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Manuka Honey Benefits for Body and Skin

Updated on December 6, 2013
Manuka trees in bloom are visible in the foreground of this image.
Manuka trees in bloom are visible in the foreground of this image. | Source

Manuka honey comes from the manuka tree, sometimes called the "tea tree," which is found throughout New Zealand. Not to be confused with another native tree, called the kanuka, the manuka is a shrub-like evergreen that usually only grows to about 15 ft tall.

Manuka trees are also very recognizable thanks to their white flowers, which often have a pinkish tinge, and their narrow leaves with sharp tips.

While native to New Zealand, the manuka tree can sometimes be found in ornamental gardens in California and the UK. They're a particular favorite of foreign gardeners because they're so easy to take of and don't require much watering or trimming. Since they do need plenty of sunshine, however, manuka trees are best suited to a Mediterranean climate.

Like many alternative medicines, manuka honey has not been well studied by Western doctors. However, the small selection of formal research that is available demonstrates its effectiveness as a natural cure.

Captain James Cook was an Englishman who arrived in New Zealand in 1769. He used the leaves of the manuka to make a healthful drink for his crew.
Captain James Cook was an Englishman who arrived in New Zealand in 1769. He used the leaves of the manuka to make a healthful drink for his crew. | Source


The manuka tree has a long history in New Zealand. Centuries before the first European settlements, the indigenous Maori people used manuka wood as a building material for their homes, tools, and weapons. They also used the oil and honey of the manuka tree as medicine.

When European settlers finally arrived in New Zealand, they quickly adopted many of these same practices. Captain Cook discovered New Zealand in the late 18th century, and he famously used manuka leaves to make a rudimentary tea. This is why in modern New Zealand, the manuka tree is sometimes referred to as the "tea tree." According to legend, Captain Cook also boiled manuka with the rimu tree to make beer, which he fed to his crew to stave off scurvy.

In modern times, the wood of the manuka is often used as firewood, while the sawdust is used to smoke meat and fish.

Characteristics of Manuka honey

The manuka tree is especially prized for its amber-colored honey, which is used as a sweetener and a medicinal cure.

The honey is produced from the tree's sweet-smelling flowers and is sold commercially all over the world. There are several characteristics that make manuka honey particularly special, including its heightened antibacterial properties. For example, manuka honey contains a large amount of methylglyoxal, a potent if somewhat controversial type of antibiotic that kills viruses.

In recent years, manuka honey has become a popular condiment outside of Australia and New Zealand. However, not all jars of manuka honey are created equal. Authentic manuka honey is graded by a special type of criteria called the UMF or Unique Manuka Factor. According to this system, each jar of manuka honey is assigned a rating from 5 to 20. Honey that scores at least 10 on the UMF scale receives a special label as "active manuka honey."

If you are considering purchasing manuka honey, you should always carefully inspect the jar to determine whether it is authentic. Real honey will usually be packaged in New Zealand and will have a UMF rating and trademark on the label.

Honey has been used as a natural cure for sickness and disease since before the fist European settlers arrived in New Zealand.
Honey has been used as a natural cure for sickness and disease since before the fist European settlers arrived in New Zealand. | Source

How to use Manuka honey

Many people enjoy a few tablespoons of manuka honey in their cereal or on toast. As a medicine, manuka honey can be used to treat a variety of different ailments, from minor wounds to high cholesterol.

Sore throats

Honey is a well-known cure for sore throats. Like regular honey, the manuka variety can be added to a cup of tea to help soothe a sore and scratchy throat. Or, you can ingest a teaspoon of raw manuka honey every few hours to help relieve symptoms.

Cut and burns

Manuka honey is also used topically on the skin to treat cuts and burns. The hydrogen peroxide in manuka honey helps kill bacteria and keeps ruptured skin clean and dry.

Manuka honey is generally safe for the skin and can be applied directly to wounds. It's best to use a cotton pad or Q-tip to dab the honey onto the skin and then cover the wound with a bandage. You can apply manuka honey to a wound as often as you need, but you should see a doctor if the wound or burn becomes infected.


Using manuka honey for indigestion is similar to using it for a sore throat. Add a teaspoon of honey into a mug of hot tea and then sip the mixture slowly. The honey should begin to calm an upset stomach and can even help soothe acid reflux.


In the past, manuka honey has been used to help mouth and throat cancer patients after undergoing surgery. Recently, a group of researchers at UAE University claimed that ingesting honey could actually stop skin, breast, and colon cancer cells from growing. While clinical trials in North America have found no links between manuka honey and anti-cancer treatment, natural health experts still recommend it, especially to treat burns and inflammation caused by radiotherapy.

High Cholesterol

Manuka honey may also be an effective treatment for high cholesterol and heart disease. A recent German study found that manuka honey did not significantly lower cholesterol in patients. However, natural health experts argue that honey, particularly when mixed with cinnamon, can actually help unclog arteries and reduces the risk of heart attack.


Many people claim that manuka honey can help clear up chronic acne, although not everyone experiences the same results. Like tea tree oil, manuka honey improves the complexion by killing the bacteria that causes acne. You can dab honey directly onto your face, or mix it with a few drops of a conventional face wash.


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