Flora Mānuka: a honey of a partnership with New Zealand’s Māori

– by Bruce Mason –

For centuries, New Zealand’s Māori have utilized medicinal honey from the native mānuka bush. The rest of the world – including the medical establishment – is beginning to catch on to the myriad benefits of this healing plant, labelled by some as a “super-food.”

A leader in this trend is Burnaby, BC-based Flora Manufacturing and Distributing Ltd. It is making a graded and certified mānuka health product available internationally and, in the process, is helping to heal the social, cultural and spiritual wounds suffered by the Māori.

Flora is one of North America’s premier nutraceutical manufacturers. Privately owned and internationally regarded for high-quality supplements, the company has entered into a partnership with Māori beekeepers. The venture is sustainable, eco-friendly, and a model for restoring and revitalizing traditional Māori culture. It is grounded in shared values of quality, honesty, integrity and family.

Understanding and appreciating the significance of the initiative requires some knowledge of the historic relationship between the mānuka plant and the Māori people, both of which inhabit one of the few places not facing bee colony collapse disorder.

Mānuka (with a Māori macron over the “a”) or Leptospermum scoparium, flowers annually for a few short weeks. Its habitat was severely impacted in the late-1800’s by a volcanic explosion. Its use was all but lost to New Zealand Māori who returned from World War II to find their land given to British soldiers. In the 1970-90s, wild mānuka fell victim to land-clearing efforts and was fed to domestic animals. While this ancient remedy is now one of the modern wellness world’s most prized ingredients, the plants survival has been threatened time and time again by both natural disasters and human interaction.

Lately though, Māori are regaining their economic footing and buying more land, including a sacred burial ground on Mount Tarawera, located in a region of unique geothermal activity on New Zealand’s North Island. In the process, they are helping to transform farming practices in remote, marginal, erosion-prone hill country – in the face of rapidly advancing, catastrophic climate change.

The proven benefits of mānuka are unique, and so are features of the joint venture between Flora and the Te Arawa Māori tribe. Money, being paid to every tribe member, will be a significant addition to the Onuku Māori Lands Trust and various scholarship programs. Women play a major role in the Māori bee operation, including prolonging the life of queen bees and working against the alarming world-wide endangerment of bee populations. All business decisions must be approved in town halls called Marae and, along with smaller boardroom meetings, the process must be transparent for all to see. The partnership will also help stem the market influx of lower quality uncertified mānuka knock-offs.

The health promoting properties of honey have long been recognized by diverse ancient societies – its cultural, religious and medicinal importance recorded in rock paintings, carvings and sacred text. The antibiotic effects of honey are due to the presence of hydrogen peroxide produced by the enzyme glucose oxidase in the honeybee. Honey derived from the mānuka flower has an unusually high concentration of methylglyoxal.

The use of plant-based remedies in general have been eclipsed by modern antibiotics, but the emergence of pathogens resistant to some or all antibiotics has resulted in renewed scientific investigation in those remedies. Crucially, there are no reported cases of bacteria developing resistance to honey, nor can mānuka’s proven properties be reproduced in laboratories.

In a world awash in bad news, the superior Flora mānuka product and Māori partnership in New Zealand are most welcome, especially when factoring in the myriad of cultural and economic benefits of mānuka bush restoration.

photo by Gerald W. Wikipedia

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