The world of essential oils is vast, with numerous varieties available: bergamot, camphor, cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint, sage, sandalwood, tea tree and wintergreen to name a few.
However, a newcomer packed with multi-healing properties is making its way to the industry: mānuka oil.
In this article, we will delve into the nature of mānuka oil, its origins, benefits, and many uses.
What is Mānuka Oil?
Mānuka oil, celebrated for its remarkable antibacterial, antimicrobial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, is an essential oil that originates from the native mānuka plant in New Zealand. This resilient plant thrives in New Zealand’s ecosystems, from lowland to sub-alpine regions. It is the same plant from which mānuka honey is sourced.
The mānuka plant is characterised by its bushy and shrubby appearance and has gained global acclaim and recognition primarily for producing the well-known mānuka honey, a close relative of mānuka oil.
Mānuka Oil Origin: A Māori Tradition
The proliferation of mānuka plants across Aotearoa New Zealand can be attributed to the earliest settlers, the Māori people. Amongst the most important native species to the Māori was the moa, a flightless native bird that served as a readily accessible source of protein, and mānuka plants, which they discovered had a wealth of medicinal uses.
Mānuka timber had other practical applications, such as crafting timber for canoe paddles, palisades, and shelters, but it was medicinal potential that was highly valued. They brewed tea from the leaves, using it as a remedy for ailments such as diarrhea, dysentery, and urinary tract infections. Inhaling the vapours from mānuka was believed to alleviate cold symptoms.
Moreover, a bark-infused drink was administered to reduce fever, and the same concoction served as a gargle or mouthwash. Crushed and soaked mānuka seed pods were given to infants suffering from colic, while a poultice made from pounded seed pods was applied to wounds and sores.
Mānuka plants even provided a sweet treat during the summer months when a sugary resin was discovered on the young branches. This resin doubled as a salve for burns, a cough lozenge, and was occasionally administered to infants to ease constipation.
More recently, essential oils have been extracted from mānuka leaves and fresh tips, enabling the formulation of convenient and easy-to-apply products that harness the diverse benefits of mānuka.
The History of Essential Oils
Mānuka oil stands as a noteworthy innovation in the realm of natural remedies, boasting a versatile range of applications in cosmetics, cosmeceuticals, naturopathic treatments, and topical medications. Its inception as a recognised substance can be traced back to the 1970s, followed by the commencement of commercial production in the 1980s. Subsequently, it has undergone rigorous scrutiny and thorough examination by research teams.
The historical origins of essential oils, on the other hand, trace back to ancient Egypt, where various oils were distilled for diverse purposes. This practice of distilling oils was also prevalent in ancient Asia, India, and Europe.
Notably, one of the most prominent proponents of essential oil usage was Hippocrates of Kos (460BC – 370BC), widely regarded as the “Father of Medicine.” Hippocrates revolutionised medical thought by postulating that the brain, rather than the heart, was the source of thoughts and emotions.
Furthermore, he broke away from the prevailing belief that illnesses were divine punishments and instead sought to identify their physical causes before prescribing treatments. His therapeutic repertoire often featured essential oils and plant-based medicines.
In the modern context, mānuka oil has emerged as a recently harnessed essential oil of considerable significance, owing to its potent antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties.
How is Mānuka Oil Made?
The extraction of mānuka oil occurs through a meticulous process known as steam distillation. During this procedure, steam is passed through the freshly cut leaves and branches of the mānuka tree. This particular genus belongs to the Myrtaceae family, renowned for its abundance of essential oils found in the leaves of its plant members.
Mānuka Oil vs Tea Tree Oil
Mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium) has historically been referred to by the same name as the tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia). This nomenclature stems from the practice of early New Zealand settlers who brewed tea from the fragrant leaves of the mānuka tree. Although these trees share a geographical origin and belong to the same botanical family, their essential oils possess unique and distinct chemical compositions, each with its own set of distinctive properties.
Mānuka oil is distinguished by its rich content of triketones and flavonoids, endowing it with powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties similar to tea tree oil.
Tea tree oil also possesses these valuable properties, albeit in a less concentrated form compared to mānuka.
Their difference? Tea tree oil contains a substantial amount of monoterpenes, which contribute to its strong, sometimes displeasing odour. In contrast, mānuka oil contains sesquiterpenes, which are less volatile and result in a milder and more admirable fragrance.
