Honey not only tastes delicious – it can have beneficial effects for our health too. In fact, it was used far back as ancient Greece and ancient Egypt, especially for its wound-healing effects.
Of all the types of honey we can buy, manuka honey is thought to have the most significant health benefits. So what’s so special about it?
What is manuka honey?
Manuka honey is produced by bees that gather nectar from the flowers of the manuka bush, which is native to New Zealand. They’re not special bees – they just feed on this specific plant!
The manuka bush has antibacterial and general antimicrobial properties. The leaves, sap and oil of the manuka tree are said to have a long history of use by the Maori – the native New Zealanders – as a natural remedy for ailments including skin complaints, colds and flu.  What’s more, the manuka is a cousin of the tea tree plant, which – as you’ll know if you’ve ever used tea tree essential oil – also has potent antimicrobial activity.
Benefits and uses of manuka honey
Like the manuka bush itself, manuka honey is most often used for its antibacterial and general antimicrobial activity. All types of honey can have some antibacterial activity –including by producing natural hydrogen peroxide, and thanks to their acidic pH that can inhibit bacterial growth . But in manuka honey, other natural antibacterial substances have been identified, including methylglyoxal (MGO) and leptosperin, which are thought to make it particularly effective.
Like some other honeys, manuka honey may also have anti-inflammatory and wound-healing activity .
Here are some of its potential uses:
- Topical use for wound healing – this is one of its most recognised applications [2,3,4]. For this use, it’s generally advised to use specialised gels and creams containing medical-grade manuka honey such as Medihoney Antibacterial Wound Gel
- Orally, it may have support healing of gastric ulcers , including by inhibiting the growth of the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (which can be a cause of ulcers) 
- It may also help those with colitis  – inflammation of the lining of the colon – although there’s no published research on this use in humans
- Other popular anecdotal uses of manuka honey include general immune support, sore throat, and supporting bacterial balance in the gut
- It may also be beneficial in skin creams for irritated, itchy skin, including symptoms of eczema. Comvita Medihoney Derma Cream is an example of a skin cream formulated for this purpose
Manuka honey strength ratings – and how to choose
You might have seen various different numbers on jars of manuka honey. These are strength ratings – and there can be several different types.
The most widely recognised is UMF – ‘unique manuka factor’. This is a measure of the total non-peroxide activity of the honey – the antimicrobial/antibacterial properties that are not related to hydrogen peroxide. This is important because although hydrogen peroxide has antimicrobial activity, it is not stable and can be easily destroyed by light and heat. The UMF activity is thought to be more stable. For a honey to carry the UMF trademark, it has to be tested by independent laboratories for the UMF Honey Association and verified to be pure and have a specific level of active compounds, indicated by a number often between 5+ and 28+ (with higher numbers indicating stronger activity).
MGO is another rating that you may see on some honeys. MGO stands for methylglyoxal – this is one of the non-peroxide active substances measured in the UMF rating. The MGO is measured in milligrams per kilo, so the numbers you’ll see on the label are different to UMF: they usually range from 100+mg/kg for a mild honey up to 600+mg/kg for a strong one. (So if you see MGO 100+ on the label, that doesn’t mean it’s ten times stronger than a UMF 10+!)
Generally speaking, choosing either a product marked with the UMF trademark or with an MGO rating can give you the assurance that your manuka honey is pure and not blended with other honeys.
Research suggests that choosing a UMF of at least 8+  can have therapeutic effects, with anything stronger providing additional benefit.
- Lusby, PE et al. Honey: A Potent Agent for Wound Healing? J Wound Care 2002;29(6):295-300.
- Molan PC. Re-introducing honey in the management of wounds and ulcers – theory and practice. Ostomy Wound Manage. 2002 Nov;48(11):28-40.
- Pure Manuka Honey – About Manuka Honey. [online] Manukahoney.co.uk. Available at: https://manukahoney.co.uk/info/about-manuka [Accessed 19 Dec. 2016].
- Tonks AJ et al. Honey stimulates inflammatory cytokine production from monocytes. Cytokine. 2003 Mar 7;21(5):242-7.
- Almasaudi SB et al. Antioxidant, Anti-inflammatory, and Antiulcer Potential of Manuka Honey against Gastric Ulcer in Rats. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2016;2016:3643824.
- al Somal N et al. Susceptibility of Helicobacter pylori to the antibacterial activity of manuka honey. J R Soc Med. 1994 Jan;87(1):9-12.
- Prakash A et al. Effect of different doses of Manuka honey in experimentally induced inflammatory bowel disease in rats. Phytother Res. 2008 Nov;22(11):1511-9.