Manuka, the therapeutic honey

That honey is a panacea for all seasonal illness was something our grandmothers knew well. From a cough to a stomach ache, from burns to stubborn wounds, a spoonful of honey to swallow or to apply locally was the solution to every problem. 

These popular beliefs do have a solid scientific basis. As illustrated in The Nature and Composition of Honey and in countless other articles and studies published by Peter Molan, professor of biochemistry and founder and director of the Honey Research Unit of the University of Waikato in New Zealand, there are several factors that determine the antibacterial capacity of honey: 

  • sugar content, acidity level, and osmotic effect that prevent the proliferation of bacteria; 
  • presence of royal jelly proteins and peptides with an antibiotic effect;
  • most of all, the percentage of hydrogen peroxide (a traditional disinfectant)

One variety of honey stands out as being more powerful than all others: Manuka honey, derived from the Leptospermum scoparium plant, which grows spontaneously in New Zealand: Manuka is the Maori word for the tree with its characteristic white flowers. 

Manuka honey is characterized by its non-peroxide activity, ie the unique ability to maintain its antibacterial power even by adding the catalasein other words the unique ability to preserve its antibacterial properties even in the presence of catalase, the enzyme that breaks down hydrogen peroxide. The non-peroxidic activity is due to the presence of so-called essential markers: the combined action of these substances, found only in Manuka honey, is such that, depending on their amounts and proportions, it may be possible to label the honey as therapeutic. Several studies have been performed over the years in addition to Professor Molan’s, for the most part these are collected in Honey Therapeutic Manuka: No Longer So Alternative (Frontiers of Microbiology).

The paper highlights well the many fields of application and efficacy of Manuka honey:

  • Skin infections, even chronic ones, including those caused by fungi, and especially by the fearsome MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), diabetic ulcers, burns, wounds, even in the presence of biofilms
  • Gastrointestinal infections, gastroesophageal reflux, gastritis, peptic ulcer, caused by candidiasis as well as H. pylori
  • Psoriasis, rosacea, acne, eczema
  • Cough, cold, flu, sore  throat, and affections of the mouth and pharynx or of the mucous membranes
  • Overall improvement of the immune system functionalities, by killing harmful bacteria of the gastrointestinal tract

Studies are also being run, which will require additional work, on the possibility of controlling the growth of cancerous cells and metastases, and to alleviate the collateral effects cause by chemo- and radio-therapy. 

Following the publication and release of this research, as well as others, Manuka honey as expected is now booming all over the world, with Leptospermum scoparium being exported in areas unsuitable for production. In an attempt to control the situation and avoid abuse and false promises to the public, over the years different classification criteria have been proposed, to be either discarded or approved officially by governments, starting with New Zealand. Setting aside specific products for clinical or hospital use, which follow dedicated distribution channels, it is now possible to buy jars of Manuka honey in many pharmacies and para-pharmacies. To understand one’s way around the shelves, it is essential to distinguish the accepted standards for the definition of purity, quality, and therapeutic level:

  • UMF® (Unique Manuka Factor®): : a trademark registered by the UMF Honey Association and currently considered the main international standard. The UMF value measures the overall content of three of the essential markers previously mentioned (methylglyoxal, hydroxymethylfluoride and leptosine), and must be clearly shown on the label.
  • MGS ™ (Molan Gold Standard ™): is the trademark defined by Professor Molan himself, which measures in a standardized and internationally accepted way the content of markers methylglyoxal, hydroxymethylfluoride, DHA and leptosinefound only in some varieties of Manuka honey specific to New Zealand. Every jar of MGS certified Manuka honey is characterized by a serial number in the back which can be used to trace the production hives in New Zealand.
  • MGO ™: is a classification, by some considered to be less rigorous but still used by some of the historical brands of honey, which is based on the sole amount in milligrams of methylglyoxal (MGO) per kg of honey. 

The numbers quantifying UMF and Molan Gold Standard are comparable. The classification of Manuka honey according to the three standards is the following:

In practical terms, therefore, what is the way to use Manuka honey to reap the maximum benefits? As recommended on the web page by diagnostic-functional nutritionist Wendy Myers of the USA, author of a very popular YouTube channel, it is possible to consume Manuka honey orally or to apply it locally according to the following dosages. 


  • 1-2 teaspoons per day of UMF 10+ honey as a general immune system booster
  • 1-3 teaspoons per day of UMF 15+ - UMF 25+ honey for pathologies of the digestive or respiratory system


  • Wounds and burns: UMF 20+ or higher honey applied liberally every 12 hours, covering the area with sterile gauze or other appropriate bandage.
  • Rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, or acne: UMF 20+ or higher honey applied to the affected area, which must then be adequately bandaged, for one hour per day (note that the honey may irritate delicate skins).

It is therefore safe to conclude that, expect for the specific conditions such as allergies or diabetes, Manuka honey is a true broad-spectrum remedy. It is quite strong (not to mention expensive), so there is no need to overdo the therapeutic grade to reap the desired results. One word of warning: do not add it to hot beverages such as tea, chamomile, or milk, as one might be tempted to do with common honey, especially for coughs and colds: the heat damages or nullifies the non-peroxidic activity of its components. Better to consume it directly from a tablespoon or, as an alternative, after spreading it on a slice of bread: it has a very characteristic taste, sweet and tangy, typical of dark honey.

Article by Marilena Falcone published on Health online. 



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