Tea tree primarily thrives in Australia, with approximately 44 endemic species of Tea Tree found in that region. On the other hand, mānuka is native to New Zealand and exhibits a sturdy growth pattern throughout the island. Scientists speculate that mānuka oil has adapted to New Zealand’s intense sunlight, which is partly a consequence of the ozone layer depletion in that area.
Exploring the Botanical Aspects of mānuka Oil
Leptospermum scoparium is the sole Leptospermum species indigenous to New Zealand. It exhibits a diverse range in size, from a creeping plant to a small tree, with heights reaching up to 8 meters. This species enjoys a widespread distribution across various climatic and altitudinal zones within New Zealand. What’s more, there is considerable variation in its physical attributes across different populations, including characteristics such as flower and leaf colour, leaf size and shape, branching patterns, and foliage density.
The Complete A-Zs of Mānuka Oil’s Health Properties
- Analgesic: Provides effective pain relief.
- Anthelmintic: Kills parasitic worms or helminths from the body.
- Antibacterial/Bactericidal: Kills and prevents bacterial growth.
- Anti-dandruff: Prevents the occurrence of dandruff, a common scalp condition.
- Antihistamine: Prevents allergic reactions and inflammatory responses.
- Anti-inflammatory: Minimizes inflammation and swelling.
- Antifungal: Kills and prevents fungal growth.
- Antiseptic: Inhibits infection.
- Cicatrisant: Promotes skin healing.
- Cytophylactic: Keeps skin cells healthy.
- Deodorant: Prevents unpleasant body odours.
- Expectorant: Facilitates mucus and sputum secretion within the airways, aiding in the clearance of blockages, particularly in cases of a congested throat.
- Immune Stimulant: Boosts the immune system’s responses to infections and diseases.
- Insecticidal: Eliminates insects such as mosquitoes, sandflies, and spiders.
- Relaxant: Induces relaxation and minimises tension.
- Spasmolytic: Relieves muscle spasms.
- Vulnerary: Promotes wound healing.
The Chemical Composition Behind Mānuka Oil
Mānuka ’s superpowers can be attributed to the chemical compound triketones—an organic compound responsible for mānuka oil’s antimicrobial, antifungal, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
As a result, studies show that mānuka oil is a powerful remedy with a 99.9% kill rate against a broad spectrum of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria.
Gram-Positive Bacteria vs Gram-Negative Bacteria: What’s the Difference?
|FAQ||Gram-Positive Bacteria||Gram-Negative Bacteria|
|DEFINITION||Microorganisms with Gram-positive bacteria have thick peptidoglycan cell walls, resulting in their retention of the dye during Gram testing. Consequently, when observed under a microscope, they exhibit a blue colouration.
These Gram-positive bacteria can take on various shapes, which include cocci (spherical) and bacilli (rod-shaped), or they may even display branching filaments.
|Gram-negative bacteria possess an outer membrane, but their peptidoglycan cell wall is notably thinner compared to Gram-positive bacteria. Hence, they do not retain the blue dye employed in Gram testing and do not exhibit a blue colouration.
Instead, under a microscope, Gram-negative bacteria typically appear red or pink in colour.
These bacteria are of considerable concern in the realm of public health due to their elevated resistance to antibiotics, making them one of the most pressing challenges in global healthcare.
|TYPES||Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
Mānuka oil is composed of three dominant chemotypes (races of plants with different chemistry): monoterpenes (alpha-pinene and beta-pinene), triketones (flavesone, iso-leptospermone, and leptospermone), and sesquiterpenes (alpha-eudesmol, beta-eudesmol, alpha-caryophyllene, and beta-caryophyllene).
One particularly notable chemotype of triketones, known as leptospermone, exhibits effective inhibition of the growth of foodborne Gram-positive bacteria, including Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, and Staphylococcus intermedius. What’s more, it demonstrates efficacy against intestinal Gram-positive bacteria like Clostridium difficile and Clostridium perfringens. It has been demonstrated to combat foodborne Gram-negative bacterial pathogens including Salmonella typhimurium, Shigella flexneri, and Shigella sonnei.
In addition, mānuka oil exhibits impressive anti-fungal properties, making it a valuable resource for addressing fungal infections namely ringworm, athlete’s foot, and fungal nail infections (i.e. fingernail fungus and toenail fungus). Its anti-inflammatory properties further enhance mānuka oil’s versatility, making it a promising ingredient for skincare formulations designed to tackle various skin-related issues, including ageing, acne, dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, wound healing, burns, scars, and more.
