I was talking to a friend recently about an expensive honey from New Zealand. It’s called manuka honey and it comes from the flowers of the manuka tree. Manuka trees are commonly called New Zealand tea trees and are in the myrtle family.
Raw honey is naturally antimicrobial and has long been used in human and veterinary medicine. My father-in-law used it to treat freshly dehorned cattle. I was shocked when I first saw it.
He removed the horns, which many would consider a brutal process. It really isn’t, because horn removal lessens injury when animals are kept in close quarters.
After removing the horns, he tied off bleeding blood vessels and cleaned the area. Finally, he coated the wound with a thick layer of honey. I can’t recall any surgical sites becoming infected.
I don’t know how much he knew about microbiology. I think he was more concerned about keeping flies from laying eggs. They would die in the sticky honey.
He used local raw honey because it was available and cheap. Raw honey is important since a large percentage of honey in stores has been processed and blended to such a degree that most antimicrobial properties have been lost.
Manuka honey is not cheap. Some medical grade stuff can sell for well over a hundred dollars for an eight-ounce jar. This honey has a high MGO content. MGO stands for methylglyoxal, which is much higher in manuka honey than any other types. This chemical has strong antimicrobial properties.
Pollen from the manuka plant is high in methylglyoxal. However, there is considerable variability. In addition, much honey is mixed from other pollen sources.
Manuka honey that is marketed as medicinal quality is graded on its antibacterial strength called its Unique Manuka Factor (UMF). Values of 15 or greater are much more valuable for medicinal use. Price is much greater, too.
Manuka honey is used to treat acid reflux disease and other digestive system problems like stomach ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome. It also is used to treat tooth decay and gingivitis and it also has been used to combat strep throat.
Not all use is internal. Manuka honey is employed topically to treat skin infections like eczema and acne. Research even shows its effectiveness in controlling MRSA and other serious staph infections.
Burn and wound treatment are other topical uses. Numerous sources also indicate it helps with skin ulcers caused by diabetes. Even ear infections have been treated with Manuka honey. Honeys with higher UMF levels are most often used topically.
Like all honey, manuka is high in sugar and could be a problem for diabetics when consumed internally. In addition, it could pose problems for folks allergic to honey, even with topical treatment.
There are hundreds of articles about manuka honey on the internet. Some promise such superlative results that they are too much for my inner skepticism. Still, due to the sheer volume of research, the product must have some merit. I still suggest contacting your medical professional before jumping headlong into the manuka phenomenon.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (firstname.lastname@example.org).