Joan Rothchild Hardin
Manuka Honey: Delicious & Therapeutic
Perhaps you think of honey in general as a healthy food. But with industrialization, genetic modification of so many plants, and the widespread use of pesticides, most of the honey available in supermarkets now is not very healthy. “(H)oney isn’t what it used to be. Like most things today, not all honeys are created equal. In addition to the more than 300 varieties of honey to choose from, you have the following options:
Raw or pasteurized
Filtered or unfiltered
Comb (with the edible beeswax inside), liquid, or whipped
Local or imported
“As a rule of thumb, you get what you pay for. Most products at conventional supermarkets are not much different from high fructose corn syrup. To get good honey today, you pretty much have to go to your local health food store, local farm co-op or go online to purchase the real deal.
“However, it’s not impossible to find Manuka honey, and as you’ll see, there are many reasons to seek it out.” (Axe, undated)
Whatever honey you use, it should be certified NON-GMO or ORGANIC so you’re not consuming toxic pesticides while eating it. It should always also be RAW, never refined or pasteurized. The process of heating honey to refine it destroys all its therapeutic properties.
Manuka is expensive but raw honey keeps for decades … apparently even for centuries.
From the tomb of a noble named Pabasa (7th century BCE), in Luxor, Egypt. Cylindrical hives were made of clay and stacked on top of each other.
Humans have harvested honey, eaten it, and used it medicinally and for religious purposes for millennia, since at least the Mesolithic Period (AKA the Middle Stone Age), from about 11,600 years ago to the beginning of the Neolithic period, about 4,000 BC.
* Wall paintings from Bicorp, near Valencia in Spain, estimated to be 8,000 years old, depict a man harvesting honey from the hive of a wild bee colony. He is doing what is still done today in many cultures: robbing the wild colony of its stored honey.
The “Man of Bicorp” holding onto vines to gather honey from a beehive, as depicted in an 8,000-year-old cave painting near Valencia, Spain
* Scientists from the University of Bristol in England have found evidence that Stone Age farmers at least 8,500 years ago used beeswax and honey in rituals, cosmetics, and medicine; as fuel; and for making vessels waterproof. (Roffet-Salque et al, 2015)
* The first documentary evidence of beekeeping comes from Ancient Egypt, where a hieroglyph of a honey bee occurs in the First Dynasty, about 5,000 years ago.
* A 3,000 year old pot of honey was found in 1922 by British archaeologist Howard Carter and his team in Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb – unspoiled and potentially edible. They didn’t eat it. (Geiling, 2013)
* But the oldest honey to date was found in the tomb of a noblewoman near the city of Tbilisi, Georgia – in the Caucasus region, at the boundary between Europe and Asia. This honey was produced by bees some 5,5000 years ago. (Lomsadze, 2012) & (Willard, 2014)
WHAT MAKES MANUKA HONEY SPECIAL?
Of all the 300 types of honey in the world, manuka honey is the most unique and beneficial. It is produced in New Zealand, from European honey bees that pollinate the manuka bush (leptospermum scoparium).
Manuka Bush (leptospermum scoparium) Growing in Coromandel, New Zealand
Manuka honey is one of the richest antimicrobial sources in nature, effective for healing wounds, sore throats, digestive problems, Staph infections, eczema, acne, gingivitis, tooth decay, and seasonal allergies. (Axe, undated) It also has a delicious taste, milder and less blatantly sweet than many other types of honey.
TOP 10 BENEFITS OF MANUKA HONEY
Manuka Honey Is Effective Against the Superbug MRSA
The benefits of manuka honey have been known in the natural health world for a long time and even more so in recent years because a growing body of research supports many years of folk medicine use. Some of the top Manuka honey uses and benefits include:
Helps with SIBO, low stomach acid, acid reflux
May help treat acne and eczema
Combats staph infections, even Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a type of staph bacteria that’s become resistant to many of the antibiotics used to treat ordinary staph infections
Treats burns, wounds and ulcers
Prevents tooth decay and gingivitis
Aids IBS and IBD treatment
Improves sore throats and immunity
Beauty treatment and health booster
– (Axe, undated) Source: Affect Health
MANUKA MORE EFFECTIVE THAN ANTIBIOTIC DRUGS & CREAMS
Of manuka honey’s many medicinal properties, its effectiveness as an antibacterial agent is the most astounding.
