Manuka Oil 101 - no it doesn't come from the honey

Manuka Honey and Manuka Oil what’s the difference?

Now when most consumers think of manuka they think of manuka honey and they are generally not aware of manuka oil. The properties of medical grade honey for wound care products are widely known but manuka oil, not so much? We prepared an info graphic to summarise the main differences which may help.
the difference between manuka oil and manuka honey
Both are used for medicinal purposes but manuka oil is 100% vegan - no bees involved in the process.

There has been extensive research carried out on the effectiveness of manuka oil since the 1980’s, its properties and effectiveness are not widely recognised by consumers.

Where does Manuka Oil come from?

Manuka oil is an essential oil, steam distilled from the leaf and small branch of the manuka bush. Oil sacs, occur in the leaves of manuka and appear as translucent points on the leaf surface. The oil is extracted from the leaves by heating them to vaporise the oil, which is then distilled off. A distillation time of about 5 hours is required to extract 80–90% of the oil from manuka because of the heavy oil components (sesquiterpenes). The oil from the leaf volatilises into the water vapour flow then passing through the distillation vessel. This mixture is then cooled in a water-jacketed condenser, returning it to liquid water and oil. The oil, which is lighter than water, floats on the surface, enabling it to be collected in a separating vessel.

It’s a relatively simple process on the East Cape and you may get an idea from the short video link here which shows a ton of leaf being emptied after the distillation process has been completed.

Manuka leaf for manuka oil


Are all manuka oils made the same?

Not all oils are created equal.

NZ Crop and Food have defined three predominant manuka oil chemotypes (races of plants with different chemistry) throughout New Zealand:

1. In the far north, the oil has a high pinene content.
2. In the East Cape and Marlborough Sounds regions, a high triketone chemotype is found,
3. Oils containing a complex of sesquiterpenes are found over the rest of New Zealand.

Evidence shows that the antimicrobial activity of manuka oil is determined largely by the proportion of triketones in the oil.

The proportion of chemical components in the three regional chemotypes of New Zealand manuka. [i]

Chemotypes geographical locations New Zealand

Currently most of ManukaRx production of oil comes from wild harvest of the manuka bush on the East Cape, however ManukaRx are now involved in the development of plantations on the East Cape, plantations specifically for oil production. ManukaRx only use 100% pure East Cape Manuka oil in all product formulations
Producing manuka oil


What can Manuka Oil do for the body and the skin?

Manuka oil, particularly the triketone-rich chemotypes, has activity against pathological bacteria, e.g. Staphylococcus, Listeria, and Streptococcus, and against some fungi, e.g.Trichophyton and Microsporum.
Oil from the East Cape chemotype, is a triketone rich selection, and the unique strong activity of this oil against Gram positive bacteria—for example, Staphylococcus aureus and its antibiotic resistant strain MRSA, has been conclusively proven to be due to the presence of triketones.

Manuka oil is antimicrobial[ii]

Manuka oil contains β-triketones, natural compounds that kill or stop the growth of micro-organisms. These compounds can be broken down into anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agents. They stimulate immune response in wounds, speeding up healing times.

It’s Antibacterial

The most widely studied property of manuka oil is its amazing antibacterial abilities. An Otago University study showed that it was effective against the specific bacteria that cause acne. Another study, published in the Journal of Microbiology, analysed microorganism growth and found that manuka oil significantly inhibited growth of the bacteria S. aureus, S. mutans, S. sobrinus, and E. coli. Manuka oil was found to be effective against some antibiotic resistant ‘super bugs’, including MRSA.

It’s Anti-fungal

In the same Journal of Microbiology study, researchers found that manuka oil has potent fungicidal properties capable of inhibiting growth of fungi.

It contains anti-aging/ antioxidant properties

A 2013 study[iii] showed that a topical application suppressed the UV-B induced increase in skin thickness and wrinkle grading in a dose- dependent manner. Manuka oil also could suppress UV-B induced skin inflammation by inhibiting the production of inflammatory cytokines. They suggest that it is the presence of antioxidant chemicals and sesquiterpene compounds in manuka oil that underlie the attenuation of cutaneous photo aging. With these results they suggest that their work supports the use of manuka oil in the formulation of skin care and functional cosmetics.

