It’s no surprise that mānuka oil is nature’s miracle oil. The 100% pure essential oil packs a potent plant-powered punch boasting a host of antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
When used topically, mānuka oil has incredibly effects on the skin. It’s a herbal alternative to harsh ingredients and works holistically to combat the signs of many common skin issues such as acne and anti-aging, helping to provide clearer clean, naturally.
The new oil, taking the world by storm, is known to be stronger than tea tree oil and 1,000x stronger than mānuka honey. That’s a lot.
Read on to discover more about the superplant oil.
Geographically isolated and predator-free for more than 80 million years, New Zealand has developed an indigenous landscape unlike anywhere else in the world.
Since breaking away from the super-continent Gondwanaland 55 million years ago, New Zealand’s plants and animals developed at a distance of 2,000 km over the ocean from their nearest neighbours in Australia.
This isolation from other land masses meant that until the arrival of humans, plants were not replaced or competed with by other species from elsewhere. They continued to evolve alone in a unique environment.
The coastline of New Zealand has been impacted over time by geological processes such as tectonic activity, erosion, and glaciation as well as the rising and falling of sea levels due to climate change.
Over millions of years, New Zealand has been a series of islands, a larger landmass, largely underwater and even under ice. These changes forced a process called speciation: animals and plants with useful adaptations survived.
Eventually, they became so different from their ancestors that they were no longer able to reproduce with their ancestral species. Many of New Zealand’s plants are not found anywhere else in the world.
High levels of UV
Compared to other temperate growing areas in the world, New Zealand has very high levels of ultraviolet light (UV), especially in summer.
Plants defend themselves against these high levels of UV by producing more polyphenols - substances which have antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.
UV levels in the New Zealand summer are about 40% higher than those of similar latitudes in the northern hemisphere. There are three main reasons for this:
The Earth orbits the sun in an ellipse, not a circle. The closest point of approach of the sun to the Earth occurs in December/January, which is the southern hemisphere summer. The furthest away is in June/ July, which is the northern hemisphere summer.
During the summer months, there is less ozone in the southern hemisphere than in the northern hemisphere.
New Zealand has very clean air.
More than 80% of New Zealand’s native plants are indigenous and have many remarkable bioactive properties.
One of the most researched and the most remarkable of these plants is Leptospermum Scoparium, New Zealand mānuka.
Mānuka the plant
Mānuka, Leptospermum Scoparium, (kahikātoa in Te Reo Maori) is an evergreen tree, native to New Zealand.
The bushy, shrubby mānuka plant is widely acclaimed and best- known internationally for the golden honey created by mānuka- loving bees.
However, mānuka is much more than just the source of that highly sought-after honey. In fact, mānuka is one of New Zealand’s great soil protectors and one of its toughest species.
Mānuka shrubs are very hardy plants and cling to coastal headlands, survive strong gales and regular dousings with salt spray. It is also found growing above the tree-line at high altitude and often in relatively poor soil.
It can stay alive even with its roots in water. In this situation, the plant creates specialized ventilating tissue called aerenchyma which are air channels in the leaves and roots. These tissues are a bit like snorkels channeling oxygen and keeping the plant alive despite the roots being submerged.
It is one of the most common and best-known small trees in New Zealand and ranges in size from shrub to intermediate tree with a maximum height of eight metres.
Branchlets are silky with whitish hairs and distinctive small, smooth leaves which are close-set, sharp-pointed and covered with oil glands which, when bruised, give off a pungent and distinctive gingery smell.
The small white, star-like five-petalled flowers (sometimes with a pink hue), bloom mostly between September and February although they can also flower out of season.
Mānuka’s hardy nature and rapid growth habit, plus its ability to produce prolific quantities of seeds ensures its place as one of nature’s great restorers.
As a pioneer species, it springs up after slower growing trees have been destroyed by man-made events such as fire or harvest and in the wake of natural occurrences. Mānuka keeps the soil from eroding and, as part of the regeneration process, prepares the ground for the slower growing native forest species to reestablish.
In the fundamental drive of all organisms to reproduce as many copies of themselves as they can, the highly successful mānuka became so prevalent it was once regarded as a weed requiring eradication to allow for agricultural development.
The DNA - is it endemic or native?
An endemic species of plants is one that exists only in one geographical region. A native species is one that is found in certain ecology due to a natural process.
Mānuka is a native New Zealand plant. The Leptospermum genus (lepto = small; spermum = seed) plant has approximately 90 Leptospermum species all of which have distinctive seed capsules containing lots of seeds.