With regards to its antioxidant properties, mānuka oil’s remarkable attributes extend to its antioxidant properties, attributed to its potent anti-oxidant and sesquiterpene compounds. These properties render it valuable in combating skin issues caused by UV damage: wrinkles, skin inflammation, skin thickening, and collagen fibre degradation.
Are All Mānuka Oils the Same?
The answer is no.
Scientific evidence reveals that the antimicrobial effectiveness of mānuka oil is primarily contingent on the concentration of triketones within the oil. Additionally, this efficacy can be influenced by the specific geographical region from which the mānuka oil is sourced.
- The Northland region is distinguished by mānuka oil with high levels of monoterpenes, α-pinene and β-pinenes.
- The East Cape and Marlborough Sounds regions hold mānuka oil with high levels of triketones.
- Other areas across New Zealand have mānuka oil with lower concentrations of monoterpenes and along with a complex mixture of sesquiterpenes.
What does Mānuka Oil Smell Like?
The aroma of mānuka oil is characterised by an earthy, woody and balsamic scent that is simultaneously fresh, soothing and calming.
Is Mānuka Oil Comedogenic?
Mānuka oil is a non-comedogenic essential oil that effectively retains moisture, providing hydration without clogging the pores.
Comedogenesis refers to the assessment of the likelihood that an oil will obstruct the pores of the skin, with the facial area being the most common concern regarding comedogenicity. Simply put, a “comedo” is a term that describes a pimple or a blackhead. It represents the body’s inflammatory reaction to the accumulation of bacteria beneath stratum corneum, also known as the outermost protective layer of the skin.
The concept of comedogenesis serves as a means to distinguish between products that may lead to pore blockages, resulting in breakouts, and those that are less likely to disrupt the skin, potentially contributing to skin health.
The Comedogenic Scale proves to be a valuable tool, particularly for individuals who regularly use skincare products, in identifying potential causes of acne. Furthermore, it aids in identifying products that can promote the cleansing, clarification, and hydration of the skin’s outermost layer, known as the epidermis.
It’s important to note that various factors, such as an individual’s skin type, environmental conditions, and dietary choices, significantly influence how one responds to a particular oil. Hence, the comedogenic scale should be regarded as a guideline rather than an absolute rule that universally applies to everyone.
Mānuka Essential Oil Benefits and Uses
|SKIN CARE||FACIAL CARE||HAIR CARE||MEDICINAL||HOUSEHOLD||OTHERS|
Chafing and Rashes
Fungal Infections and Nail Bed Infections
Insect Bites and Stings
Foot and body odour
Pet skin issues (for both dogs and cats)
Can You Ingest Mānuka Oil?
Incorporating mānuka oil into your dietary regimen may initially appear enticing, but pure mānuka oil (and other essential oils, in general) should never be ingested.
It is imperative to remember that oil and water do not readily mix. Consequently, when essential oils are added to water, they tend to remain on the surface. When ingested, these oils come into direct contact with the mucous membranes, which can be harmful to the digestive tract. As a result, it may cause serious health risks, potentially leading to various adverse effects.
Despite there being no scientific evidence validating the safety and benefits of ingesting mānuka oil, despite numerous essential oil companies continuing to advocate oral consumption of their products to customers.
Individuals may present different reactions to essential oils, similar to their reactions to other medications and products. More so, anyone can develop allergies to various substances, irrespective of whether they induce allergic reactions in others.
Children, due to their delicate skin and underdeveloped livers, may be more susceptible to toxic effects than adults. There may be interactions with other medications, and depending on the preparation of essential oils, they could contain other ingredients, such as other oils or alcohol, which might lead to potential allergic reactions or toxicity.
Although there is a list of essential oils that are Generally Recognised As Safe (GRAS) maintained by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), this list is not exhaustive. Furthermore, it’s important to note that the FDA does not oversee or regulate essential oils. As a result, exercising caution when choosing a brand is imperative.
To make informed choices, seek out reputable brands that offer transparency regarding the sourcing of plants and the methods used for extraction. This transparency enhances safety and ensures a more reliable usage experience.
How To Use Mānuka Oil
- A few drops of mānuka oil can be added to a diffuser or vaporiser for stress relief and a calming effect.