An article published in the European Journal of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in 2009 demonstrated that MEDICAL GRADE MANUKA HONEY WORKS BETTER THAN ALL ANTIBIOTICS AGAINST EIGHT SPECIES OF WOUND PATHOGENS, including ones with acquired antibiotic resistance. Furthermore, resistance to the honey couldn’t be induced under conditions that rapidly induced resistance to antibiotics. (Blair et al, 2009)
The honey also remained effective even after multiple treatments. None of the superbugs killed by the honey was able to achieve immunity, which is the greatest concern regarding the antibiotics in current use. (Erickson, 2016)
“Our research is the first to clearly show that these honey-based products could in many cases replace antibiotic creams on wounds and equipment such as catheters. Using honey as an intermediate treatment could also prolong the life of antibiotics.” – Dr. Dee Carter (Blair et al, 2009)
“New antibiotics tend to have short shelf lives, as the bacteria they attack quickly become resistant,” noted one of the study’s researchers, Dr. Dee Carter of the University of Sydney’s School of Molecular and Microbial Biosciences. “Many large pharmaceutical companies have abandoned antibiotic production because of the difficulty of recovering costs. Developing effective alternatives could therefore save many lives.” (Erickson, 2016)
THE STORY OF HOW MANUKA HONEY CAME INTO EXISTENCE IN NEW ZEALAND
The Māori, New Zealand’s indigenous people, called the islands’ native leptospermum scoparium bushes and trees mānuka. Mānuka honey is the fortuitous product of European honey bees (Apis mellifera) foraging on the mānuka plants growing uncultivated throughout New Zealand. (Wikipedia, 6/18/2018).
On 9 March 1939, a ship carrying Mary Bumby, the sister of a Methodist missionary in New Zealand, arrived at the Mangungu Mission Station at Hokianga, on the northern tip of New Zealand’s North Island. She brought two hives of Apis mellifera with her on her long journey from England aboard the James.
“While New Zealand had two native species of bees, neither was suitable for producing honey. Reverend Richard Taylor, Lady Hobson, James Busby and William Cotton brought more bees in 1843. In 1848 Cotton wrote a manual for New Zealand beekeepers, describing the basics of bee husbandry and production of honey.
“The New Zealand bush proved a hospitable place for bees, and the number of wild colonies multiplied rapidly, especially in the Bay of Islands. Isaac Hopkins, regarded as the father of beekeeping in New Zealand, observed that by the 1860s bee nests in the bush were plentiful, and considerable quantities of honey were being sold by Māori – the country’s first commercial beekeepers.” (New Zealand Government, 2017) Sketch of Bee Storage Chamber, c. 1840’s (William Charles Cotton, My bee book, 1842)
MANUKA FOR WOUND HEALING
This BBC interview with Aaron Phipps tells the story of how manuka honey wound dressings saved his life after he contracted meningitis C. along with a serious form of blood poisoning (meningococcal septicemia) that was causing severe pain and death of the tissues in his extremities. He was 15 years old.
Western medical treatments, including antibiotics, skin grafts, a controlled coma, and amputations of both his legs below the knees and the portions of most of his fingers, brought no relief. After nine months, when Phipps thought he was going to die at 16, a nursing researcher named Cheryl Dunford suggested trying manuka honey dressings on his lesions. Nine weeks later, the infection and his wounds were completely cured.
Source: Healthy with Honey
Phipps went on to be part of Great Britain’s National Wheelchair Rugby Team and competed in the Wheelchair Rugby games at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London. In May of 2016 he became the first disabled British person to summit Mount Kilimanjaro without assistance. During parts of the ascent, his wheelchair was unable to traverse the mountain’s rough terrain so he climbed on hands and knees. (Wikipedia, 2/11/2018) He has also raised over £250,000 for a British meningitis charity by competing in marathons.
