Unlocking the Potential of Manuka Trees with the Medicinal Manuka Honey Forest™

Unlocking the Potential of Manuka Trees with the Medicinal Manuka Honey Forest™


Medicinal Manuka Honey Forests™ (MHFs) are integral to sustainably and predictively producing an enduring supply of high-potency Manuka Honey.  They play a pivotal role in how to recover from decades of land clearing by cultivating biodiverse Australian native Manuka Trees and bee fodder plants in a new, regenerative farming model. The MHF model prioritises community, biodiversity, soil health, bee health, and biosecurity and restores lost and degraded ecosystems.


Historical Background of Honey

All raw honey naturally contains bioactive compounds including enzymes, amino acids, organic acids, polyphenols, vitamins and minerals with both nutritive and medicinal properties. These properties vary widely with the composition of honey, which in turn varies with the geographical origin, climate and environmental conditions, floral source, and postharvest procedures, such as processing, handling and storage. While honey was used as food and medicine before the start of recorded history, there are now decades of scientific research that attest to Manuka honey being the most medicinal honey by far.


The Unique Properties of Manuka Honey

Manuka honey is derived from a few rare species of leptospermum (Manuka) bushes (also called Jellybush) that are rich in plant polyphenols and have a unique bioactive chemical in their nectar dihydroxyacetone (DHA) that bees transform into the broad-spectrum anti-microbial compound Methylglyoxyl (MGO). The higher the DHA in the nectar, the higher the MGO content of honey, resulting the more potent and valuable the honey.  Thirty years of scientific evidence attests to Manuka honey’s unique anti-microbial, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that provide multiple health benefits including the ability to treat wounds, regenerate tissue, support oral, dental and digestive health, relieves sore throats, respiratory infections and a wide range of oral, gastrointestinal and skin conditions.  It has also been shown to kill up to 80 different pathogenic bacteria, including the Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) ‘superbugs’.


Evolution of Manuka Honey’s Value

It is only in recent times that Manuka honey has been highly valued. The first settlers in Australia and New Zealand who harvested Manuka honey thought it was of inferior quality as it was thick and jelly-like and difficult to extract (hence the name ”Jellybush”). Manuka honey was therefore commonly thrown away or fed to livestock until it was observed that cows eating Manuka honey appeared healthier and less prone to infections and scientists became interested in its unique health properties.


The Challenge of Manuka Honey Production

Most of the original scientific research on Manuka honey comes from New Zealand where there is a single species of native Leptospermum (scoparium) that grows in large areas of often inaccessible terrain or in monoculture plantations. Manuka honey producers can therefore face fierce competition over access to Mānuka and must brave harsh weather conditions in order to truck or helicopter their bees where they can capture nectar flows from flowers that only bloom for 2-6 weeks each year.


Australia’s Rich Manuka Heritage

While much of the research on Manuka honey comes from New Zealand, the most potent Manuka honey on earth naturally comes from Australia where there are 87 native Leptospermum varieties (including Lepto. Scoparium) of which around 15 varieties have the bioactive compounds, required for Manuka honey. The epicentre of highly-active Australia’s Leptospermum growth occurs in Bundjalung country around Byron Bay and surrounding areas. This area, which is also known as the Northern Rivers or Rainbow Region due to its abundant water resources, has many flood plains and riverbanks and boasts some of Australia’s most exclusive real estate, alongside multiple highly bioactive species of native Australian Manuka bushes. These unique, multi-variety manuka bushes, flower for around 4-6 months each year alongside lush bee forage that offer bees a diverse floral calendar and year-round forage along with a mild temperate climate.


Supporting Honeybee Health with the Medicinal Honey Forest™

Bees are vital for our food systems and currently bees across the world are suffering from habitat loss along with pathogens, parasites, pesticides, poor nutrition and being used solely to pollinate monoculture crops.


MHFs™ are designed to be a paradise for bees, with clean water, clean air and lots of flowers and healthy bee forage free from pesticides. The establishment of MHFs™ is the product of a decade of research whereby thousands of native Manuka bushes were geotagged after their nectar was collected and later analysed for its bioactive properties by the University of the Sunshine Coast. This allowed the most potent plants to be identified and have cuttings taken so they could be propagated under license in specialist nurseries in preparation for planting large-scale MHFs.


Moving bees around frequently can be highly damaging to their health as it disrupts the honeybee’s highly-tuned sense of geography, increases the risk of exposure to pesticides and disease. This may, require the use of artificial sugars and protein supplements to feed bees. Monoculture crops do not give bees the diverse diet that is supplied by multifloral pollen sources. These artificial diets weaken bee health and makes bees susceptible to Colony Collapse Disorder. Bee health is further compromised when bees are transported and kept in high-density apiaries that create super spreader events for pathogens and parasites. Of particular concern is the world-wide spread of Varroa destructor mite, which has recently traversed the world and in 2022 found its way to Australia from New Zealand.  Gather By’s strict biosecurity practices in collaboration with regulatory bodies, mitigates this risk.


The Role of MHF’s in Sustainability

To ensure an enduring supply of the highest quality Manuka honey, to support healthy honeybee populations and contribute to Australia’s food security and biosecurity. Gather By Manuka designs MHFs™ where nutritious honeybee forage plants are planted alongside selected high-DHA Manuka bushes to provide the nectar, pollen and resin required to maximise bee nutrition, and optimise bee health and honey production.


In addition to supporting bee health and producing the highest potency Manuka honey, MHFs™ help repair land damaged by conventional monoculture and mining.  MHFs employ the principles of soil regeneration to grow multi-variety high-DHA Leptospermum for longer flowering together with specially selected high crude pollen content fodder plants for optimum bee health. Gather By has transformed multiple land parcels previously used for growing cotton, sugar cane and mining.  MHFs also support Australia’s First Nations People who are partnering with Gather By Manuka to grow MHFs on native land creating projects, jobs and empowerment.  Gather By Manuka’s supporters now include the not-for-profit Odonata Foundation to facilitate widespread adoption of MHF’s along with Paramount, who are supporting Gather By in telling our story. 



Keeping bees as healthy and productive as possible in MHFs is not only the most sustainable, ethical, ecological, and regenerative way to produce the most potent and valuable Manuka for consumers.  It also creates ideal environments for wellness-tourism and agri-tourism and provides excellent returns for farmers and beekeepers.


Manuka honey is therefore not only an ‘ancient future medicine’ that can nurture and heal individuals and be an agent of change.


Gather By Manuka aims to lead this change by producing the most sustainable, ethical, and potent Manuka honey products that are informed by ancient wisdom and verified by modern science. Furthermore, by supporting First Nation’s People and local communities to grow MHFs, Gather By Manuka hopes to realise its vision of a world where MHFs™ lead to flourishing humans, healthy bees in healthy environments.


Article Written by Dr Marc Cohen

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