ways that manuka honey can be incorporated into a busy lifestyle, to tap into the widely reported health and taste benefits.
1. Digestive Health Manuka honey can aid a variety of issues, including bloating, acid reflux, indigestion, stomach ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome. Simply stir into a mug of hot water or tea.
2. Immunity Feeling a cold or sore throat coming on? Soothe your pains with a spoonful of manuka honey straight from the jar. Manuka honey is high in antibacterial levels and recommended in the treatment of ulcers, strep throat, cold sores, skin infections, cuts, and abrasions.
3. Skin Ailments When applied directly, manuka honey can be a useful treatment for skin conditions, such as eczema, insect bites, burns, and surgery wounds. Some scientists believe it also helps reduce scarring and healing time. Acne and rosacea sufferers can benefit from the use of manuka honey as a skin cleanser; its anti-inflammatory qualities help skin conditions without removing natural oils. For a DIY face mask, smooth slightly warmed manuka honey over your face (avoiding your eyes) and relax for 15-20 minutes.
4. Energy Manuka honey is great for a short-term energy boost as it is made up purely of carbohydrates. Drinking a warm manuka honey drink in the morning should give you an energy lift for your early commute.
Alternatively, consumers can purchase manuka honey in the form of lozenges or tablets, a convenient way to access highly concentrated amounts of honey. It can also be found incorporated into skincare and other health support products, such as soothing gels and pads. Just remember to look out for evidence that these products contain genuine New Zealand manuka honey, by checking for a scientifically confirmed MGO level and country of origin.