It’s anti-inflammatory

A 2014 study[iv] investigated suppression or inhibition of inflammatory reactions mediated by manuka oil. They found that where the inflammation was caused by microorganism infection the oil had anti-inflammatory effects on LPS (lipopolysaccharide) induced release of TNF- alpha, but had no influence on IL-4. They also found that the oil did not have a stimulatory effect on cytokine release in untreated THP-1 macrophages. Because TNF-alpha release from monocytes/macrophages regulates Th-1 mediated inflammatory responses, short term non-toxic dosage for the oil may be effective in treating inflammation. In THP-1 cells, the oil lowered tumour necrosis factor –alpha released after lipopolysaccharide stimulation.

They suggest that the oil may be effective for treating lesions caused by insect bites and for repairing infected wounds. The fact that the oil did not significantly affect IL-4 release suggests that, in addition to the anti- inflammatory properties, the oil has potential application as an anti-allergenic agent and be effective in human epidermal- related products

Manuka oil is capable of significantly reducing inflammation without irritating the skin, and has been demonstrated to be an effective treatment for some people with sensitive skin and those who suffer from eczema or psoriasis.

Its antiviral

A 2005 study[v] showed that manuka oil inhibited the Herpes simplex -1 and -2 virus when the viruses were pre-treated with the oil one hour before cell infection. After infection, only HSV- 1 replication was significantly inhibited. A similar study showed that flavesone and manuka oil were the most active substances against Herpes simplex virus type 1 when in direct contact with the virus, but all of the triketones showed strong antiviral activity. ‘The mechanism seems to be an interaction of the triketones with the virion envelope hindering the adsorption of the virus by the host cell’.

It’s antispasmodic

In a study in 1998[vi] manuka oil showed a spasmolytic action on smooth muscle. Using the diaphragm, manuka oil decreased tension and had a delayed contracture. The oil is also antispasmodic, meaning that it may be of benefit for treatment of muscle strain or inflammatory conditions. Research is being conducted into manuka oil for the treatment of arthritis and fibromyalgia.

It’s a cicatrisant

Manuka oil also contains calamenene, which is known to have skin calming and analgesic properties. These properties assist in wound healing and scar reduction.  Manuka oil works as a full treatment, first killing or reducing bacteria or fungal growth, then reducing inflammation and calming the skin, allowing for faster healing and less scarring.

So what does all this mean it is best for?

Thanks to its abundant antiviral, antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal, and antioxidant properties, manuka oil could be ( and has been demonstrated to be) an effective natural solution for many conditions and preventative care applications such as:
  • Persistent acne and blemishes
  • Anything to do with the foot or nail
  • Anything to do with dry or itchy skin
  • Minor rashes, burns, and abrasions
  • Shiny and soft hair
  • Skin aging and reducing wrinkles
  • Inflamed skin from sunburns
  • Protecting at-risk skin on lips, elbows, knees, and ankles
  • Mosquito bites, bee stings, and other insect bites or stings
  • Chaffed or irritated skin
  • Minimizing old scars
  • Sore muscles and aching joints
  • Congestion and respiratory infections
  • Studies show that manuka oil is one of the best natural solutions for fighting bacteria in the mouth – beating tea tree, lavender, eucalyptus, and rosemary. Be careful not to swallow.

What is the difference between Tea Tree Oil and Manuka Oil?

The Tea Tree Plant

Melaleuca is a plant that belongs to the myrtle family endemic to Australia and a small handful of nearby Pacific islands. By indigenous, it means that something has originated in one place yet it can be found in another, whereas endemic indicates exclusivity.


Tea tree oil is very safe – yet effective – for many topical and household applications due to its antifungal and antibacterial properties.

