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Explaining the history, facts and usage of Active Honeys from Australia and New Zealand.

There has been a significant increase in the use of therapeutically active compounds extracted from plants, commonly called phytochemicals. Although the flora of New Zealand and Australia are rich in unique species, very few of these native plants have been tested for medicinal constituents.
The family Myrtaceae contains many plants, including the Australian tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) and its New Zealand equivalents manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) and kanuka (Kunzea ericoides, formerly Leptospermum ericoides), which are currently being investigated for their therapeutic properties.


Parts of tea trees were used extensively by the early settlers of both countries, and the Maori and aboriginal people have been using parts of tea trees therapeutically for centuries. Various preparations of the gum, sap, seed pods, leaves, bark or flowers of manuka have been used both externally and internally to treat many conditions, such as sores, constipation, colic, fever and coughs, among other aliments
These species have been known collectively as "tea trees", because of the use of their leaves by early settlers to brew a strong tea.

Melaleuca alternifolia

Dr. Peter Molan - a pioneer in the use of  Manuka Honeys

For over 10 years Dr. Peter Molan and his research team at the Honey Research Unit at New Zealand's Waikato University scientifically investigated the properties of the New Zealand Manuka honey gathered in New Zealand from the manuka bush, Leptospermum scoparium, which grows uncultivated throughout the country. Manuka bush only flowers in spring and early summer and the medicinal properties of the honey collected varies in strength.

Leptospermum scoparium

Dr Peter Molan found in some specific strains of manuka honey a second natural more powerful and more stable antibacterial property called Unique Manuka Factor (UMF). From 1985 until 2002 he investigated Manuka honey and its medical uses for wound management.

UMF or unique Manuka Factor.

All honeys release varying amounts of hydrogen peroxide, which gives honey antibacterial qualities. Hydrogen peroxide is released from the action  of the glucose oxidase in honey (this enzyme is added by bees to nectar to assist in the formation of honey), but it can be neutralized by a catalase enzyme in living organisms.


New Zealand

Researchers from New Zealand’s Waikato University discovered that some honeys collected from leptospermum plants had an extra antibacterial activity.  They found that the two qualities together gave an increased or synergistic antiseptic action. This extra antibacterial activity also prevented the catalase enzyme in living organisms from neutralizing the hydrogen peroxide.

 The particular quality that leptospermum plants had was labeled as UMF or unique Manuka Factor.

Dr Peter Molan from New Zealand’s Waikato University used graded dilutions in water of a standard antiseptic phenol to give a relationship to the differing antiseptic strengths of the honey that bees produce when they gather nectar from Manuka (Leptospermum) plants. Therefore, a 10+ activity rating for Manuka honey will be the same strength as a 10% solution of phenol in water and so on. The antiseptic quantities of the UMF honey from Leptospermum plants vary according to the location, climate, and season. Using this standard test, Manuka honey could be graded according to its UMF strength. Manuka honey is tested by approved laboratories for its UMF factor rating. Manuka honey without a UMF rating may not be as effective for healing.

Dr Peter Molan's research into the use of Manuka Honey for wound healing found that a UMF rating of  8.2  or more is need for effective therapeutic use. 

UMF honeys penetrate further into skin tissue than normal honeys.

UMF honeys can be more effective than honey when used to relieve stomach ulcer symptoms, gastritis, sore gums, mouth ulcers, sore throat and when applied externally, in assisting the healing of burns, boils, cracked skin, skin ulcers and wounds.

Further research

Professor Thomas Henle, Head of the Institute of Food Chemistry and his team from The Institute of Food Chemistry, at the Technical University of Dresden,  in July 2007,  found  that the active compound in manuka honey that is responsible for it’s antibacterial activity is Methylglyoxal. they also measured the amount of Methylglyoxal in various honeys.

They found that Methylglyoxal occurs in all honeys however the concentration is usually in the range of 0 to 10 mg/kg. In contrast, Methylglyoxal is found in manuka honey from as low as 100 mg/kg and high as 1000 mg/kg.

The higher the Methylglyoxal the stronger the anti-bacterial activity, however with Methylglyoxal levels of 400 mg/kg and higher, active honey has the strength to kill a very large number of harmful bacteria.

Professor Dr. Thomas Henle,  at the Technical University of Dresden, writing in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, refers to the results of a Dresden study which “unambiguously demonstrates for the first time that Methylglyoxal is directly responsible for the antibacterial activity of manuka honey.”

