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Without the Manuka Flower, we wouldn’t have Manuka Honey. What is it about this flower that makes honey with properties unlike any other? Here are 10 fascinating facts about the Manuka Flower, how it produces the world’s most beneficial honey and the carefully orchestrated steps we at Comvita take to ensure a healthy, sustainable harvest:
Manuka Honey has antimicrobial properties, making it antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral. It also has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immune-modulatory properties. Together these qualities make Manuka Honey great support for digestion, immune function and skin care (even wound care when used correctly). But where does all that come from? What makes Manuka Honey such a powerful wellness solution is all born from the Manuka Flower. There are three phytochemical markers unique to Manuka Honey: Methylglyoxal (also known as MGO, and a key compound responsible for Manuka’s antimicrobial properties), Dihydroxyacetone (or DHA, which is the origin source of MGO and converts to MGO over time), and Leptosperin (which is still being researched but may possess anti-inflammatory properties). In all, Manuka Honey contains over 2,000 individual natural compounds, which is 20x more than some conventional honey varieties (even local specialty honeys).
During a 2-6 week period, peaking in mid-December (the start of Summer down in New Zealand), Manuka is in bloom. Individual flowers may only be open for 5 days - making a very short window for bees to collect nectar from the flower.
Though the Manuka bush itself is resilient, Manuka Flowers are extremely delicate and susceptible to even slight variations in climate, rainfall and wind. Weather extremes also keep bees from harvesting in the very small bloom window - which contributes to the sometimes fluctuating price of Manuka Honey. Moreover, development (urban and agricultural) has pushed the once abundant Manuka bush into the most remote, inaccessible parts of the country. This may be a good thing for the survival of the plant and the quality of Manuka Honey - being far away from pesticides, herbicides and other human contact keeps the Manuka Flower, bee colonies and Manuka Honey healthy and GMO-free.
In addition to the rarity of the bloom, and the hard-to-get-to places where Manuka bushes grow naturally, it also takes bees around 22,700 individual trips to the Manuka Flowers to collect enough nectar to create one 17.6 oz (500g) jar of Manuka Honey. One bee may only collect enough nectar to make ⅕ teaspoon of honey in their lifespan, and one hive may have 40,000 bees collecting nectar to convert into honey. Between the bees, the beekeepers, researchers, testers, packers, drivers and more, there’s a lot of work and livelihood that goes into every jar you see on the shelf, which is why each jar is a precious gift to be honored.
Comvita® Certified UMF™ Manuka Honey is ‘monofloral,’ created from the nectar of the Manuka Flower alone. No one can tell bees where to go or which flowers to visit, but certain measures can be taken in where and when hives are introduced to encourage bees to harvest from the Manuka Flower. Without those measures, bees will pollinate a variety of flowers in addition to the Manuka Flower, which creates ‘multifloral’ Manuka Honey. Multifloral Manuka contains lower levels of Manuka’s active compounds (usually not measuring high enough to get a rating from UMF™ for its ‘Unique Manuka Factor’). All Comvita UMF™ Manuka Honey is monofloral, delivering the best value.
A new study from Israel has shown that flowers are competitive. They are able to sense the vibration of bees’ wings and respond by temporarily sweetening their nectar to attract pollinators. Able to tune out other ‘noise’ such as wind, flowers have developed this evolutionary advantage to continue their genetic legacy. Like other flowers, Manuka may be “listening” out for the bees they depend on.
Imagine going through all the work of caring for the Manuka plant, timing the bees to be on site at full strength to visit the delicate blooms at just the right time. Some Manuka plants are weaker than others and their flowers' nectar doesn't carry high levels of Manuka's key natural beneficial compounds.
Throughout New Zealand, regenerative agriculture programs (including areas planted by Comvita) have prioritized planting Manuka bushes in damaged or depleted land areas. For farmers, planting Manuka bushes is a filter to help reduce the nitrogen and livestock runoff in the soil. Near waterways, the Manuka bush also helps prevent erosion, with, in one study, 65% fewer storm-related landslides over a 10-year period. Up and down New Zealand, Comvita has planted over 6.4 Million Manuka trees since 2016 to enhance biodiversity and restore native ecosystems. It’s all in the name of creating more pesticide-free, GMO-free, wild and untouched spaces for both plants and bees to thrive.
Comvita's 45 years of beekeeping expertise and continuation of the craft means we have to plan everything really carefully year round to ensure a successful harvest. Our bees must be carefully nurtured throughout the year so they are at full health at just the right time, then bee hives must them be carefully placed in the most remote regions of New Zealand (without stressing out the hive) JUST as the blossoms are opening. If bees arrive too soon, they’ll visit other flowers and make multifloral honey. If it gets too windy or rainy, the bees will stay inside the hive and eat their own honey (which is exactly what we humans do when it’s too windy or rainy). Creating the highest quality Manuka Honey takes scientific precision, harmony with nature, and, for Comvita, 45 years of expert beekeeping and cultivating good instincts for quality.
It’s not just about healing people, land or waterways, the popularity of Manuka has also helped develop green infrastructures in New Zealand. New generations are learning regenerative land use practices, how to help native biodiversity prosper, and the traditional craft of beekeeping (which Comvita has been doing since 1974). Our co-founder Claude Stratford was a beekeeper for 90 years of his 103 year life, and he attributed much of his vitality to the benefits of his daily dose of Manuka Honey. For as much as Manuka has helped restore and regenerate the Earth, it has also given a path to prosperity that benefits the body, the greater good and generations to come.
This rarest of flowers is the reason for one of nature’s most precious wellness resources, Manuka Honey. Think of all the extraordinary things that had to happen at just the right time in just the right place to create the conditions for Manuka Honey - just like all the extraordinary things that had to occur for an ordinary day in your life to be possible.
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