What is Manuka Honey? It is a flavour of honey that comes from bees visiting the flowers of the manuka plant, a native of (found only in) New Zealand.

Recently it has gained worldwide ‘buzz’ from New Zealand itself to the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Japan, the USA, and many countries in between. With press reports in traditional newspapers and magazines, and plenty of mentions on the internet, is this really special honey, or just another over hyped and over marketed snake oil?

For many people the answer depends on their existing beliefs whether natural / alternative medicine has a place, or that only what a western doctor prescribes can be trusted.

Firstly, surely it shouldn’t matter whether a particular remedy is considered conventional or traditional, or alternative, or any other label. Surely what should matter is whether or not it works, with the simple goal being good health.

So is all the talk about manuka honey just marketing hype? Or is there some substance behind it.?

Lets start with some basics. With a natural product, you get natural variation. This is not a factory made pill where man made controls ensure each item is exactly the same. Mother nature results in natural differences.

Important: Not all manuka honey is the same. It’s a simple function of nature. What has generated all the hype is talk about special healing properties and antibacterial properties of this honey. So where is the truth?

Taking a step back, all natural honey (that is not overly processed) can be good for you, and contains an enzyme that makes hydrogen peroxide, a known antiseptic. By mother nature the level of this hydrogen peroxide affect can differ greatly between different honeys. However it is why the ancient Romans, Greek, Egyptians, and other cultures still today use honey for medical purposes.

Here is the science: Modern, proper science and research has found that some manuka honey contains an additional antibacterial property, over and above the hydrogen peroxide part. A team of researches and an industry association had developed a test for measuring this extra antibacterial property when it exists. They have called it the Unique Manuka Factor, and have a registered trademark UMF® to indicate that honey which has been properly tested and proven to contain a level of non-peroxide antibacterial ability. What’s more, UMF® manuka honey has an auditing process behind it for quality control.

Clinical trials have been done in a few countries (eg United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand) using UMF® tested manuka honey and showing positive results in healing of wounds and leg ulcers. So yes, there have been clinical trials done supporting manuka honey - but remember they are based on the proven antibacterial honey, not the ordinary stuff. There is more information on manuka honey here.

The hype: Unfortunately as word of the research has grown and more people are seeking manuka honey, there are cases of companies passing off ordinary manuka honey by referring to the research, even when there product has not been tested or when it does not meet the accepted standards. They have been trying to use hype to get people thinking any manuka honey will do, when the simple science proves this is not the case. This sometimes gets extended to making claims that it will work as a treatment for things that it will not.

That is not to say ordinary manuka honey is bad – it still has a great flavour that many people love.

Hype or substance? Well the current reality is both. This is a natural remedy that actually has some proper science and research behind it. However this applies to only some that is produced, and there is an issue of misleading hype to get people to try just any manuka honey.

It really comes down to what you purpose for taking it is. But if you are wanting to use it for medicinal purposes, then what you need is the stuff that the research is actually based on. That would be that has been tested and approved under the UMF® quality standard.

You can see good examples of true UMF® manuka honey here (courtesy of The New Zealand Honey Shop site, a UK and Europe based specialist supplier):

Author's Bio: 

Robert has spent several years learning about the properties of manuka honey in his research and work assisting The New Zealand Honey Shop, a specialist supplier of New Zealand made bee products.