Here’s Aaron Phipps’ website in case you’re interested in reading more about him.
HOW MANUKA HONEY HEALS WOUNDS
This abstract from a scientific paper explains what makes manuka honey uniquely effective for healing and debriding wounds:
“Honey has been used as a wound dressing for thousands of years, but only in more recent times has a scientific explanation become available for its effectiveness. It is now realized that honey is a biologic wound dressing with multiple bioactivities that work in concert to expedite the healing process. The physical properties of honey also expedite the healing process: its acidity increases the release of oxygen from hemoglobin thereby making the wound environment less favorable for the activity of destructive proteases, and the high osmolarity of honey draws fluid out of the wound bed to create an outflow of lymph as occurs with negative pressure wound therapy.
“Honey has a broad-spectrum antibacterial activity, but there is much variation in potency between different honeys. There are 2 types of antibacterial activity. In most honeys the activity is due to hydrogen peroxide, but much of this is inactivated by the enzyme catalase that is present in blood, serum, and wound tissues. In manuka honey, the activity is due to methylglyoxal which is not inactivated. The manuka honey used in wound-care products can withstand dilution with substantial amounts of wound exudate and still maintain enough activity to inhibit the growth of bacteria. There is good evidence for honey also having bioactivities that stimulate the immune response (thus promoting the growth of tissues for wound repair), suppress inflammation, and bring about rapid autolytic debridement. There is clinical evidence for these actions, and research is providing scientific explanations for them.”
– (Molan & Rhodes, 2015)
ABOUT MEDIHONEY WOUND DRESSINGS
Derma Sciences Medihoney Calcium Alginate Dressing include 95% active Leptospermum honey (manuka). They support a moist, occlusive environment that is useful for optimal wound healing. Medihoney Calcium Alginate releases manuka honey continuously into the wound bed to provide wound fluid absorption. This Medihoney dressing is designed for partial to full-thickness burns and wounds that drain moderately to heavily.
Medihoney Calcium Alginate Dressing Features:
Easy to apply and use
Medihoney dressing is ideal for use on chronic or acute wounds due to unique characteristics of Leptospermum honey
Calcium Alginate Dressing can be used in all stages of wound healing due to versatility and lack of toxicity
Cleanses and debrides due to its high osmolarity
Lowers the wound pH, for an optimal wound healing environment
Medihoney has been used successfully along with other advanced wound care modalities, including being used before, during, and after negative pressure applications
Used as cover dressings for skin grafts and skin substitutes
Single use only
Medihoney Wound Dressing is indicated for the management of wounds such as:
Diabetic foot ulcers
Leg ulcers of mixed etiology
Arterial leg ulcers
Venous stasis leg ulcers
1st and 2nd-degree partial thickness burns
Donor sites traumatic and surgical wounds
When to avoid Medihoney Dressing?
On third degree burns
With patients that have a known sensitivity to honey or any other component present in Calcium Alginate dressing
To control heavy bleeding
– HealthProductsForYou.com. (2018).
MANUKA HONEY SALVES & CREAMS FOR HOME USE
Many manuka honey preparations are available for treating eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, itchy skin, irritated dry skin, insect stings and bites, diaper and other rashes, chafing, abrasions, dermatitis, shingles symptoms, and minor burns and wounds. Many of them can be purchased on Amazon. (The link takes you to what’s available today, 7/1/2018)
You’ll notice the percentage of manuka honey in these four examples varies from 80% to unspecified amounts and some of them list the therapeutic level and some don’t.