What tea tree oil has been used for

Tea tree oil has been used for several ailments and domestic uses. This list is by no means exhaustive but includes:
  • Insect repellent
  • Household cleaner
  • Skin tags
  • Athlete's foot and ringworm
  • Acne
  • Add to shampoo and conditioner
  • Dandruff and psoriasis
  • Bug bites
  • Sunburns and rashes
  • Deodorizer
  • Relief from congestion or respiratory infections

Let's Look at Manuka Oil

The Manuka Plant

Manuka also belongs to the myrtle family but goes by the scientific name of Leptospermum Scoparium. This plant is indigenous to New Zealand.


Manuka oil is filled with potent triketones, flavonoids, and other chemical compounds which give the substance powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties.

Manuka oil extracted from plants grown in New Zealand's East Cape region contain higher levels of triketones than oil from varieties grown elsewhere which make East Cape manuka oil one of the most powerful natural antibacterial solutions.

What manuka oil has been used for

Like tea tree oil, manuka is extremely versatile and safe for frequent use both topically and in several household applications. Thanks to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, manuka is great for:
  • Soothing sore muscles and aching joints
  • Relieving congestion or respiratory distress
  • Reducing the appearance of or removing skin tags
Its antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal qualities also make manuka an ideal solution for:
  • Acne, minor skin infections, rashes, bug bites, and other skin conditions
  • Athlete's foot, ringworm, and jock itch and nail fungus
  • Helping with both eczema and psoriasis
  • Burns, sunburn, scars and cuts
  • Cracked hands, feet, and cuticles
  • Dandruff and head lice
  • Disinfecting door handles, shoes, clothing, keyboards, phones, and other household items
  • Deodorizing shoes, clothing, cars, and furniture
  • Disinfecting your mouth and freshening breath as an oral rinse
  • Brightening hair, skin, and nails

Manuka Oil vs. Tea Tree Oil: The Key Differences

Triketones, flavonoids, and other enzymes are what give essential oils their antimicrobial, antifungal, and antibacterial properties.

The Cawthron Institute in Nelson and the Otago University Microbiology Department have conducted extensive testing of East Cape manuka oil against a wide range of human pathogens and concluded that East Cape manuka oil was:-
  • 20 - 30 times more active than Australian tea tree oil against gram positive bacteria
  • Several times more effective against strains of fungi,
  • Effective against gram negative bacteria and viruses.


[i] Crop and Food Research ‘Essential oil production from manuka and kanuka

[ii] Cooke & Cooke M.D. (1994) "An investigation into the antimicrobial properties of manuka & kanuka oils" Cawthron Report No 263, New Zealand.

[iii] Kwon, O.S.; Jung, S.H. and Yang, B.S. (2013) Topical Administration of Manuka Oil Prevents UV-B Irradiation –induced Cutaneous Photoaging in Mice. Evidence based complementary and alternative medicine.10 pages.

[iv] Chen, C-C; Yan S-H; Yen, M-Y; Wu, P-F; Liao, W-T; Huang, T-S; We, Z-H and Wang, H-M. D. (2014) Investigations of Kanuka and Manuka Essential Oils for in vitro Treatment of Disease and Cellular Inflammation Caused by Infectious Microorganisms. Journal of Microbiology, Immunology and infection.

[v] Reichling, J.; Koch, C.; Stahl-Biskup, E; Sojka, C and Schnitzler, P. (2005) Virucidal Activity of a B- Triketone –rich Essential Oil of Leptospermum scoparium (Manuka Oil) against HSV-1and HSV-2 in Cell Culture. Planta Medica 71(12):1123-1127.

[vi] Lis-Balchin, M. and Hart, S.L.( 1998) An Investigation of the Actions of the Essential Oils of Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) and Kanuka (Kunzea ericoides) Myrtaceae on Guinea-pig Smooth Muscle. J Pharm Pharmacol 50:809-811.

Keen to try a free sample of our popular Manuka Ointment?

We ship samples to both NZ & Australia!

Get a Sample

1 comment

  • Erana

    I’m from the East Cape of NZ and live in Australia. My dad used Manuka oil for oiling fine machinery as it was very fine. I often use the honey and cough lollies for colds 👍🏻

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published