In a small rural town on the East Cape of New Zealand, former employees of the recently abolished New Zealand Forest Service, without work, and wondering about the future of their community, started cutting manuka for firewood for sale in Gisborne. At the suggestion of the late Sir Peter Tapsell, they arranged for Cawthron Institute to undertake testing which demonstrated that staphylococcus aureus was killed at less the .05% concentration.
Due to the surprise of the initial testing further testing was undertaken comparing East Cape manuka oil, East Cape Kanuka oil, Australian tea tree oil and high terpineol pine oil against forty pathogens.
The active ingredients in manuka oil were identified as a class of chemicals called β-triketones. These chemicals had been synthetically produced in a German University and identified as having strong antimicrobial activity. They claimed that the chemicals had never been identified in nature, but manuka testing proved otherwise.
The study provided enough evidence for the group to create the first manuka oil processing facility in New Zealand.
For the first fifteen years all production was from wild harvested brush and supply was more dependent on land access. Around 2015 the first manuka plantations for manuka oil were planted. Now there are more than 300 hectares of plantation on the East Cape and five production facilities. There are also now more than 1000 peer reviewed research papers about the oil
So, an industry is being born, and the vision of the founders is being realized.
Mānuka - The Protector
Manuka trees are the protector of the forest. When land is cleared from fire or man, manuka are the first to grow and provide shelter and protection for the slower growing trees which will become the old men of the forest.
Manuka trees provide bees with nectar that has antibacterial properties. They also provide bioactives which are protectors of human health and wellbeing, protectors of employment in rural communities and protectors of the planet in sequestration of carbon.
Protector of Health & Wellbeing
It kills bacteria that cause skin and oral infections such as acne, school sores, abscesses, boils, cellulitis and gingivitis. East Cape mānuka oil is around 1,000 times more powerful than mānuka honey and 30 times more powerful than Australian tea tree oil against these bacteria.
It is also highly effective against viruses that cause cold sores and shingles, and fungi and yeasts that cause athlete’s foot, ring worm, jock itch, nappy rash and thrush.
Protector of Community & Environment
Sustainable, carbon-friendly mānuka plantations have become an economic lifeline in the rural community of East Cape. Exports are growing, and new jobs and income streams are being created. More than 5 million mānuka trees have been planted to date.
Mānuka-dominant vegetation helps protect New Zealand’s rich biodiversity of animals and plants, and help with erosion control and improves water quality.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when microbes such as bacteria mutate and become unresponsive to antimicrobials such as antibiotics. By 2050, 10 million people will die from AMR infections. Excessive use of topical antibiotics is a key driver of AMR. The Covid-19 pandemic has intensified the impact of AMR because of the increased production and use of antibiotics, sanitisers and other chemicals.
Superbug Infections on the rise
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA is one of the most common strains of antibiotic resistant staph. Hospitalisations as a result of serious bacterial infections, especially those caused by MRSA, are on the rise.
Manuka Oil’s role in the fight against AMR
Plant essential oils have a significant role in the development of safe and effective antimicrobials with multiple mechanisms of action. Research shows that β-triketone rich East Cape mānuka oil is highly effective against a wide range of drug resistant pathogens, including MRSA, highlighting the importance of this precious essential oil in the fight against AMR.