East Cape Mānuka Oil
The Mānuka Tree
New Zealand is home to a unique variety of flora and fauna which have adapted and evolved over millions of years. New Zealand is one of the youngest inhabited countries in the world. It is geographically isolated, and predator free. With few neighbours to share species with, over 80% of our flora classed as ‘endemic’ or native. High levels of UV-B light due to its proximity to the hole in the ozone layer has seen many New Zealand plants adapt to defend themselves against the harsh rays producing more polyphenols, which have strong antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.
The most researched of New Zealand botanicals is mānuka. The mānuka tree is a pioneer plant, it is the first to regenerate after major natural or man made events such as fire, flooding or land clearing. It is the protector in the forest. It grows quickly, protecting the larger plants as they establish and flourish. When they become larger trees, the mānuka tree’s job is done.
All parts of the mānuka tree have been used for a wide variety of medicinal purposes for centuries. Traditional uses of mānuka include: the treatment of burns, scalds, cuts and wounds, skin infections, inflammation, dandruff, pain relief and much more.
Mānuka oil is unique, bioactive-packed essential oil, steam distilled from the leaves and small branches of the mānuka tree (Leptospermum scoparium). It comprises over 50 different active compounds.
Mānuka oil is a relatively new biproduct from the tree. Essential oils in mānuka leaves were first identified during the 1970s, produced commercially since the 1980s and thoroughly investigated by global research teams since then. Now there are over 1000 peer reviewed publications on mānuka oil.
Triketone compounds found in the oil are responsible for mānuka oil’s antimicrobial activity. Mānuka that grows only in the East Cape region of New Zealand has a unique chemical identity or “chemotype”, described as the high triketone chemotype where the triketone level in the oil is over 20%.
Manuka Bioscience has a laser focus on scientifically and clinically demonstrating the properties of high purity, more effective and more consistent forms of mānuka oil. We are also developing novel mānuka oil derivatives to increase therapeutic efficacy, while retaining desirable skin-safe properties of mānuka oil. Given these outstanding and unique properties, Manuka Bioscience is able to use mānuka oil in its over the counter (OTC) therapeutic product range.
Until recently, all New Zealand’s mānuka oil production came from wild-harvested mānuka. Harvesters used brush cutters to gather fresh branches, leaving the bushes viable for regrowth available for future years.
In recent years mānuka plantations in the East Cape region of New Zealand are allowing for sustainable mechanical harvesting of mānuka leaf to produce essential oil at a commercial scale.
The oil is distilled from the leaves and small branches of the mānuka bush using the technique of steam distillation where the steam is passed through the leaf material.
The steam is then condensed and the oil floats on top of the condensed water from where it is drawn off. Distillation processes vary from the super-heated fast extraction method to the slower ambient pressure distillation at lower temperatures. Each tonne of foliage produces just 2.5-3.5 kilograms of precious mānuka essential oil.
Early mānuka oil production was sustainable wild harvest. Blocks would generally be hand harvested and the areas would be rotated to ensure regrowth of the stand of wild mānuka. Cutting heads for mechanical diggers were developed and areas became more accessible as demand increased and harvesters were careful to ensure sustainability of the forest for future harvest.
Once the mānuka trees are harvested for oil flower growth is limited. As such harvesting for oil competes with honey production. No flowers, no bees, no honey.
As returns to landowners for honey increased so did the competition for mānuka resource. The first sustainable mānuka plantations were planted in 2017. These plantations were developed utilising experience from Australian tea tree plantations where 28,000 mānuka plants per hectare were planted initially over 100 ha of pasture and river flats. Plantations are harvested annually by rotation and grow back over the next year to be harvested again.
Plantations have helped improve the stream water quality by acting as an effective filter for surface water runoff, stabilizing the stream bank and providing shade to waterways. Mānuka-dominant vegetation has also helped protect the rich biodiversity of animals and plants. The presence of native insects, geckoes and insectivorous birds have been beneficial to crop yields as they have contributed to increased pollination, pest predation and enhanced plant nutrition.
Manuka Bioscience through its subsidiary, Mānuka Biologicals manages six Mānuka plantations in partnership with Iwi landowners, some of whom are shareholders in Manuka Bioscience.
The plantations cover approximately 200 ha and can produce between six and ten tons of mānuka oil annually. Some of our plantations work as joint ventures with landowners, some are supply agreements and others are forestry rights.
We have had a plant genetic development program which has been researching genetics for improved yields and plant triketone levels and these development blocks are now producing seeds for annual replanting programs.
We still harvest mānuka trees that grow wild on the hills of Māori tribal lands. This wild harvest makes up around 10% of MBS’ East Cape mānuka oil production.
Operating sustainably also means being an ethical participant within the community. The communities we work with are an important and valued part of everything we do as they are our business partners, employees, family, and friends.
Mānuka Bioscience Group operates in such a way so as to ensure a fair return to everyone who contributes to this business. We also make it a priority to employ and train people from within the local community where our Mānuka plantations, factories and operations are based.
We provide training, employment and business opportunities to the people living in these remote coastal regions of New Zealand, with the goal of providing sustainable employment and participation in an industry which we see adding significant value to the community and future generations.