Of those species, 86 or so are also found in Australia and two more can be found in South East Asia.
This indicates that while mānuka is a survivor of the original Gondwanaland continent, its spread is not limited to New Zealand. Leptospermum Scoparium is also found on the south coast of New South Wales and in Tasmania.
A Māori pharmacy
Mānuka spread throughout Aotearoa New Zealand with the first settlers, the Māori, as they hunted for the moa, a flightless native bird which provided
an easily accessible source of protein. Maori found the quickly regenerating mānuka plants were useful for a whole range of purposes.
In addition to its practical use as timber for canoe paddles, palisades and shelters, Maori also discovered its medicinal value. A tea made from the leaves was a remedy for diarrhea, dysentery and in cases of urinary tract infection, and inhalation of vapours was thought to help with colds.
A drink made from the bark was used to reduce fever and the same liquid served as a gargle or mouthwash. The crushed and soaked pods were given to babies for colic and a poultice of seed pods pounded to a paste was applied to wounds and sores.
The plant provided a sweet treat when a sugary resin was found on the young branches in summer. This was also used as a salve for burns, a lozenge for coughs and was even given to babies to ease constipation.
More recently, essential oils have been distilled from the leaf and fresh tips of the mānuka plants enabling many of the benefits of mānuka to be made available in easy-to-apply formulations.
The history of essential oils
The first uses of essential oils date back to the ancient Egyptians who distilled many different oils for various purposes. Distilled oils were also used in ancient Asia, India and Europe.
One of the greatest known advocates for the use of essential oils was the ‘Father of Medicine’, Hippocrates of Kos (460BC - 370BC).
Hippocrates was one of the first to consider the brain to be the origin of thought and emotion rather than the heart. He was also unique in disregarding the notion that illness was due to the wrath of the gods, or religious reasons. Instead he looked to find the physical cause of an ailment before prescribing a treatment. Treatments often included essential oils and plant-based medicines.
Mānuka oil is one of the most recently harnessed essential oils and is sought after for its strong antibacterial, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal properties.
Why mānuka stands out from the crowd?
The holistic and herbal approach taken by Māori priests or healers (known as the tohunga) is increasingly of interest today as many people look for natural options and remedies.
Mānuka oil, particularly the triketone-rich chemotype, has activity against pathological bacteria, e.g. Staphylococcus, Listeria, Enterococcus and some fungi, e.g. Trichophyton, Microsporum, and has insecticidal activities.
The unique activity of the East Cape mānuka oils against Gram- positive bacteria, e.g. Staphylococcus aureus and its antibiotic resistant strain MRSA, has been conclusively proven to be due to the presence of triketones.
This biologically active chemotype is now widely used as a topical oil or ointment, and in personal hygiene products, and has become increasingly popular as an alternative to pharmaceutical products.
Where does mānuka oil come from and how is it made?
Mānuka oil is an essential oil, steam distilled from the leaf and small branchlets of the mānuka bush.
Until recently most of New Zealand’s mānuka oil production came from wild-harvested mānuka. Local community crews of harvesters using brush cutters gathered fresh branches, leaving the bushes viable for regrowth available for future years. The steep terrain meant wild-harvesting was often weather dependent.
However, recent years have seen the planting of mānuka plantations allowing for sustainable harvesting of mānuka leaf for oil. This plantation harvesting happens only on the East Cape of the North Island of New Zealand.
The process used to harvest mānuka oil is carefully managed to ensure New Zealand’s native forests are not harmed and to ensure the plantations support small regional communities now and well into the future. Not only do these plantations support local people, but local birdlife and wildlife as well as a prolific bee population.
Mānuka branches are harvested sustainably by pruning, which allows the trees to continue growing. The harvested plant material is left to wilt for a few days before being packed into a steam still.
The still is brought to the boil and maintained at a consistent temperature of 100C for about 300 minutes. The oil from the leaf sacs volatilises into the water during distillation where it floats on the surface before being siphoned off.
With a yield of only about 1% of liquid to the weight of the branches, the resulting oil is precious.
As this is a highly efficacious and therefore useful plant, nothing is wasted. After distillation the mānuka branches and foliage is used as mulch. The hydrosol (the water oil mix from the still which contains active compounds) is used in the manufacture of cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and insecticides.
NZ Crop and Food have defined three predominant mānuka chemotypes (races of plants with different chemistry and therefore unique oil profiles) throughout New Zealand:
In the Far North, the oil has a high pinene content.
In the East Cape and Marlborough Sounds regions, the oil has a high triketone chemotype.
Over the rest of New Zealand, the oil contains a complex of sesquiterpenes.
