m is for manuka

Think of New Zealand and what may come to mind are the words Maori and Middle Earth but how about Manuka honey?

Living in the USA, I had not heard of Manuka Honey until a few months ago. I was on the phone talking to a girlfriend in the UK, telling her about my 23 year old son’s stomach woes; he had been suffering with gurd and gastric issues – when she mentioned this honey. “What you need is Manuka honey” she said, “You can buy it at Costco”. She went on to tell me that a friend of hers “swore by the stuff”, claiming that taking a spoonful of Manuka honey a day had really helped with her gastric problems. (At this point I start hearing Mary Poppins singing “A Spoonful of Sugar” in my head!)

It sounded as though it may be worth a try for my son, so Mary and I head off for Costco on the hunt for Manuka honey. (Don’t you just hate it when you get a song stuck in your head all day long?) It quickly became apparent that this product which is manufactured only in New Zealand was unknown in my local Costco in Leesburg and in the pharmacy and food stores that I thought might carry it.

I recently moved from Leesburg, Virginia to Singapore and was delighted to find an abundance of Manuka honey readily available at the supermarkets and pharmacies. However, my euphoria soon turned to horror. It’s really expensive! This closely followed by confusion – there are tons of different brands, all having a different UMF rating label which meant nothing to me. So, a bit of investigation was called for – or you could say I “hit the honey trail”!


The Maori and early European settlers have been using the Manuka and Kanuka trees, including Manuka Honey, for their medicinal properties for centuries. The bark, sap, leaves and oil of the trees have been used as teas, poultices, wound dressings and skin products. These trees are also known as ‘tea trees’, a name that arose when Captain Cook used the leaves to make a ‘tea’ drink.

In recent years, Manuka which is a shrub or small tree that is unique to New Zealand – Leptospermum Scoparium, has been rediscovered for its healing properties. Found throughout New Zealand but particularly common on the drier east coasts of the North Island and the South Island, it is also found in Australia in Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales. Manuka (from Māori ‘mānuka’) is the name used in New Zealand; ‘tea tree’ is the common name in Australia.

Lab studies by Professor Peter Molan of the University of Waikato, NZ, revealed unique high antibacterial properties in honey harvested from bees feeding on the nectar of some manuka flowers. The levels can vary so the honey undergoes testing to determine its level of UMF or ‘Unique Manuka Factor’ This factor is only found in honey sourced from the Leptospermum plants.

In order to reveal the level of antibacterial strength the honey contains, a measurement system has been implemented. The higher the UMF rating, the higher the level of antibacterial activity present in the honey.

The UMF Antibacterial Strength Ratings
0-4: Not detectable
5-9: Maintenance levels only (not recommended for special therapeutic use)
10-15 Useful levels for therapeutic purposes
16-30: Superior levels with very high potency

Manuka honey with UMF factor of 10+ or higher can work against a wide range of bacteria, including the causes of stomach ulcers, sore throats and major wound infections. The honey has also proven to help heal skin ulcers, burns, boils and cracked skin. UMF 16+ Manuka Honey seems to be the most preferred level for most applications.

If you are still confused, so am I. There are so many brands and so many different UMF levels available it is hard to make a decision on which to buy, especially here in Singapore. Cost is also a factor; these are very highly paid bees it would seem!! I also worried that I would be buying a genuine product especially when ordering online. Apparently you have to look for the UMF seal and trademark of the Active Manuka Honey Association which can only be used by licensed users who meet set criteria. A licensee must be a New Zealand Company.

So did it work? Well, I did order some UMF 16+ Manuka honey online whilst I was still in the States, hoping it was genuine and would help my son. He was not very impressed when I presented him with a jar of honey, but he said he would give it a try. A few weeks later I asked him if he was taking the honey and if it was working for him. Turns out the honey had never made it out of his glove compartment. Ah the young!

I took re-possession of the honey and considering the cost of the stuff, decided I would give it a try myself, (waste not, want not – my mama would be so proud). There are different guidelines as to how much honey to take. Here are some guidelines from Summerglow Apiaries who seem to be a reputable provider of genuine Manuka and they ship to the USA.

For Digestive Care, Duodenal and Stomach Ulcer Relief:
• Try having a teaspoon to a tablespoon of honey three to four times a day, ideally one hour before meals and again at bedtime.
• Try to have nothing to drink immediately after having the honey so as not to dilute the honey.
• Having the honey on bread, toast or cracker biscuit helps hold the honey in the stomach for as long as possible.
• Many people have experienced good results if they have the honey straight from the teaspoon.

This honey is very, very sweet and dark brown in color. I took mine just once a day on a small piece of bread and I have to admit though I did not have any serious stomach ailments, my stomach did feel a lot “calmer”.
Here in Singapore I decided to experiment and try Waitemata UMF 20+ honey, (hopefully no-one will tell my husband that it cost S$100, approx. $80 US for a 500g jar, those bees must be living in some super luxurious hives!) I had read somewhere that it may even help with arthritis so to me it was worth a try. Once again I usually take a teaspoon once or twice a day on a piece of brown bread before a meal. It has only been a few weeks since I started taking it so it is hard to say for sure if it is helping my arthritis. What I do find is that my stomach feels really good and my episodes of heartburn have greatly diminished.

It was interesting that a product I had never heard of when I was in the USA should be so abundant on the other side of the World, obviously because of Singapore’s closer proximity to New Zealand. So now, the M I think of in relation to New Zealand is not just for Manuka (or Mary Poppins), but also for M-azing.

Lynn Lees, originally a native of Manchester in the UK, spent 17 years living in Northern Virginia. She is currently a “Trailing Spouse” in Singapore. An avid “foodie”, (though she says her only qualification is eating it!), she is enjoying exploring the food and other wonders of Singapore, which is a diverse cultural melting pot! For more info on Lynn and her life in Singapore check out her web site http://www.itslynnykansas.com/

One Response to “m is for manuka”

  • Lori Says:

    Thanks for that info! I always wondered what the rating numbers meant when browsing the “honey aisle” but always forget to look it up by the time I get home! 🙂 Now I know…thanks!