You could of course also use manuka honey straight out of the jar, which would let you know what therapeutic strength you’re using and be sure your salve is 100% honey. For example:
Raw Certified NPA 20+ Highest Grade Manuka Honey MGO 820+ Medicinal Strength – BPA Free Jar – Cold Extraction – Independently Verified
GLYCEMIC INDEX OF MANUKA HONEY
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a relative ranking of carbohydrate in foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates with a low GI value (55 or less) are more slowly digested, absorbed and metabolized and cause a lower and slower rise in blood glucose and, therefore insulin levels. (University of Sydney, 2017)
In 2012, two New Zealand nutritionists endeavored to discover the Glycemic Index of manuka honey.
Honeys in general are comparable to simple sugars for sweetness and glycemic response. These researchers tested the GI of five samples of manuka honey obtained from different geographic origins in New Zealand. All five samples contained a high MGO of 460–667 mg/kg. (Chepulis & Francis, 2012)
MGO is a measure of the methylglyoxal content in manuka honey. Methylglyoxa is the compound found in manuka honey responsible for its antibiotic/antimicrobial action. The higher the MGO rating, the more therapeutically active the honey.
Here’s a chart of the MGO ratings for manuka honey so you can see that the samples these researchers tested were solidly in the ‘Medicinal Use’ range:
They found the Glycemic Index of the five Manuka honeys tested to be in the moderate range: 54–59. (Chepulis & Francis, 2012)
Here’s a chart of some other natural sweeteners for comparison:
The Glycemic Index of the tested manuka honey samples is about equivalent to maple syrup (54) and blackstrap molasses (55) and a whole lot lower than refined white sugar (99) but keep in mind that none of the other sweeteners on the chart provides the powerful therapeutic properties of manuka honey.
A BOOK ABOUT THE HISTORY & USES OF MANUKA HONEY
If you’re intrigued about manuka honey and want to know more, this book is for you. Manuka: The biography of an extraordinary honey, by Cliff Van Eaton, will tell you everything you might want to know about manuka honey. Van Eaton is a recognized authority on beekeeping. He has worked as a beekeeping adviser and consultant in New Zealand for over 30 years and has advised beekeepers in countries from the Solomon Islands to Uruguay and Vietnam.
A description of the book on Amazon.com, where you can also purchase it:
“New Zealand’s manuka honey is known around the world. It fetches extremely high prices, and beekeepers do everything in their power to produce as much of it as they can. Wound dressings containing manuka honey are used in leading hospitals, and it has saved the lives of patients infected with disease-causing bacteria that are resistant to standard antibiotic drugs. In so doing, it has forced the medical profession to re-think its position on the therapeutic properties of natural products.
“This book chronicles the remarkable ‘rags-to-riches’ story of manuka honey, as seen through the eyes of a beekeeping specialist who watched it unfold from the very beginning. It’s a great science tale of an unassuming university lecturer and his hardworking lab assistant who found something totally unexpected in a product everyone had written off. And it’s an entertaining account of the way that simple discovery magically caught the international media’s attention, helping some enterprising New Zealanders with a love of bees to develop manuka honey-based products and take them to the rest of the world. The book describes the remarkable antibacterial and therapeutic properties of manuka and the range of uses it has.” If you’re not up for reading a whole book about manuka honey, here’s an interesting video about it and the doctor who’s responsible for doing the groundbreaking research on its antimicrobial properties, Professor P.C. Molan, Director of the Honey Research Unit at the University of Waikato in New Zealand.
MANUKA HONEYS I LIKE
I like this one with KFactor +16 for everyday use. It’s raw, verified non-GMO, and has a soft, almost musky taste:
Wedderspoon Raw Premium Manuka Honey KFactor 16+, 17.6 Ounce
This one, UMF 10+, is very nice too:
Comvita Certified UMF 10+ (Premium) Manuka Honey I New Zealand’s #1 Manuka Brand I Non-GMO, Halal, and Kosher Certified I 500g (17.6oz)
GRADING SYSTEMS OF MANUKA HONEY
Brace yourself for this and remember it’s a fairly new industry – apparently made up of some very independent-minded New Zealanders. UMF UMF stands for “Unique Manuka Factor” and is a grading system developed by the UMF Honey Association in New Zealand. The UMF Honey Association grants UMF licenses to Manuka honey manufacturers who meet their standards. The UMF rating system is used by a number of brands such as Manukora, Comvita, Kiva and Happy Valley.
