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Health food of the month - Manuka honey

January 2012  

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Manuka honey bushesLast Christmas I gave a relation a jar of manuka honey, not because I really knew much about it, but it was highly fashionable, people were talking about it, and it just seemed to be a good, unusual present.

Since then, the good news about manuka has continued to come in, so I thought I would check out exactly what it is.

Manuka honey only comes from New Zealand, where manuka bushes grow. Its official name is leptospermum scoparium, and is it a small tree or shrub native to New Zealand but also found in certain areas of south east Australia. The tree has also been known as the jelly bush or tea tree, and it is thought that Captain Cook used to make tea from the leaves of the manuka bush. There is evidence that the Maoris used to use parts of the manuka plant for a natural medicine, and certainly local parakeets understood the benefits of manuka well before humans and used to ingest the leaves and bark of manuka to rid themselves of parasites.

Today manuka honey is a product of New Zealand, where beekeepers have now set up their hives across the regions where manuka bushes grow naturally. The bees are attracted by the level of nectar in the flowers of the manuka bush and the beekeepers make this into a very tasty, dark, rich honey.

In recent years scientific research has found that manuka honey has an extraordinary level of antimicrobial and antifungal properties. There was enough interest in this for the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand, to form a special Waikato Honey Research Unit to study its composition. Other research followed, for instance by the University of Technology in Dresden, Germany, which identified methylglyoxal as an active compound in manuka honey.

Manuka honey can come in different strengths and can be beneficial when eaten, especially for digestive problems and peptic and stomach ulcers; and also used externally for burns, cuts, wounds, and even leg ulcers and bed sores. Studies have shown that active manuka honey can inhibit helicobacter pylori, a contributing factor in many digestive problems.

It is not surprising therefore that Manuka Honey has become known as the 'healing honey' . However, not all manuka honey is the same, and shoppers need to check they are buying “active” manuka honey and not just ordinary manuka honey. In New Zealand this has been identified and fully registered as the Unique Manuka Factor, or UMF. An official UMF rating has now been applied to manuka honey and for therapeutic medical uses, a rating of 10 or more is suggested.

There is even a name for treatment with natural honey - apitherapy. But if you want to try apitherapy, just bear in mind manuka honey is considerably more expensive than ordinary honey. But then one would expect to pay a premium price for medicine that tastes so sweet!

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