Terry's Travels - Manuka Wood

A few weeks ago I described one of the world’s finest woods, Kauri, found only in New Zealand and how uniquely tall, massive, robust, beautiful and useful the Kauri tree lumber is.   At the same farmers market that I bought a spoon made from Kauri, I bought another spoon, made of Manuka wood.

On the smaller end of the physical scale is the Manuka tree, bush. It’s a shrub that can grow quickly from several inches tall to about 15 feet and under the right conditions it can grow into a slender tree of 30 feet or more.

The oil and honey made from Manuka is world-renowned for having incredible antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and healing properties.  The honey is great for fungal and skin bacterial infections as well as burns and wounds. Raw honey can have a terrific potency of its own, but the Manuka honey it is increased because of the high number of active antibacterial compounds found only in Manuka. Manuka honey potency is rated by Unique Manuka Factor (UMF). The product has to have a potency rating of at least 10 UMF to be rated potent enough for pharmaceutical applications. One might say that Manuka in one form or another, is arguably the highest in natural antibiotic potency of any extract in its ability to bring certain skin conditions and internal maladies under control.  Ingesting the honey is not only uniquely delicious but has shown to have gastro anti-inflammatory effects. Those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome or other internal irregularities may find relief.

The tree/bush is an evergreen, with tough and dense leaves about an inch long. The hard wood is perfect for making useful objects such as: canes, tool handles; eating utensils, spoons and ladles. The flowers are profuse, small, white and occasionally pink or red. The 5 petal array is rarely larger than 1 inch in diameter.  There is little to no smell in the flowers but the plentiful leaves have a refreshing scent, when crushed, similar to myrtle or sweet eucalyptus. Captain Cook used the leaves as a substitute for tea when he visited New Zealand in 1769 and it can still be referred to as the ‘tea bush’.

The plant is so adaptable that it can be found proliferating while laying down in a horizontal position if planted in a strong-wind locale.  It’s the first plant to show up on disturbed ground that is recovering from being cleared or from a flood or landslide. It’s always the first to stabilize the soil especially in low-nutrient environments.  Manuka’s will only grow happily under a clear open sky; no shade for her! Manuka will bear a high concentration and attractive abundance of flowers if maintained and clipped as an ankle-high decorative shrub. 

Manuka can be cultivated world-wide and takes well to new soils.  The only down side to this remarkable plant is that it can grow too well if given an open and clear space meaning it becomes prolific and can take over large swathes of open bare ground.   On the upside, if well managed, Manuka is one of the most human-friendly and beneficial plants in the world.

Loved by the native Maori people of New Zealand for all the myriad healing properties, it continues as an important plant given as a gift.  The rest of the world is catching on and Manuka honey and oil fetch high prices.

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