'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

Go here to find out more.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Manuka Honey

Marvelous manuka honey.

Let me start this post by explaining that I consider myself a pragmatist, and a Science/ Geography-based artist.  Capital S, capital G and small a.
eg Vitamins and astronomy - yes; homeopathy and the existence of a deity - maybe; crystals and astrology - no. 

All honey reflects the characteristics of the nectar source.  Clover honey, with which we are most familiar, is hard, white and mild.  In New Zealand we have many native plant sources that can provide distinctive honeys.  For example, I love to use the strong, sharp rewarewa honey in my home-made museli, but it's too strong on toast for most people.  Recently a number of people were admitted to hospital after eating honey that was made from nectar from the poisonous tutu flowers.  
Some 17 years ago I was fascinated to hear of research being carried out in New Zealand on the medical benefits of honey, specifically manuka honey. At the time, I mentioned it to my Mum and she said that before and even after the discovery of antibiotics, nurses like her were using honey in hospitals for wounds.  
I should mention that all honey produces peroxide gas when applied to wounds.  This is very good at killing infection, reducing swelling and aiding healing, and has been used for at least two thousand years.  

But New Zealand manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) honey has been found to also contain at least one other substance that adds to this effectiveness.
Now, after clinical trials and world publicity, it has been proven that a wide range of bacteria, including the hospital nasties like Streptobacillus species, Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium species (that can cause gangrene) are killed by manuka honey.  And, what's more, at low concentrations, ie even when it is diluted by lymph.  Helicobacter pylori, associated with gastric ulcers, is also effectively treated by manuka honey (just have a teaspoon before beginning each meal).  
Conveniently, honey, applied under dressings which need to be changed no more often than eight hourly, prevents wounds from drying out and sticking to the dressing, and the method of honey's antibacterial action can never lead to bacterial resistance, a problem with modern antibiotics.  
I can also highly recommend treating eye infections or minor scratches (skin or eyes) with manuka honey.  Great for pets too.
Dr Peter Molan of the University of Waikato has discovered that although there is some variation in efficiency between one batch of manuka honey and another, heating the honey does not affect its antibacterial properties.

But there is another, fascinating aspect of the story.  The extra substances I mentioned, that make manuka honey especially effective over other honeys, have not all been identified yet. But it is possible that they have an unusual source.  
You see, manuka shrubs were considered a bit of a nuisance when the first settlers came to NZ and wanted to clear the native cover off the land and replace it with pasture and crops.  A scale insect was imported from Australia and it spread quickly through NZ, and even now, all but very young manuka shrubs have the insect sucking away on stems and trunks.  Now, the insect secretes a sticky sweet honeydew, much like aphids, and this dew in turn is harvested by wasps and bees.  However it also encourages the growth of a black sooty mold (which gives manuka a characteristic fire-burnt look - you can see this in my photo which I took on the south Island road between Waiau and the coast).  I suspect that the bees cannot help but pick up some mold when they collect honeydew and nectar from manuka, and maybe this is the source of the special antibacterial factors in manuka honey.
If you want to read about all the clinical trials and research you can go here  and click on the "Manuka Honey as a Medicine" pdf file.

Of course, you can always just enjoy it on toast!

Added 14 October: Update soon.  See here.


  1. As The Honey Monster used to say, "Give me the honey mummy!"

    Modern man tends to be so arrogant about medicine. It must come in packets or jars and must be produced by multi-national profit-focussed pharmecutical companies. As you imply, for thousands of years, mankind found other solutions more close at hand - in nature. I weep for the last tribes of the Amazon whose special bond with nature and therefore natural medicines is about to be so cruelly broken.

  2. sadly honey as a medicine you can apply safely to wounds can only be used in countries with no bears though katherine, as AA Milne's tragic fate whilst trying out just such a homeopathic remedy attests

  3. YP, I think that as the global village contracts physically in the next few years (I'm not referring to communications, just travel/ import/exports) we will become more aware of older ways and means of doing things. Maybe. Or maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part, because I want to be appreciated for my home cooking, remedies, sailing, gardening, piano playing, knitting and all my other old-fashioned low-tech activities...

    Arthur - yes, and wo betide you if you step on cracks or go down to the end of town without JJMMWGD.

  4. Manuka honey is my absolute favorite! Unfortunately with the shipping costs it is very expensive here. We had a bunny who had a cheek abscess that would not heal. Our bunny vet had us buy manuka honey to flush out the wound, along with standard antibiotics. It healed well, which is something rarely seen with rabbits and this type of Pasteurella infection. They usually are chronic infections that eventually kill the rabbit. I ate the remaining honey and it was far superior to any other honey I have ever tasted. At $16 U.S. per jar it's not something I can purchase weekly but I am tempted to order another jar and use it sparingly!

  5. Thanks for your contribution Frank. I intentionally didn't get into the UMF / Methaglyoxal discussion, but since you bring it up, I will make another post about it although I wanted to keep to the positive side of this wonderful stuff... not the money-making and misleading bit. Sigh.

  6. This is the content of Frank's comment. I have removed it because it became clear to me that he a) had not even read my post properly and b) was just advertising his company, which I don't think is appropriate on my blog.
    I posted about Manuka honey because you DON'T need to buy the product in a $$$cream etc. Just apply it or eat it!

    "What makes Manuka Honey different than other types of honey is plant-derived components such as UMF and Methylglyoxal. All types of honey contain hydrogen peroxide which is a known disinfectant. However, standard honey tends to lose its healing properties when diluted or exposed to light or heat. Manuka Honey is stable and maintains its potency, even when exposed to such conditions.


  7. Hello, I am currently using Manuka Honey on my dog's leg (2 weeks after a cancerous lump was removed some areas are slow to heal). Our vet/surgeon says Manuka will work within 2 weeks. Tonight was the first application and thank goodness it did not sting. I will let you know how it all turns out. Wish us luck! Karen and Cider.

  8. Karen! Welcome to The Last Visible Dog! And congratulations on having such an Enlightened Vet... or was it your idea?
    Please DO let me know how it goes - But I have every faith in the stuff. I have been meaning to update this post many times and I was going to tell the brief story of a large scape on a thin elderly skin - took less than a week of dressings - whereas before this person was very prone to ulceration.
    A pity that Manuka honey is seen as a last resort when all else fails, instead of a first line of treatment...
    A pity also that it's so damn expensive when in the old days it was cheapest as people didn't even like to eat it as it was too strong on toast.
    I presume you have a pot of the high- UMF stuff? Although I've proved that that's not strictly necessary :-)


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