- Mix mānuka oil with other essential oils like frankincense, lavender or vetiver, for example, to enjoy a relaxing evening room spray or diffuser blend.
- Dry skin – Dry skin – Blend 1 teaspoon of a carrier oil with 1-2 drops of mānuka oil for an overall moisturizer. Alternatively, add 6-8 drops to a tablespoon of natural lotions or body creams.
- Acne – Apply 3-6 drops of mānuka oil to the affected areas daily or as needed.
- Nail care – Dab a few drops of mānuka oil on a cotton ball. Then, pat gently on the nail bed. Massage it into the fingernails and cuticles after washing hands.
- Foot soak – Create a DIY foot soak by mixing 3 drops of mānuka oil with ¼ cup of salt in a basin, preferably with warm water. Soak feet for approximately 10 minutes, then pat them dry.
- Post-shave care – After shaving, add a few drops of mānuka oil to the legs, massage it into the skin, and follow up with a preferred lotion.
- Pre-Moisturizer – Apply a few drops of mānuka oil directly to the skin to moisturize and nourish the face. Seal it in by using a facial moisturizer.
- Shampoo/Conditioner – Enhance hair and scalp health by adding 2 drops of mānuka oil to shampoo once a week. During the washing process, take extra time to gently massage the scalp. This helps thoroughly cleanse the hair while ensuring it receives ample moisture, thereby helping to prevent flakes and dryness.
- Hair mask – Create a nourishing hair mask by mixing a few drops of mānuka essential oil with a carrier oil. Massage gently into scalp and hair. Retain warmth by covering the hair with a shower cap. Follow up with a shampoo and conditioner after leaving the mask on for 15-30 minutes.
- Adding a few drops of mānuka oil to toothpaste or mouthwash can help reduce plaque buildup and aid in the prevention of gum disease.
- Dilute a few drops of mānuka oil in water to create a natural cleaner.
- Prepare ready-to-use disinfectant or cleaning wipes by filling a glass jar with witch hazel (or alcohol) and adding 20 drops of mānuka oil. Store sturdy paper towels in the jar for convenient access.
- In a glass spray bottle, mix 20 drops of mānuka oil with alcohol to create a quick and effective disinfectant.
- Use a few drops of mānuka oil to remove residual glue from stickers or tape on hard surfaces.
- For soothing bug bites and stings, apply a few drops of mānuka oil every few hours.
- Create an effective insect repellent by mixing mānuka, tea tree, citronella, and lemongrass oils in a brown glass spray bottle with alcohol or witch hazel. This versatile mixture can be used on humans, pets, or even plants to deter insects.
- Muscle and Joint Relief – Add a few drops of mānuka oil to the affected area and massage thoroughly. Another method is adding 10 to 20 drops of mānuka oil to a hot bath to ease muscle and joint discomfort and experience the relaxation of soothing vapours.
- Room Odour Transformation – Infuse living spaces with the warm and gentle scent of mānuka oil by diffusing four drops of the oil.
- DIY Natural Perfume – Craft personalized natural perfume by blending mānuka oil with other essential oils such as sandalwood, cedarwood, rose, or citrus.
- Natural Car Freshener – To enjoy a natural and pleasing air freshener in the car, apply a few drops of mānuka oil onto a piece of cardboard and attach it to the car’s air vent.
- Natural Hand Sanitizer: Create a natural hand sanitiser by combining mānuka oil with alcohol or witch hazel and add aloe vera to a small bottle.
- Pet Skin Soothing -: If your dogs or cats have itchy skin, dilute a few drops of mānuka oil with water to provide relief for skin conditions and coat health.
Mānuka Oil: Reading the Label
MGO and UMF are measurements that quantify the presence of specific compounds within mānuka oil. It is believed that beta triketone fraction is responsible for mānuka oil’s unique combination of properties.
The grading system used for Mānuka oil, denoted as MβTK, evaluates the levels of naturally occurring beta triketones within the oil. The MβTK quality mark employs grades such as 5+, 10+, 25+, and 30+. For instance, a grade of 30+ signifies that the oil contains a minimum of 30% beta triketones.
New Zealand’s East Cape Mānuka oil is renowned for its high beta triketone concentration. Therefore, when selecting products, opting for those explicitly specifying their origin as East Cape Mānuka ensures the highest potential for health benefits.