Evidence shows that the antimicrobial activity of mānuka oil is determined largely by the proportion of triketones in the oil.
The proportion of chemical components in the three regional chemotypes of New Zealand mānuka. [i]
*The proportion of chemical components in the three regional chemotypes of New Zealand manuka.*
Mānuka oil is antimicrobial [i]
Mānuka oil contains triketones, natural compounds that kill or stop the growth of micro-organisms. These compounds can be broken down into antibacterial and anti-fungal agents. They stimulate the immune response in wounds, speeding up healing times.
Mānuka oil is antibacterial
Oil from the East Cape chemotype is a triketone-rich selection with uniquely strong activity against Gram-positive bacteria. e.g. Staphylococcus aureus and its antibiotic resistant strain MRSA. Mānuka activity against Gram-positive bacteria has been conclusively proven to be due to the presence of triketones.
The most widely studied property of mānuka oil is its antibacterial ability. An Otago University study showed that it was effective against the specific bacteria that cause acne.
Another study, published in the Journal of Microbiology, analyzed microorganism growth and found that mānuka oil significantly inhibited growth of the bacteria S. aureus, S. mutans, S. sobrinus, and E. coli. Mānuka oil was found to be effective against some antibiotic resistant ‘super bugs’, including MRSA.
Mānuka oil is antifungal
In the same Journal of Microbiology study, researchers found that mānuka oil has potent properties capable of inhibiting growth of fungi.
Mānuka oil contains anti-aging and antioxidant properties
A 2013 study [ii] showed that a topical application suppressed the UV-B induced increase in skin thickness and wrinkle grading in a dose-dependent manner. Put simply, this means that sun damage can be ameliorated by using mānuka oil. It can also suppress UV-B induced skin inflammation by inhibiting the production of inflammatory cytokines, and this means it can help relieve sunburn.
Mānuka oil can be anti-inflammatory
A 2014 study [iii] investigated suppression or inhibition of inflammatory reactions mediated by mānuka oil and found that where the inflammation was caused by microorganism infection, the oil had anti-inflammatory effects. In other words, if an infection caused the inflammation, mānuka oil might help ease it. This also suggests that the oil may be effective for treating lesions caused by insect bites and for repairing infected wounds.
The same study indicated that, in addition to the anti-inflammatory properties, the oil has potential application as an anti-allergenic agent and is effective in human epidermal-related products. It can be used by people with sensitive skin to alleviate dry skin conditions.
Mānuka oil might be antiviral
A 2005 study [iv] showed that mānuka oil inhibited the Herpes simplex -1 and -2 virus when the viruses were pre-treated with the oil one hour before cell infection. After infection, only HSV- 1 replication was significantly inhibited.
A similar study showed that flavanone and mānuka oil were the most active substances against Herpes simplex virus type 1 when in direct contact
with the virus, but all the triketones showed strong antiviral activity. The mechanism seems to be an interaction of the triketones with the virion envelope hindering the absorption of the virus by the host cell.
Mānuka oil is antispasmodic
In a study in 1998 [v] mānuka oil showed a spasmolytic action on smooth muscle meaning that it may be of benefit for the treatment of muscle strain or inflammatory conditions. Research is being conducted into mānuka oil for the treatment of arthritis and fibromyalgia.
Mānuka oil is a cicatrisant
Mānuka oil contains calamenene, known to have skin calming and analgesic properties, thus it promotes the growth of healing tissues at the site of wounds. Mānuka oil works as a full treatment, first killing or reducing bacteria or fungal growth, then reducing inflammation and calming the skin, allowing for faster healing and less scarring.
Look in more detail at the research here.
Although they both come from the same family, they are significantly different, and those differences are becoming more apparent as the mānuka oil industry develops.
Tea tree oil has been distilled since World War II, however, the distillation of mānuka oil has begun only in recent years.
While they are both from the myrtle family, the plant’s separate development over millennia has led to significant differences.
Triketones, flavonoids, and other enzymes are what give essential oils their antimicrobial, antifungal, and antibacterial properties.
Extensive testing of East Cape mānuka oil and tea tree oil against a wide range of human pathogens conducted by the Cawthron Institute in Nelson and the Otago University Microbiology Department has concluded that East Cape mānuka oil is:
20 - 30 times more active than Australian tea tree oil against Gram- positive bacteria
Several times more effective than Australian tea tree oil against strains of fungi
Effective against Gram-negative bacteria and viruses
What are Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria?
These are categories of bacteria based on their cell wall composition and their reaction to the Gram stain test.
