Honey Science and healing: medicinal honey potential has Australian researchers on the hunt for more liquid gold
As spring kicks in, honey researchers are stepping up their efforts to study how native trees can increase the value of honey that has healing properties.
Manuka honey is known for its medicinal and healing qualities, with New Zealand product currently dominating the lucrative market.
The honey is produced with the pollen from Leptospermum tree species. New Zealand only has two of these species, but Australia has about 86.
Professor Liz Harry from the ithree institute, at the University of Technology Sydney, wants Australian beekeepers to send her samples of their honey for honey science.
It is part of a research project that aims to establish which Australian species of Leptospermum produce honey with high antibacterial qualities to rival new Zealand’s Manuka product.
“On the Sunshine Coast, in Queensland, there is quite a lot of Leptospermum species, and it is very potent in killing bacteria and has similar chemical properties to the New Zealand Manuka honey,” Ms Harry said.
“That has been unrealised and unpublished for a long time.
We should be reaping the benefits of Manuka honey, for farmers, beekeepers and for the medical solution in delivers
Professor Liz Harry, University of Technology Sydney
“Australia has 86 species of Leptospermum that we know of and New Zealand only has two species of two, but we have a lot more land.
“We should be reaping the benefits of Manuka honey, for farmers, beekeepers and for the medical solution it delivers.”
Manuka honey sells for up to $40 per kilogram, and in New Zealand is worth an estimated $75 million a year, so the value of it in Australia could be considerably higher given the diversity of Leptospermum species.
Ms Harry wants samples of honey from beekeepers all over Australia, not just Queensland, to help determine how potent Australian-made Manuka can be.
“Although there is a great enrichment of Leptospermum on the Sunshine Coast, we are looking all around Australia,” she said.
“We have been out there, letting beekeepers know about the study, which is funded by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.”
The study is also being funded by Australia’s largest honey producer, Capilano Honey, which recently completed a multimillion dollar takeover of Australian-based Manuka honey producer, KirksBees.
Medicinal honey producer, Comvita, which currently produces its Manuka honey using Leptospermum species in New Zealand, is also helping to finance the project.
Ms Harry said the study would also help understand how different types of Leptospermum trees could be used to make different honeys with varying medical applications.
“I think what we will find is that there might be properties of one species of Leptospermum species that are superior for some uses than another species of leptospermum,” she said.
“This is just about finding what species of Leptospermum are better for certain things.”
Ms Harry said as the public became more aware of the medicinal properties in honey, the price of honey will rise for producers.
“All honey is anti-bactericidal, so not only will the value of Leptospermum species of honey increase, but the value of all honeys will increase because of public perception,” she said.
“That is what is happening in New Zealand, all the honey there has increased, so the world is really interested in New Zealand and Australia for our pure products.”
However, Ms Harry said Australia is better positioned than New Zealand to expand the Manuka honey trade.
“Australia doesn’t suffer from a syndrome called colony collapse disorder (CCD), which causes bees in their hives to die overnight all at once,” she said.
“We don’t know what causes it, but we know Australia doesn’t suffer it, and it also doesn’t suffer from an infectious pathogen already in New Zealand.
“So we have an advantage to sell our honey at premium prices and also to find out more about how honeybees might be dying, by using Australia as an example of where we don’t have [these disorders] and comparing it with countries that do.”
Ms Harry said so far she has received honey samples from beekeepers in Queensland, New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia.
“We are getting the honey from wherever people can send it,” she said.
Honey Bee & Pollination R&D Program spokesperson, Ben Hooper, said early results from honey collected in New South Wales already showed similar qualities to New Zealand’s Manuka honey.
“Initial findings from the North Coast and Northern Rivers regions of New South Wales have confirmed Australian honey is just as potent as the Manuka from New Zealand, which is an incredible boom for the industry in areas where the trees grow,” Mr Hooper said.
“The next step is to identify more sources of these types of honey, which is why researchers will be travelling the country with beekeepers over coming months to collect nectar, plant and honey samples.”
Beekeepers interested in providing samples for testing should contact the project coordinator, Dr Nural Cokcetin at the University of Technology Sydney.
The project is also being supported by the University of Sydney and the University of the Sunshine Coast.