Prof Henle notes the high amounts of Methylglyoxal found in manuka honey have not been found in any other food. Researchers at the university analysed 40 samples of honey from various sources around the world, including six New Zealand manuka honeys.

They found Methylglyoxal levels in the manuka honeys, were up to 1000-fold higher than in the non-manuka products.

Their tests found a median Methylglyoxal level in non-manuka honeys of 3.1 mg/kg. Concentrations of the compound in manuka honey ranged from 38 to 761 mg/kg. A minimum of 100 mg/kg is required for effective antibacterial activity.

The Technical University of Dresden is one of the oldest and most prestigious German Universities, located in Saxony (

The discovery of this compound will allow the medical fraternity to be more able to understand and evaluate its anti-bacterial properties. This could lead to better acceptance and more specific uses for active Manuka Honey.

One New Zealand Manuka honey producer has used the Methylglyoxal levels to rate the strength of their honey.  They have trademarked the words  MGO and devised a rating system similar to the UMF rating set by the AMHA. MGO400+ is similar in strength to UMF 20+ and MGo550+ to UMF25+.


In Australia, recently, as a result of systematic screening of  honeys, a honey with the same properties has been found to be produced from Leptospermum polygalifolium, which grows uncultivated on the east coast of Australia. Three Australian companies now supply antibacterial honey sourced from Australia and New Zealand

Leptospermum polygalifolium

Jarrah Honey
This Honey from Western Australian Jarrah Trees ( Eucalyptus marginata)  has been researched by the  Department of Agriculture And Food Research Western Australia. Their results showed that Jarrah honey had special antimicrobial properties. They measured this antimicrobial using the term of "Total Activity" (TA). Jarrah honey is measured by scientific laboratories with the "TA" ranking. A rating of 15+ can be used to treat wounds, burns and skin infections. A western Australia honey producer now markets Jarrah honey with a TA ranking.

 Eucalyptus marginata


UMF honey is in fairly widespread use as a topical antibacterial agent for the treatment of wounds, burns and skin ulcers, there being many reports of its effectiveness. The observations recorded are that inflammation, swelling and pain are quickly reduced, unpleasant odours cease, sloughing of necrotic tissue occurs without the need for debridement, dressings can be removed painlessly and without causing damage to re-growing tissue, and healing occurs rapidly with minimal scarring.

For wounds - apply using a waterproof dressing  with enough honey to cover the total wound surface. Use 20 ml of honey per 100x100 mm dressing. Honey may dilute with secretions from the wound. Change as often as required, up to 3 times daily.

 For stomach ulcers,gastritis and sore throats - 1-2 teaspoons on an empty stomach, or  at least one half hour before a meal, 1-4 times a day which may assist in healing.


Manuka Honey is used by veterinarians for difficult wound treatment to animals, especially on horses to reduce scarring to prevent movement restriction of legs. 


There are no New Zealand government regulation or standards for the Manuka honey industry. The first attempt at regulation was started by the forming of the Active Manuka Honey Association in September 2002.

UMF is the registered name and trademark of the Active Manuka Honey Association (AMHA) of New Zealand. The AHMA is a group of manuka honey producers who enforce standards of quality of the Manuka honey produced by its individual members. Their members have to meet set criteria which include regular monitoring and auditing of the quality of their honey. Membership in the AMHA entitles each producer member to use the UMF trademark as a rating for the strength of their honey. Samples of their honey are sent to a specially appointed laboratory for testing for antibacterial activity using criteria laid down by the Honey Research Unit at Waikato University, New Zealand.

Checklist to Identify Genuine UMF Manuka Honey:

Genuine UMF Manuka Honey complies with all five of the following criteria:

1. It has the name UMF clearly stated on the front label.
2. It is packed into jars and labeled in New Zealand.
3. It is from a New Zealand company licensed to use the name UMF.
4. It has the UMF licensee’s  name on the front label.
5. It has a rating of UMF10 or more.

A UMF 10 rating is the minimum rating that is effictive for treating infections.

"The Active Manuka Honey Association ) estimates that sales of UMF® honey and honey containing products worldwide is more than NZD$100 million in annual turnover.

One New Zealand Manuka honey producer  has trademarked the words  MGO and devised a rating system based on the Methylglyoxal levels in Manuka honey. Methylglyoxal levels in honey are established using a different testing system to that used for the UMF rating. This Manuka Honey producer claims that this new method of testing gives a more accurate indicator of the antibacterial strength of Manuka Honey and are now marketing honey using the MGO rating system.

Note:  Our thanks to Dr Peter Molan of  the University of Waikato for part of this information

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