Gram-positive bacteria have cell walls composed mostly of a substance unique to bacteria known as peptidoglycan, or murein. Examples of Gram-positive cocci that colonize the skin include Staphylococcus epidermidis, Staphylococcus aureus, and Streptococcus pyogenes.
Gram-negative bacteria have cell walls with only a thin layer of peptidoglycan and an outer membrane with a lipopolysaccharide component not found in Gram-positive bacteria.
Gram-negative bacteria include Neisseria meningitidis which causes bacterial meningitis and can also cause septicemia and shock. Bacteria of the genus Haemophilus and as Haemophilus influenzae can cause meningitis, sinus infections, and pneumonia and the Acinetobacter species can cause pneumonia and wound infections.
Interest is rapidly growing in the use of natural solutions for everyday ailments and household applications.
Mānuka oil, with its multitude of uses, is easy to incorporate into a natural lifestyle routine for personal uses as well as household cleaning and management.
It can be used to reduce the risk of infections, to help repair minor skin wounds, bites and stings, to keep hair and nails healthy and can even be used to control body odor. It is also useful around the house as a cleaner and a disinfectant.
The decision to switch to a more natural lifestyle can be quite simple, with mānuka oil.
8 useful applications of mānuka oil
1. Reduce the chance of infection
One of the best mānuka oil uses is for infection prevention. Mānuka oil inhibits bacterial growth which reduces the risk of respiratory, urinary tract and intestinal infections. Mānuka oil is more effective than tea tree oil in this regard.
2. Clear acne-prone skin
Mānuka oil is useful in the treatment of acne-prone skin. Its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties are ideal for use in the prevention
of acne. This is one of the most effective and well-researched uses for mānuka oil.
3. Heal cuts and bites
The body’s natural response to a cut, sting or bite is to swell at the site. This can make the pain of the actual cut or bite even worse. Applying mānuka oil has been shown to reduce inflammation and discomfort. It also reduces the chance of wound infection thus hastening healing.
4. Control athlete’s foot
In addition to being antibacterial, mānuka oil is antifungal, making it an ideal application against athlete’s foot.
5. Reduce stress
Aromatherapy can help improve sleep, increase focus and concentration, and lift energy levels. It can even help lower stress and anxiety levels if you use the right oil. A few drops of mānuka oil, added to a warm bath, can help reduce stress and increase feelings of wellbeing and calm.
6. Reduce allergy symptoms
Mānuka oil is useful in allergy relief. This oil has no known allergens and acts as a natural antihistamine, reducing any reaction to allergens.
7. Use as a deodorant
Because of its antibacterial properties, mānuka oil is an ideal ingredient in any natural deodorant. Make sure this is one of the main ingredients when looking for an all-natural deodorant.
8. Use for household management
Mānuka oil is also good for around the house and can be mixed with the right carrier oils and other ingredients for a host of home management hygiene and cleaning. Some of the most interesting are:
Natural herbicide or pesticide
Disinfecting door handles, keyboards, phone cases, and much more
Disinfecting shoes, linens, and clothing
Deodorising cars, furniture, and homes
Removing mold and mildew
Cleaning hard surfaces
Freshening fabrics and living spaces
Aromatherapy for relaxation and focus
How to use mānuka oil for optimal benefits
Although essential oils are generally safe when used correctly, they are powerful. This means it is important to understand the individual properties of specific oils.
For example, some essential oils can interact with medications and/or environmental conditions.
Citrus oils, such as orange, interact with the UV rays and can cause blistering and skin damage. Some oils can interact with prescription medication.
Mānuka oil does not interact with medication or environmental conditions. Studies show that mānuka oil can actually help counter the negative effects of UV rays via its anti-inflammatory properties.
Mānuka oil is also safe for use on horses and dogs, however, it is not recommended for use on cats because of their sensitive skin.
Keep the oil sterile
Maintaining a sterile environment for the storage of mānuka oil is important. Use the dropper to dispense a small amount of oil into a sterile dish, then apply cotton swabs or buds to this oil before applying to wounds. Ensuring the oil dropper does not come into contact with skin or a cotton swab used to apply to the skin, this keeps the mānuka oil sterile.
