From petri dish to lifesaver – consumers welcome Manuka honey

24.10.17

From modest beginnings in petri dishes to helping save lives, the leptospermum plant from which Manuka honey is derived is becoming increasingly important.

Manuka honey has made headlines for its medical applications in speeding wound recovery and managing bacterial infections.

With the increasing emergence of antibiotic resistance bacteria, treatment via creams, gels and bandages with Manuka honey is becoming ever more valuable.

The demand also spans pharmaceutical, cosmetic, nutraceutical and food industries, as well as the medicinal sector.

AgriFutures Australia has partnered with ManukaLife and Kings Park Botanical Gardens to develop premium quality Manuka seed genetics for highly active honey in Western Australia.

The leptospermum plant is endemic to the Australian east coast and New Zealand and Western Australia’s strict biosecurity laws would not permit the introduction of cuttings, seeds or plants.

“Western Australia has very strict biosecurity laws which have worked very well to protect both our bee and plant environments from disease,” said Mr Callander.

“We shipped the material from the University of the Sunshine Coast in petri dishes in a controlled environment straight into Kings Park’s laboratories.”

The project is focused on building a sustainable commercial Manuka honey industry, inclusive of propagation, plantations, growers, apiarists, through to production and product distribution.

ManukaLife and its Western Australia location were chosen for the Manuka honey project because of its science-based approach.

It was also an advantage to have the potential for an extended flowering season, providing a longer and larger production cycle delivering higher yields at lower operating costs during the year.

“The scientists at Kings Park are some of the best in Australia and have had great success in developing attributes in other Australian native species and are leading edge in their approach and capabilities,” said Paul Callander, ManukaLife Managing Director.

Phase one began with ManukaLife sourcing high grade seed stock from New Zealand and working with the University of the Sunshine Coast to source high quality plant material from the Australian east coast.

Today ManukaLife has planted approximately 650 hectares of leptospermum from more than 1,000,000 propagated seedlings in a variety of locations with differing climates around Western Australia.

Mr Callander said the plants and Manuka honey quality is closely monitored and one of the project objectives is to create a leptospermum varietal which could grow in arid conditions with extended flowering capabilities starting early in the plant’s lifecycle.

The ManukaLife project builds on an existing project funded by AgriFutures Australia and supports the new and emerging industries portfolio.

Our aim is to grow the availability of leptospermum plantations for honey production and provide an alternative premium agricultural enterprise for Australian famers with high returns, which in turn will address the growing global demand for Manuka honey,” said Michael Beer, AgriFutures Australia General Manager, Research and Innovation.

And, the growing demands for Manuka honey are substantial.

New Zealand is the current global leader in the supply of Manuka honey and demands are exceeding supply. Projections indicate New Zealand Manuka export value to increase from $US140 million in 2015 to over $US1 billion by 2028.

Fast Facts

  • Manuka honey has made headlines for its medical applications
  • AgriFutures Australia is partnering with ManukaLife to undertake a leptospermum breeding program which will develop premium quality Manuka honey
  • 650 hectares of leptospermum has been planted from more than 1,000,000 propagated seedlings
  • Manuka honey demands are exceeding supply
Leptospermum plant

Leptospermum plant (photo supplied by ManukaLife)

Media release: Manuka honey