5 Reasons Manuka Honey Should Be In Your Pantry, Medicine Cabinet & Beauty Routine

Image by Martí Sans / Stocksy

When it comes to superfoods, honey is already a big deal. But while you may be familiar with the health benefits most honey has to offer, there's another variety that's making waves in the wellness and natural beauty worlds—Manuka honey—and it comes with its own unique list of health benefits and uses.

"When I get that scratch in my throat, I go straight for the Manuka honey," Will Cole, D.C., IFMCP, functional medicine expert, told mbg. "This honey from New Zealand has even higher nutritional content than regular raw honey and has next-level antimicrobial properties. I'll add a little to my dandelion tea throughout the day." 

But Manuka's perks extend well beyond battling the common cold. Here, learn everything you need to know about the unique health and beauty benefits of Manuka honey, what to do with it, and how to make sure you're buying the highest quality product.

What is Manuka honey (and what makes it so special)?

Native to New Zealand, Manuka honey is produced by bees that pollinate the flowers of the Manuka bush (Leptospermum scoparium). While all honey has been used medicinally for thousands of years, Manuka honey is much newer to the health scene—in fact, the Manuka plant's enhanced antibacterial properties weren't identified and studied until the 1980s.

But what sets it apart from all the other wonderful honeys out there? While raw honey's reputation as a medicinal aid is largely due to its antimicrobial activity that stems from its hydrogen peroxide content, Manuka honey contains additional compounds—methylglyoxal (MGO), dihydroxyacetone (DHA), and a few others—that make it even more beneficial for both internal and topical use. These special compounds originate from—you guessed it—the nectar of the Manuka flower.

5 health benefits and uses of Manuka honey.

Due to its antimicrobial activity, nutritional profile, and anti-inflammatory and humectant properties, Manuka honey has a variety of health and beauty benefits when eaten or used directly on the skin. Here are some of the most promising, research-backed reasons to consider adding Manuka honey to your daily diet and natural skin care regimen.

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1. Boosts the appearance of skin

Manuka honey has been shown to have cosmetic benefits such as increasing the production of collagen (which in turn, increases skin elasticity), reducing dark spots, and acting as an anti-inflammatory, which may help calm inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea and acne. Due to its humectant properties (i.e., its ability to attract water to the surface of the skin as well as deliver hydration to the deeper layers), applying Manuka honey topically can also help skin retain moisture, making it a perfect addition to your beauty routine in cold, dry winter months.

Try it: For a simple face mask, spread a tablespoon of Manuka honey over your clean face (avoiding the eyes). Leave it on for 20 minutes, then rinse with warm water. Pat your face dry and apply your favorite moisturizer or facial oil. For additional skin-brightening, acne-fighting benefits, mix the Manuka honey with a pinch of turmeric before applying.

2. Lulls you to sleep faster

If you're struggling to catch some Zzzs, consider adding Manuka honey to your evening cup of herbal tea. Manuka honey contains high levels of tryptophan (also found in turkey, it's the same amino acid credited with making you drowsy after Thanksgiving dinner). Tryptophan, in turn, triggers the production of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that helps you relax and acts as a precursor to the production of melatonin, that all-important hormone that regulates sleep

Try it: Add a teaspoon of Manuka honey to your evening cup of chamomile tea or golden milk.

3. Heals wounds and skin infections

What's more, Manuka honey is a powerful antibiotic—and one that could help treat skin infections otherwise considered untreatable, like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). There are currently no reports of microbial resistance to honey, and Manuka honey has specifically been shown to attack infections that have formed a biofilm—a stage that was once thought to render infections untreatable. In one study, the application of honey to diabetic foot ulcers was found to heal 43.3 percent of ulcers completely.

Try it: For small, manageable cuts and scrapes, add a dab of Manuka honey directly to the skin before attaching your bandage. For larger wounds, always consult a doctor.

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4. Soothes sore throats and coughs

Manuka honey is commonly associated with healing a sore throat. Not only do its antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties create the perfect trifecta for treatment, but Manuka's thick, viscous texture coats and soothes the throat, helping destroy the harmful bacteria in its path. Manuka honey can help prevent coughs from keeping you up at night, too. One study found sleep conditions improved for both children and adults suffering from upper respiratory issues when they took honey before bed.

Try it: Simply swallow a tablespoon of Manuka honey straight-up and allow it to coat your throat. Alternatively (or additionally), you can add Manuka honey to ginger tea for extra anti-inflammatory benefits.

5. Supports a healthy gut

Research suggests that Manuka honey has the ability to help with various digestive disorders. In animal studies, the high antioxidant content of Manuka has been effective in treating gastric ulcers and inflammatory bowel disease. Due to its antimicrobial properties, Manuka may also help fight pathogens in the gut. In two separate lab studies, both Clostridium difficile (C. diff) and Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) were susceptible to the antibacterial properties in Manuka honey.

Additionally, Manuka honey contains a certain type of sugar called oligosaccharides, which has a prebiotic effect and may help promote the proliferation of good bacteria.

Try it: Incorporate Manuka honey into your daily diet in a variety of ways, like making it your go-to natural sweetener for teas or adding a drizzle to your morning yogurt. Just keep in mind, it still contains sugar, so you shouldn't go overboard.

Image by Martí Sans / Stocksy

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Are there any side effects of Manuka honey?

Generally, when consumed in moderation or applied topically, Manuka honey is safe, gentle, and side-effect-free. However, anyone with honey or bee allergies should avoid Manuka honey, as it may trigger an allergic reaction.

People with diabetes may also want to consult with a doctor before adding Manuka honey to their diet since all honeys contain sugar and may negatively affect blood glucose if levels aren't carefully monitored.

How to find a high-quality Manuka honey.

Wondering where to buy Manuka honey since it only comes from New Zealand? No worries, you can find high-quality Manuka honey all around the globe, and Amazon has several good options from brands like Pacific Resources International, Wedderspoon, and Manuka Doctor. You can even find Manuka honey at a variety of major retailers like Whole Foods and Walmart.

But as amazing as Manuka honey can be, not all Manuka honey is created equally—the potency of Manuka can vary drastically even within the same brand, and some companies have even attempted to sell counterfeit Manuka products. When you shop for Manuka honey, you'll want to make sure it's been deemed authentic by a reputable grading system.

Look for a UMF (or similar) rating.

There are formal Manuka honey grading systems in place to help consumers feel confident they're getting the real deal. The higher the number or rating for any of these, the more powerful the honey.

The most common grading system, which some consider the gold-standard, is the Unique Manuka Honey Factor (UMF). It was developed by the UMF Honey Association in New Zealand, and it grades Manuka honey based on its levels of MGO, DHA, non-peroxide activity (NPA), and leptosperin. Every jar of Manuka honey is given a rating from UMF 5+ to UMF 20+. Opt for honey with a UMF rating of at least 10+ to ensure it has sufficient potency to deliver real benefits.

The MGO grading system, which was developed by a New Zealand professor, measures only levels of MGO. Seek out Manuka honey with an MGO rating of 250 or higher, which is an approximately equivalent to UMF 10+.

The K-Factor rating system is used only by the brand Wedderspoon, but it's been given the OK by the New Zealand government. It measures markers such as purity, live enzymes, DHA, pollen count, pH levels, antioxidant levels, and phenolic compounds. Wedderspoon offers honeys with a K-Factor of 12 or 16, with K-Factor 16 containing more beneficial compounds.

Additionally, all Manuka honey is (by definition) raw and unpasteurized to preserve its beneficial live enzymes and other compounds. If you purchase Manuka honey featuring any of the above ratings, you can be sure it is raw and unpasteurized.

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