- Massage into fingernails and cuticles after washing your hands
- Massage onto sore muscles and joints
- Add 10 to 20 drops to a hot bath to soothe muscles and joints, and breathe in the relaxing vapour
- Add a few drops to shampoo and conditioner bottles for shiny and strong hair
- Apply to blemishes to tame acne
- Mix 20 drops with alcohol in a brown glass spray bottle for a quick disinfectant
- Fill a large glass jar with alcohol or witch hazel, 20 drops of mānuka oil, and sturdy paper towels for ready-to-use disinfectant or cleaning wipes
- Mix with other essential oils such as sandalwood, cedarwood, rose or citrus for a customised natural perfume
- Mix with other essential oils such as lavender, vetiver or frankincense for a relaxing nighttime room spray or diffuser blend
- Use a few drops to remove leftover glue from stickers or tape from hard surfaces
- Massage a few drops onto your scalp to eliminate dandruff
- Soothe itchy dog skin with a few drops diluted with water
- Use in a diffuser to calm energetic pets or kids
- Place a few drops onto a piece of cardboard and attach to the car’s air vent for a natural air freshener
- Mix mānuka, alcohol or witch hazel, and aloe vera into a small bottle for natural hand sanitiser
- Apply a few drops to bug bites and stings every few hours
- Mix mānuka, tea tree, citronella, and lemongrass oils in a brown glass spray bottle with alcohol or witch hazel to use as insect repellent on humans, pets, or plants
If you don’t want the risk of formulating your own products or using super strength mānuka oil then you should use products formulated especially for those different uses.
ManukaRx has formulated mānuka oil with other essential oils and other natural ingredients which add synergistically to mānuka’s strong antimicrobial properties.
ManukaRx research shows that the combination of mānuka oil with other natural ingredients increases the activity of that ingredient, as well as increasing the antimicrobial powers of the mānuka oil.
Q: What is New Zealand mānuka oil used for?
Thanks to its abundant properties, mānuka essential oil is an effective natural essential oil for several conditions and preventative care applications.
Controlling odour in sports shoes
Producing shiny and soft hair
Reducing wrinkles and signs of skin aging
Calming inflamed skin after sunburn
Soothing minor rashes, burns, and abrasions
Helping create beautiful nails and soft cuticles
Helping prevent acne and treat skin blemishes
Protecting at-risk skin on lips, elbows, knees, and ankles
Easing mosquito bites, bee stings, and other insect bites or stings
Soothing chaffed or irritated skin
Calm dry, itchy skin and help prevent dandruff
Massaging into old scars to reduce their appearance
Soothing muscles and aching joints
Easing nasal congestion and respiratory infections
Q: How do I use mānuka oil?
Most people love the deep and earthy scent of mānuka oil which is similar to tea tree oil as the two plants belong to the same myrtle family.
The pleasant smell makes mānuka oil easy to use in a broad range of applications for daily life and in combination with other essential oil which are not as strong.
Add 10-20 drops to a warm bath to soothe sore muscles
Massage a few drops of mānuka oil into aching joints
Inhale mānuka vapours to reduce nasal and chest congestion with a few drops added to boiling water
Aromatherapy applications for relaxation, stress relief, and well-being
Apply diluted mānuka oil to abrasions, bites, and bruises
Combine with aloe (or use alone) to soothe sunburn
Add a few drops to shampoo and conditioner
Add a few drops to facial moisturizer, cleanser, and toner
Rub into nail beds and cuticles
Massage onto your scalp 20 minutes before a shower to reduce dandruff
Dab gently on acne and blemishes
Combine with alcohol in a spray bottle to disinfect hard surfaces and refresh room spaces
Use as an instant natural hand sanitiser
Q: Can mānuka oil be taken internally?
Q: Does mānuka oil interact with any prescription drugs or environmental conditions?
Mānuka oil has no known interactions with prescription medications or environmental conditions. However, some other essential oils can react negatively with prescription medications and environmental factors. Citrus oils, for example, can cause UV damage if applied to skin before exposure to the sun.
Q: Is mānuka oil safe for children and pets?
Yes, nothing indicates that the best mānuka oil cannot be used on or near babies, kids, or dogs. However, it is not recommended for cats.
Take special care when applying mānuka oil to babies and small animals. Trial a small skin area and leave for 24 hours.
Q: Can mānuka oil be used on other animals?
Birds in New Zealand, particularly large native birds, clean their feathers with mānuka to kill mites and bacteria. Mānuka oil has also been used as a natural remedy for horses and is known to be an effective treatment for horses’ hooves. Cattle and dogs can be effectively treated for wounds bites stings and scratches. Cats and small birds should never be exposed to essential oils due to their unique metabolic functions.
Q: Can mānuka oil be used during pregnancy?
Mānuka oil has no known allergens and is normally considered safe if used during pregnancy. However, if in doubt, for very sensitive skin, it is recommended to patch test to avoid a potential skin reaction.