Johann Forster initially described Leptospermums in his 1776 study Characteres Generum Plantarum. Native to Australia, many endemic species of the Manuka plant are found nowhere else in the world. They evolved over millions of years and are very tolerant to drought and fire, which makes them well adapted to the Australian climate. Manuka is a short, hardy shrub with dense foliage and tapering, elongated leaves with a sharp pointed tip. Its stellate flower is formed of five rounded petals surrounding an exposed cupola with protruding stamens. The rough bark that peels off in strips gives the plant a characteristic shaggy appearance.
With the arrival of colonial settlers from Great Britain, so came the European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera), introduced to Australia in 1822. Due to their ability to pollinate their crops, bees contribute a considerable amount to our ability to produce food, and the early settlers knew this. What they didn't know was that when the bees collected nectar from the Manuka plants, the honey produced would have exceptional properties. Interestingly, this is almost 20 years prior to the arrival of bees in New Zealand, which makes the Australia the original home of Manuka honey. Due to its dark colour and strong taste, much of the earliest crops of Manuka honey were fed back to the bees as its flavour was stronger than Eucalyptus or Clover honey.
Research carried out in the 1980s identified the unique therapeutic benefits of Manuka honey when used in a clinical setting (Molan & Russell, 1988). As a result, there has been a significant increase in demand and this has driven further research into why Manuka honey is so uniquely special.
Australia is home to 83 of the 87 known Leptospermum species worldwide, including the Leptospermum Scoparium species (Wrigley J, Fagg M. 1996). Only one species is found in New Zealand, with the NZ species originating in Australia.
Studies have uncovered that bacteria with resistance to modern antibiotics (becoming superbugs) cannot develop resistance to the activity of Manuka honey (Blair et al. 2009). Manuka effectively inhibits problematic bacterial pathogens unlike any other known antimicrobial, with attempts to generate honey-resistant bacterial strains in a laboratory unsuccessful.
Exceptionally high levels of MGO have been discovered in Manuka honey samples sourced in Australia (Cokcetin et al. 2016). The levels of DHA and MGO found in some Australian honey is comparable or higher to than those observed in New Zealand Manuka honey.