How Sustainable Is Mānuka Honey?
Mānuka is truly is one of nature’s special gifts. Despite it's incredible global popularity, it's important to consider that Mānuka flowers only bloom for 2-6 weeks every year, which speaks to how rare and delicate the process of attaining Mānuka honey really is.
Around 180 years ago, the North Island would have been almost completely covered in Mānuka and other native plants, however, European settlers who settled in Aotearoa saw Manuka as a weed and cleared millions of acres of native bush to create grazing pastures for sheep and cattle.
Now with the surge in popularity of Mānuka, there is a revival of the plant in its natural habitat.
The natural habitat of Mānuka can be described as lowland to subalpine areas in various habitats, especially open slopes, river banks, forest margins, and scrub, where it often forms the dominant vegetation. Although native to New Zealand, the Mānuka plant has spread to Australia, the United States, several European countries, Israel and South Africa. Mānuka trees can grow up to three metres.
How often does Mānuka floral?
Small, white flowers appear for two to six weeks between November and January. Individual flowers may only be open for five days for bees to collect nectar from. Manuka flowers are extremely delicate, in contrast with the resilient bush they grow upon. This is why the price of Mānuka has been known to fluctuate, as bad weather can create a short flowering season.
How we can manage Mānuka?
Mānuka often forms the dominant vegetation where it is found. It is a hardwood plant, with strippable bark, often gangly trunk formations, and tough roots. It has a semi-dense foliage of tiny sharp pointed leaves, greyish green in colour and white-pink flowers.
It is believed human settlement brought Mānuka to regions of New Zealand where it did not exist previously and it has been a problem for hill country farmers. However, it is now not considered an invasive species.
How Aotea incorporates Mānuka trees on the island and uses them sustainably?
At Aotea, we source our Mānuka from our own nursery on a hill on Aotea (Great Barrier Island). The plant grows as abundantly there as it does in other parts of the country, such as the East Cape and the Nelson region. It had a reputation among early settlers as a useless, scrubland weed, due to its incredible growth rate and hardiness. However, that reputation couldn’t be further from the truth, as it has come to represent one of our most highly prized national commodities.
After we harvest our Mānuka (making sure to do so in accordance with tikanga!), we most commonly distill the plant matter in our steam distillery. This involves setting a high enough temperate to volatilise the water but not the oil compounds.
The word Mānuka is also commonly linked to Mānuka honey. The production process for harvesting our Mānuka honey is a little bit different. We have to extract honey from the hives with great care, paying attention to the welfare of bees. Mānuka is an incredible plant, and it’s antibacterial properties make it unique and sought after. We are fortunate to have this native warrior growing all over New Zealand
The health benefits of Mānuka honey
Manuka Honey is world renowned as it possesses the highest antimicrobial content of any honey on the planet. This means that it helps fight winter illnesses when consumed and it is also anti-fungal when applied to the skin and can fight all forms of infections.
But not all Manuka Honey is the same. There are markers that show how much antimicrobial activity the honey has. MGO is one of these markers. Another marker is whether the honey is multi-floral or mono-floral. If honey is mono-floral it is a more pure Mānuka honey as its source is Mānuka flowers only.
Our honey comes from Aotea. Aotea is an island (also known as Great Barrier Island), covered in first generation Mānuka trees. This means that there is no cross-pollination between other flowers of other plants. The consequence of this is that our mono-floral capacity is off the charts and our honey is considered to be the purest on the planet.
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