Manuka Plant Benefits You Need To Know


What is manuka?

Interestingly, Mānuka was not as revered and loved as it is now. In fact Robert Vennell in his beautiful book ‘The meaning of Trees’ tells of its polarising history. It alternated between a beloved treasure and a much maligned plant that was removed with force by others.

Mānuka’s botanical name is Leptospermum scoparium. Leptospermum means slender seed. Which is not only true but very relevant to how Mānuka arrived in Aotearoa and also how it spread as widely as it has. It is believed that Mānuka seeds probably came over from Australia millions of years ago and that is how it established here.  But once here, Māori began using it as it provided many valuable uses; to help build, or create items like combs, needles, tools, paddles, canoes etc.

manuka plant

How to identify Mānuka

Mānuka is a perennial shrub that has very small leaves, up to 12 mm long and about 4 mm wide. Often people use the saying ‘Mānuka mean, Kānuka kind’ in relation to identification of the leaves. Mānuka leaves are spiky opposed to Kānuka which feel softer.

Mānuka also flowers only for a very short amount of time only 2-6 weeks a year, and the flowers only open for 5 days! The flowers of the Mānuka plant are also larger and more spread out than the Kānuka flowers which seem to be smaller and more clumped together.

Also tellingly, Kānuka plants are quite a bit taller (10-15m) than Mānuka (6-8m).
Mānuka can be found throughout Aotearoa, from lowlands to lower alpine areas (up to 1800m above sea level). It grows in all areas, wetlands, gravel areas, and drier climates and hillsides. It seems to be more resilient than Kānuka once it matures, and can survive drought, frosts, flooding and strong winds.

Kānuka on left - Mānuka on right. Photo taken from University of Auckland

How It Was Used Traditionally

Parts used; Leaves, twigs, flowers and bark.
Mānuka was used in multiple different ways traditionally. In Murdoch Riley’s ‘Māori healing and herbal’ textbook it is documents some of its traditional uses:

External uses:
  • A vapour ‘bath’ to help with painful joints
  • As a disinfectant for clothes (cloaks were placed over smoky fires to get rid of vermin, lice etc)
  • As a poultice on wounds and sores to reduce pain
  • On the scalp for itchy dry skin
  • To treat ringworm
  • To treat venereal diseases
  • To reduce bleeding
Internal uses:
  • To treat urinary complaints
  • Taken as a laxative
  •  For indigestion
  • To reduce fevers
  • To reduce coughing
  • As an astringent (when suffering from diarrhoea)
  • As a diuretic
  • To help with colds, flu and headaches
  • As a mouth wash, to help with sore and infected teeth and gums
  • Kidney issues 
  • As a sedative
The traditional list is quite exhaustive. It seemed to gain even more favour with the those early visitors to New Zealand. Captain cook used it extensively as a tea, as did the whalers. It became known as ‘Tea tree’ due its wide use as a substitute for tea leaves and use with sailors.

Why We Use Manuka?

Mānuka is now more widely used by herbalists today to help support the body with digestive and immune complaints. The amazing Mānuka plant has many health benefits!

The active constituents within Mānuka are high in volatile oils, tannins, flavonoids and triterpenes . This chemical makeup has been found to be antibacterial, anti fungal,  anti microbial, anti inflammatory and also anxiolytic (anxiety reducing).

We are building on the traditional use and knowledge of Tangata whenua by utilising Mānuka in our Switchel, Immunity Tonic and our Liver bitters. In each of these products the choice of Mānuka is to support slightly different actions.

We chose it for our Switchel to help support our kidney and urinary system as part of the product’s overall electrolyte function. 


Within our Liver Bitters its action is to support a healthy digestive system, to support waste elimination (constipation), indigestion, and also as it is a bitter plant it helps with bile production and overall liver health.


In our Immunity Tonic it was chosen as it supports a healthy immune responses (e.g. with fevers, ills and chills etc). We are very lucky and grateful that this versatile plant is available for us to use in a variety of ways.


How Can You Use Mānuka?

The best idea is using it for infusions or tea.

Mānuka can easily be picked and dried to be used as a tea. You can use the leaves to make an overnight steep and then use it as a mouth wash or gargle for oral health hygiene. You can also add it to peppermint tea to support digestion. Always remember when foraging to be responsible and respectful and only take what you need, never from the roadside and always ask permission if on other people’s land.

Another option would be to infuse it in oil to be used topically. You could do this is in a double boiler which uses heat and is a quicker method or the folk method which is a cold infusion - over a month to 6 weeks. Once strained, pour into a sterilised jar and label with the date. You could use this oil to make a balm by adding beeswax and cacao butter if you wished as well. 

Mānuka honey is also widely available. This honey is anti inflammatory, anti microbial and also can support the immune system. Taken by the teaspoon it can help with itchy, irritated throats and can also be used topically for irritated skin. Mānuka honey can also be added to lukewarm drinks to supercharge its health benefits.

Finally according to Comvita NZ, it takes bees approximately 22,700 individual trips to the Mānuka flower to gather nectar to make one 500gm jar of honey! How impressive is that!

Advice: Use products only as directed. Discontinue if any irritation arises. If symptoms persist see your health care professional.

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