MGO The most common marker for Manuka honey is MGO (methylglyoxal), a compound with antibacterial properties. The MGO grading system was developed by professor Thomas Henle in 2008. It is primarily used by the company Manuka Health. Manuka Health also conducts independent research on Manuka honey to bring new standards to the Manuka world.
KFACTOR KFactor is an independent grading system used only by Wedderspoon. It has been approved by New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries which develops standards for Manuka honey in the country. Wedderspoon’s ongoing scientific research contributes many innovations to Manuka honey products. KFactor measures markers such as purity, live enzymes, over 250 chemical compounds, DHA, pollen count, pH levels, antioxidant levels and phenolic compounds. Interestingly, it does not measure MGO, NPA or leptosperin levels.
Pretty confused? Maybe this will help:
If you can bear to look further into these competing grading systems, here’s an article by Manuka Honey Organic that describes and compares the various grading systems. It’s thorough, possibly more than you’d ever want to know:
Or maybe this will make it all clear:
While doing the research for this article, I came across this advice from HealthyWithHoney.com:
“Remember to read the labels and choose the manuka honey grade that suits your need.”
Table Grade: 100 – 400 MGO (10 – 20 UMF) – this is for eating! Antibacterial Grade: 400 – 850 MGO (20 – 35 UMF) – this is for skin therapy! Superior Antibacterial Grade: 850 MGO and above (35 UMF and above) – this is for very bad wounds. – (HealthyWithHoney.com, 2017)
Ha! At some point, with my head spinning, I decided it didn’t matter so much to try to figure it out exactly, that I could pretty much tell what I was getting and that was good enough.
MANUKA HONEY VS TEA TREE OIL
Manuka honey is sometimes incorrectly referred to as coming from the “New Zealand Tea Tree” but scientifically, tea tree oil is melaleuca alternifolia while manuka is leptospermum scoparium. However, they do belong to the same botanical family (myrtle) and provide many of the same health benefits. (The Good Oil Daily, 2018)
Also, the tea tree (melaleuca alternifolia) is a plant native to Australia’s New South Wales northeast coast while leptospermum scoparium (the source of manuka honey is a plant native to New Zealand’s Te Araroa region. (Aroma Sense, undated).
See Tea Tree Oil if you want to read more about the healing properties and uses of melaleuca alternifolia. (Hardin, 2014)
Aroma Sense. (undated). The difference between Tea Tree and Manuka essential oil. See: https://aromasense.co.nz/difference-between-tea-tree-and-manuka-essential-oil/
Axe, J. (undated). 10 Proven Manuka Honey Benefits & Uses. See:https://draxe.com/manuka-honey-benefits-uses/
Blair, S.E. et al. (2009). The unusual antibacterial activity of medical-grade Leptospermum honey: antibacterial spectrum, resistance and transcriptome analysis. European Journal of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases, 28:10. 1199-1208. See: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10096-009-0763-z
Chepulis, L. & Francis, E. (2012). The glycaemic index of Manuka honey. e-SPEN Journal, 6: 1, 21-24. See: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212826312000607# Erickson, A. (2016). Scientists Show How Manuka Honey Can Be More Effective Than Antibiotic Creams & Drugs. See: https://www.collective-evolution.com/2016/09/23/scientists-show-how-manuka-honey-can-be-more-effective-than-antibiotic-creams-drugs/
Geiling, N. (2013). The Science Behind Honey’s Eternal Shelf Life. Smithsonian.com. See: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-science-behind-honeys-eternal-shelf-life-1218690/
Good Oil Daily. (2018). Manuka and Melaleuca : Tea Trees and Honey. See: https://www.thegoodoildaily.com/manuka-melaleuca-tea-trees-honey/
Hardin, J.R. (2014). Tea Tree Oil. See: http://allergiesandyourgut.com/tea-tree-oil/