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    Rights: The Royal Society, TVNZ 7 in partnership with the Ministry of Science and Innovation.
    Published 9 January 2012 Referencing Hub media

    Honey producer Comvita began on Great Barrier Island as a retirement hobby for Claude Stratford. Four decades on, the company is the world’s largest manufacturer of Mānuka honey, with beekeepers from all over New Zealand supplying Comvita with high-quality honey.

    Comvita’s Mānuka honey is not just a tasty spread for toast. The company employs the renowned healing properties of the native Mānuka in its skincare and cosmetic products. It also produces FDA-registered medical products for the professional healthcare market in the US under its Medihoney™ brand. It’s this application of science to natural remedies that drives Comvita.

    The healing properties of Mānuka honey are based on:

    • the hydrogen peroxide antiseptic property present in most honeys
    • a non-peroxide antibacterial property called the unique Mānuka factor (UMF).

    Because it lasts longer on the human body than the peroxide property, UMF has proven particularly effective in treating wounds resistant to traditional care and has even been known to beat the superbug MRSA. The antibacterial UMF has also proven effective at inhibiting infection and stimulating the immune system.

    Since the discovery of its restorative properties, the Mānuka bush has gone from scrub that was cleared to make way for farmland to an international health and skincare star. Now with assistance from the Ministry of Science and Innovation, Mānuka with longer flowering time and higher medicinal properties are being planted on marginal land where they also prevent erosion and get carbon credits. A win-win-win for Comvita, medical honey and the environment.

    Find out more

    Fin out more about using honey to heal and then try out this Properties of honey activity.

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    Find out more about Comvita.


    For generations, Mānuka scrub was considered worthless and was cut down for farmland.
    But there’s a new ‘cash cow’ in the kiwi economy and it’s got wings.

    Comvita was the first kiwi company to export Mānuka honey to Britain in glass jars, rather than 44-gallon drums.
    Now the health and skincare business export a range of products, with subsidiary companies in the UK, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Hong Kong.
    Not bad for a business that began as a retirement hobby.
    Claude Stratford has been eating this stuff every day for most of his life. He calls it “nature’s Viagra”.
    When he joined forces with Alan Bougen to found Comvita in 1975, Claude was already in his sixties. This year he turned 101. So something must be working right.

    Claude’s story, his proposition if you like was if honey is treated properly it’s a first class health food in its own right.
    It’s filled with enzymes and minerals and trace elements and it should be consumed as a health product.     

    Comvita works with scientists around the world to learn more about what’s good for us.

    We have a very special type of honey here, the Mānuka honey, the very famous Mānuka honey, and this honey has certain attributes that lend itself to be very good in wound healing for example.

    Most honeys have medicinal properties, that’s because honey creates hydrogen peroxide which is antiseptic. Mānuka honey also has high levels of a non-peroxide anti bacterial property, the Unique Mānuka Factor – UMF for short.
    Because it lasts longer on the human body than the peroxide property, UMF fights infection better. Mānuka honey has proved particular effective at treating wounds sometimes resistant to mainstream care. It’s even been known to beat the dreaded super bug - Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus.

    You can see here that increasing the concentration of honeys and with 12% honey this particular bug is not able to grow that big, so you see that the colony is a lot bigger when there is no honey at all. So the honey inhibits … science.

    And while the UMF is one key medicinal property of the honey, last year Comvita and their partners Food and Research Industrial Research LTD and Massey University identified another healing property in mānuka.

    There is many more factors in the honey that makes a healing honey if you like, so a medical honey. Because if it’s only inhibiting the bugs it would not explain why the wound and the immune system of the patients, why that progresses so nicely. And so we have discovered that there are other compounds in there for example one compound that stimulates the immune system.

    And it’s the application of science to natural remedy that drives Comvita.

    How could I have known that we could end up where we’re actually selling full-blown medical products that were registered with the FDA and Comvita has actually pioneered that. Taken our research, presented it to the FDA and registered a product that’s now selling in the professional market, hospitals and doctors surgeries throughout the US. I mean that’s phenomenally energising for me.

    Now Comvita are working with Ministry of Science and Innovation funding to grow new Mānuka trees with longer flowering periods and higher medicinal properties. They’ll plant on marginal land preventing erosion and absorbing carbon.

    And so there’s a scheme of you know combining the earth we know, preserving the landscape and getting carbon credits as well as you know having a source of Mānuka honey.

    A win-win-win for Comvita, medical honey and the environment.

    Acknowledgements: This was part of the Innovation Stories series produced in partnership with the Ministry of Science and Innovation, it featured on TVNZ 7 during the Spotlight on Science + Innovation month in August 2011.