From the soothing scents in aromatherapy to their applications in skincare and health, essential oils play a crucial role in enhancing the overall quality of life. Among these aromatic wonders, mānuka oil emerges as a standout.


What Is Mānuka Oil?

Mānuka oil, known for its strong antibacterial, antimicrobial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory qualities, is an essential oil extracted from the native mānuka plant in New Zealand. This resilient plant thrives in various New Zealand ecosystems, ranging from lowland to sub-alpine regions, and is the same source as mānuka honey.

Identifiable by its bushy and shrubby appearance, the mānuka plant has gained popularity primarily for producing the widely acclaimed mānuka honey, a close relative to mānuka oil.


Mānuka Oil and its Māori Heritage

car in the middle of manuka plant plantation

The history of mānuka is deeply rooted in the indigenous cultures of New Zealand, where the mānuka tree (Leptospermum scoparium) is native. The Māori people, the indigenous Polynesian inhabitants of New Zealand, have long recognised the medicinal properties of mānuka. They used various parts of the plant for traditional remedies, including treating wounds, skin ailments, and respiratory issues.

In the early 20th century, researchers identified that honey produced from the nectar of mānuka flowers had exceptional antibacterial qualities. This revelation led to a surge in interest and research surrounding mānuka and its potential health benefits.

In recent decades, mānuka has gained significant popularity in the global market, particularly in the wellness and skincare industries. The extraction of mānuka oil and the development of various mānuka-based products have further expanded its applications. Today, this wonder oil is not only celebrated for its cultural significance among the Māori but is also recognised globally for its therapeutic properties.


The Power of Mānuka Oil

Mānuka oil is becoming essential due to the rich leaf oils found in mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium) plants. Besides being highly versatile in aromatherapy, it comes with scientifically proven benefits and healing properties. 

With strong antimicrobial features, mānuka oil is effective against bacteria, fungi, viruses, and inflammation. Its unique qualities make it beneficial for different purposes, including:

  • Prevents UV damage and reduces signs of aging
  • Topical application reduces wrinkles and increases skin thickness
  • Effective for acne relief, unclogging inflamed pores, and addressing cystic acne
  • Over 20 times more potent than tea tree oil, particularly when harvested in the East Cape
  • Promotes wound healing, prevents scars, and aids burn recovery
  • Acts as a deodorant (at 0.03% concentration)
  • Beneficial for hair health and dandruff relief
  • Potent antibacterial properties, estimated to be 25 times stronger than tea tree oil, effective against MRSA
  • Addresses conditions like athlete’s foot and insect bites
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Used as a mouthwash to reduce radiation-induced mucositis in head and neck cancers, reducing pain and oral symptoms

Mānuka oil contains various types of terpenes, including both monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes. 

  • Monoterpenes – These are smaller molecules and can make up a significant portion of the oil, ranging from 3% to 40%, depending on factors such as the processing method and growing conditions. The composition of monoterpenes in mānuka oil may vary, contributing to its distinct aroma and potential therapeutic properties. 
  • Sesquiterpenes – Mānuka oil contains sesquiterpenes with concentrations equal to or greater than 60%. These larger molecules are believed to work in reducing oxidative stress and can be found in higher concentrations in mānuka oil from the southern regions of New Zealand. The combination of various terpenes in mānuka oil contributes to its distinct fragrance and potential health benefits.

CO2 Extraction vs Steam Distillation

man harvesting manuka plant to extract manuka oil through steam distillation process in plantation

CO2 extraction and steam distillation are two distinct methods used to obtain essential oils, each with its own set of advantages and characteristics. CO2 extraction involves using carbon dioxide in a supercritical state to extract essential oils from plant material. This method is known for its ability to preserve a broader spectrum of volatile compounds, including delicate aromatic molecules like terpenes. It typically yields a more complete and nuanced profile of the essential oil. Meanwhile, steam distillation is a traditional method that utilises steam to extract essential oils. While it has been widely employed for centuries, steam distillation may result in the loss of certain volatile compounds due to the high temperatures involved.

Aroma Comparison: CO2 Extraction Vs Steam Distillation for Mānuka

The CO2 extraction method is suggested to influence the aroma of mānuka oil by imparting a fruitier smell. This effect is attributed to the method’s ability to preserve volatile terpenes. 

Studies comparing CO2 extraction with other methods, such as steam distillation, have demonstrated that CO2-extracted oils, including those from rosemary and citrus, tend to have more appealing fragrances. In the case of mānuka oil, the use of CO2 extraction is associated with a fruity aroma, creating a distinctive olfactory profile that differs from other extraction methods.

The CO2 extraction method ensures that the end product of mānuka oil maintains a richer and more detailed composition of its aromatic elements, improving its overall quality and potential health benefits.


What are the Triketones found in Mānuka?

Triketones are natural compounds found in nature known for their strong ability to fight harmful bacteria, fungi, and inflammation. The chemical makeup of mānuka essential oil distinguishes it from other oils, with the most common triketones found in it being sesquiterpenes, E-calamenene, leptospermone, and isoleptospermone.

  • Sesquiterpenes, the less volatile triketones in mānuka oil, contribute to a gentler and more pleasant smell. 
  • E-calamenene, a key compound, gives mānuka oil its special spicy yet sweet scent, supported by research showing its effectiveness in creating a calming environment. 
  • Leptospermone, another powerful triketone, is known for its anti-inflammatory effects, playing a vital role in calming irritated skin and reducing redness. Leptospermone also has surface-cleansing properties, suggesting its potential use in cleaning. 
  • Isoleptospermone, found in mānuka oil, adds to its antioxidant properties, helping to fight against harmful free radicals and supporting overall skin health.


Mānuka Oil in the Economic Context

The projected growth of the global essential oil market, reaching approximately USD 11.67 billion by 2022, reflects a rising trend in consumer awareness concerning the health benefits associated with natural and organic personal care products. This awareness is anticipated to be a significant driving force for the essential oil market worldwide. As the organic product industry expands, major manufacturers are redirecting their focus from synthetic to natural additives.

The economic perspective of mānuka oil is noteworthy, with prices starting at around £15 for a 5 ml bottle online. Key producers of mānuka honey include API Health, Camels Honey, Comital, Happy Valley, Manuka Health, Mossop’s, Ora Honey Pure Honey New Zealand, Waite Mata Honey, and Watson & Sons.

In a broader economic context, mānuka honey exports reached £285 million in 2015, with officials in New Zealand aiming to elevate the industry to over £1.2 billion in the next decade.

Find out why mānuka oil is expensive here.

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