History of Manuka

By Bill Gluyas

Manuka tea tree used as medicine for up to 1000 years. Oral and written history of New Zealand records the use of Manuka for medicinal purposes by the early Maori settlers.

From the earliest human habitation of New Zealand by the Maori people around 800 to 1000 years ago, the Manuka tea tree plant (Leptospermum scoparium) was known to have special medicinal and therapeutic properties.
The Maori people used the leaves and bark for a wide range of ailments, including urinary problems and as a febrifuge (to reduce fever). The leaves were boiled and the hot vapour inhaled for head colds. Leaves and bark were boiled together and the warm liquid rubbed on stiff backs and rheumatic joints.
It was also used as a diuretic, a sedative, a pain killer, for inflammation of the breasts, and for healing fractures.

the manuka plant
The Manuka plant

Boiled bark was used to relieve constipation, as a gargle and for bathing sore eyes. The emollient gum was given to suckling babies, and was applied to scalds and burns. Fresh sap was taken as a blood purifier, seed capsules were boiled and the fluid used externally for bruises and inflammation, and internally for diarrhoea and dysentery.
Raw seed capsules were chewed for colic, and when powdered, used in a poultice to dry and heal open wounds or running sores.
"New Zealand Medicinal Plants" written by S C Brooker, R C cambie, R C Cooper. Published by Heineman Publishers, Auckland, NZ. Third Edition, 1987.
"Medicine of the Maori" written by Christina McDonald. Published by William Collins (NZ) Ltd, Auckland, 1974. Reprinted.1975

 

It is amazing to discover that all these therapeutic uses of the Manuka tea tree plant were identified by the Maori people centuries ago, and only now, in the past two decades, has modern science shown that these uses were legitimate and that the active ingredients have been identified and confirmed in scientific analysis.

Captain James Cook discovers benefits from using Manuka tea tree

Captain James Cook first visited New Zealand in 1769 and described the Manuka plant as a 'tea plant' hence the colloquial name tea tree.
Cook wrote: "the leaves were used by many of us as a tea which has a very agreeable bitter taste and flavour when they are recent but loses some of both when they are dried. When the infusion was made strong it proved emetic (induced vomiting) to some in the same manner as 'green tea'."
Cook, J "A Voyage Towards the South Pole and Round the World". Strahan & Cadell, London, 1777

During the following two centuries since Cook wrote about Manuka in his journal, little more information of scientific nature was published.

Modern scientific study confirms medicinal properties

However since the 1980's there has been considerable scientific study to identify the active compounds in this plant genus and test these compounds for their effectiveness against a number of bacterial and fungal organisms that can cause skin ailments.
It has been described in scientific papers that one variety of Manuka tea tree, grown almost exclusively in the East Cape region of New Zealand's North Island, has significant antibacterial and anti fungal properties and that this oil is a genuine alternative to conventional synthetic forms of medication.
Not only are products containing high Triketone Manuka oil an alternative to traditional forms of treatment, it has been shown in many cases to have given superior results.

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