Manuka – the biography of an extraordinary honeymanuka honey

When Aaron Phipps appeared on the BBC televisions Healthcheck programme back in late 2000, his amazing story was a milestone in the world’s awakening to the extraordinary healing power of Manuka honey.

The Southampton teenager had contracted meningitis, and then meningococcal septicaemia. Skin grafts failed to take, wounds refused to heal and at one point he was in such pain that doctors put him an induced coma for two weeks.

Finally, after both his legs and the tips of all his fingers had been amputated, and after nine months of torment, his wounds were treated with Manuka honey.  They healed in 3 weeks.

Phipps has gone on to become a champion disabled rugby player, representing the UK at the 2012 Olympics and in 2016, set more incredible firsts by crawling and climbing his way to the top of Mount Kilamanjaro in Africa.

But, as Cliff van Eaton recounts in this excellent book, it was Phipps BBC interview that prompted the first really significant spike in demand for Manuka honey in the UK.

Nowadays, many people, especially in Australia and New Zealand are aware of the potential healing power of Manuka honey.

But back then, its special properties were relatively unknown and unappreciated.

And even today, there remains considerable controversy about Manuka honey.  It has still to find its way into everyday use in major hospitals or medical clinics, despite powerful and substantial evidence of its medically useful properties.

Part of the reason may be the traditional view in developed western countries that honey is a foodstuff first, and anything else, such as a medicine, very much second.

Van Eaton points out that Asians have a different view, as too so did the man who is said to be the founder of western medicine, Hippocrates.

One of the major obstacles to changing that perspective in western countries has been the uncertainty, for many years about just how Manuka honey does what it does.

In this marvellous and very readable book, Van Eaton recounts how Dr Peter Molan, a biochemist at New Zealand’s University of Waikato, was the first to scientifically prove and identify the therapeutic properties of Manuka honey.

Molan was also a driving force in developing standard laboratory techniques for measuring and grading the strength and activity levels in Manuka honey.  

Molan’s story is a vital part of this book, and Van Eaton gives him due credit as the man behind the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) standard that has done so much to give consumers the confidence to buy Manuka honey..

The book also explains why the UMF standard was just a first step in grading Manuka honey and how Methylgyoxal (MGO) has since been identified as the main chemical component or ingredient giving the honey its special properties.

So if you buy Manuka honey, but aren’t quite sure what makes it different from other honeys, or how it works, then this book will answer almost any questions you might have.

Van Eaton is obviously a proud New Zealander, and the book includes a lot of information about the early development of the NZ honey industry. Indeed it is staggering, given what we now know today,  to learn that for many, many years the Manuka bush was seen as a weed, and its honey unwanted.

With its comprehensive references, this eminently readable book, will be a valuable addition to any beekeepers library, and a good read for anyone who buys, loves and enjoys Manuka honey.

Published by Exisle Publishing, Auckland, 2014

ISBN 9781775591634

The BBC HealthCheck programme featuring Aaron has been uploaded to Youtube.