What Makes Mānuka So Special?
Mānuka is a highly valuable plant for its use in rongoā māori, and historically it has had many applications. Some of these applications include:
A soothing and healing tea made from the leaves.
Mānuka honey derived from mānuka flowers has strong antibiotic properties so is used in skin repair and healing.
Mānuka bark was used in the past as a field dressing that could be wrapped and tied around fractures as a splint, like a modern cast.
Mānuka timber is strong and rot-resistant, so was often used on farms for fence-posts.
There are records of the hot, dense smoke of a mānuka fire used as an old Māori cure to revive victims of drowning.
Hoe (paddles) for waka were often beautifully constructed from mānuka.
Mānuka was also used to catch eels by constructing a pā tuna (eel weir) by hammering a row of stakes into a river-bed.
In Pre-European times, weapons such as taiaha and toki (axes) were often constructed from mānuka
So you must be wondering where can you find mānuka? It turns out, just about everywhere!
Mānuka is found abundantly throughout New Zealand. It is highly adaptable and it can be found from the coast up to an altitude of a thousand metres and in a broad range of climatic conditions. It can tolerate high winds, poor soils and harsh environments, such as the Rangipo Desert in Tongariro National Park. It can forge roots in precarious cliffs but also be found in swampy wetlands.
Mānuka is also often mistaken for Kānuka which is another native strain of Tea Tree. Both plants grow in similar areas and climates meaning they are often found side by side. One easy trick for identifying the two plants is by comparing the small sharp leaves. The manuka leaves are harsher while the kānuka leaves are softer. Therefore mānuka = mean and kānuka = kind. Both plants are more easily found between October and April, because this is when they flower. It can almost appear as if the bush has a thin coating of snow.
At Aotea, we source our mānuka 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 manuka 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
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