The History of Australian Manuka


The word Manuka has a long history of use in Australia since European settlement, and has been used for naming places, property and of course the plant.

In 1880, there is documented evidence of the term Manuka being used in reference to the Leptospermum plant, it is included in maps held in the Tasmanian archives, and there have been many other references in newspapers, titles and other documents since then.

In 1935 the South Australian Chronicle mentions the production of Manuka honey, including it being described as “the repulsive honey” by a beekeeper from Border Town. In this column, the author discusses how to avoid ending up with Manuka honey in hives, its strong flavour and the effects it would have on the flavour of other Australian premium honey, such as eucalypt honeys.

At Capilano, we are proud to pack authentic Australian Manuka honey and are committed to fighting for our industry's right to market Australia's high quality, potent, great tasting Manuka honey globally. You can learn more about our involvement here.  

Australian Manuka Chronology

Below is a brief chronology of Australian Manuka, compiled by The Australian Manuka Honey Association (AMHA) that we were proud to provide key information for.

1882 Tasmanian government House of Assembly report describes Manuka trees, first recorded evidence of the name Manuka being used to describe Leptospermum plants.

1884 Tasmanian maps refer to regions of “low Manuka and Tea Tree scrub”. The Launceston Examiner includes articles in 1884 and 1885 describing the Tasmanian landscape of ‘Manuka’ plants.

1897 Sheffield Honey Farm is established, as one of Tasmania’s oldest working apiaries, producing Manuka honey.

1913 Australia’s capital, Canberra, was founded in 1913 and it has an original suburb named Manuka after the plant native to Australia and New Zealand (NZ). Within this suburb, Manuka Oval has a rich and diverse history starting back as early as the 1920’s. In 1962, the Bradman pavilion was constructed at Manuka oval and named in honour of the great cricketer, Don Bradman, who first played at Manuka oval against Mailers ‘Bohemians’.

1920 The Charles family has been beekeeping in Tasmania for three generations, since the 1920’s, with their Blue Hills Honey brand started in 1955. Generations of children have used Manuka bushes to build cubby houses in this remote region of Tasmania. In fact, there is a government managed campground in Tasmania operated by Parks and Wildlife Tasmania known as the ‘Manuka Campground’, in addition to roads named after the Manuka tree, such as Manuka Drive in Smithton, Tasmania.

1922 Publication by F R Beuhne called ‘Honey Flora of Victoria’ refers to Leptospermum as Manuka.

1927 The Adelaide Chronicle newspaper describes Manuka honey produced in South Australia.

1935 In 1935 and 1937, The Adelaide Chronicle newspaper is a rural interest column refers to the extraction of ‘Manuka honey’ and ‘tainted in flavour…honey from Manuka’.

1938 South Australian Border Chronicle reports on development in bee-farming and Manuka honey production.

1947 The Mercury magazine in Tasmania describes Manuka scrub.

1976 Even though the name was gazetted on the 10 March 1976, the Tasmanian Nomenclature Board was established in 1953 as a statutory body to assign the names of places in Tasmania, which included naming the Manuka Creek. Background notes state: Manuka as being a “word for a small tree with aromatic leaves which are sometimes used for tea, native to New Zealand and Tasmania. Leptospermum scoparium, family Myrtaceae.” Articles from 1888 to 1900 from Australian newspapers refer to ‘Manuka Creek’ or ‘Manuka Rivulet’ in Tasmania.

1980 Publication of Forestry Commission of New South Wales (NSW) of ‘Trees and shrubs of Eastern Australia’ refers to the common name of “Manuka Tea Tree” for Leptospermum.

1985 Publication by New South Wales Department of Agriculture on ‘Honey and Pollen Flora’ by Alan Clemson records that Manuka is the common name for Leptospermum.

1994 Byron Bay beekeeper, Michael Howes, begins research into apitherapy products as a beekeeper with hives located on Manuka honey native environments. In 1997, he began to commercialise his business further, and began the Australian Medicinal Honey Company Ltd in 2000 to specialise more so on Manuka honeys.

1995 In June 1995, Capilano Honey as Australia’s largest honey packer, began researching the therapeutic and wound healing properties of honey, including that originating from the Leptospermum species and the Manuka honey this plant produces.

1996 Capilano Honey registered the MEDIHONEY trade mark in the class of medicinal, pharmaceutical and therapeutic as they began to progress plan to commercialise Manuka honeys.

1997 Dr Peter Molan, one of the key NZ scientists responsible for identifying the unique properties of Manuka honey, visited Capilano’s Australian office.

1998 In a large survey of New Zealand honeys, Molan and Russell (1988) found a correlation between high levels of antibacterial activity and non-peroxide content. Allen et al. (1991) suggested that the variation in activity might be attributable to the Manuka floral source. Honey from Manuka demonstrated high antibacterial activity, and this was shown to be due to a non-peroxide component.

1998 Capilano’s Medihoney brand finalises the formula of a range of therapeutic medical honey products, using Australian Manuka honey as the key active ingredient, with Medihoney products listed with the TGA in 1999.

2000 An article published in the UK by the Nursing Times, and was writted by NZ authors, stating: “Various brands of honey with standardised levels of antibacterial are commercially available from manufacturers in New Zealand and Australia. There are all Leptospermum honey, commonly known as Manuka honey, which has an unusually high level of plant-derived non-peroxide antibacterial activity.”

2002 Capilano introduced Australian Manuka Clear Honey into the UK supermarket for Sainsbury’s Private Label range. Capilano sold jars of Sainsbury’s ‘Taste the Difference Clear Manuka Honey’ from June 2002 to March 2006.

2003 Capilano and Medihoney promote Manuka honey in the UK at the BBC Trade Show from 2001 - 2003.

2004 Medihoney published the findings of its first clinical study, and Medihoney (Europe) Ltd was established as Active+ Manuka honey exports to Europe expanded. Australian active Manuka products were being sold in the UK through Holland & Barrett, Sainsbury and Tesco pharmacies and even listed as part of the UK Drug Tariff.

2005 Capilano’s BeeVital Brand championed the sale of Australian Manuka honey products in local grocery channels. Since the early 2000’s Capilano brand has also sold various Manuka honey products.

2007 Capilano sold Medihoney Pty Ltd to Comvita Limited (New Zealand) and Comvita Holdings Pty Ltd so those companies could invest further in the marketing and supply of Australian Manuka honey products.

2008 Tasmania’s Blue Hills brand begins selling Manuka honey internationally.

2010 Australian Government commissioned a project to investigate existing and prospective honey markets, referring to Manuka throughout the report.

2014 Taverners Tasmanian Organic Manuka Honey is promoted in export markets.

2015 Capilano purchased Kirks Bees Honey Pty Ltd, which was the largest Australian Manuka honey beekeeping enterprise and the largest supplier of raw Australian Manuka honey to Capilano. Capilano renamed this business as a wholly owned subsidiary, Capilano Apiaries Pty Ltd. On 17 May 2016, Medibee Apiaries Pty Ltd (ACN 612 455 991) was established. Medibee Apiaries Pty Ltd is a 50/50 joint venture business between Capilano Honey Limited and Comvita Holdings Pty Ltd (ACN 125 905 964). In July 2016, Capilano sold Capilano Apiaries Pty Ltd to Medibee Apiaries Pty Ltd. This Joint venture arrangement for Australian Manuka honey is still operational.

2016 ABC TV show Landline does a special report on Australian Manuka honey production. 

2016 Food Standards Agency (FSA) (UK) undertook a study to understand consumer perceptions of honey, in the findings the FSA described Manuka honey to study participant as ‘a honey sourced mainly from Australia or New Zealand. Manuka honey differs from other honey as it is made only from the nectar of the Manuka tree…’

2017 Comvita (NZ) AGM Investor Presentation 2017, referring to Australian Manuka honey as part of their investment in Medibee.

2019 On 19 March 2019, Capilano's parent company changed its structure to a proprietary company. It is now known as Hive + Wellness Australia Pty Ltd. Capilano branded Manuka is the number 1 seller of Manuka honey, and it is all 100% Australian.

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