Have you noticed that the honey du jour is manuka honey. From relative obscurity (outside New Zealand, at any rate), manuka honey is creating quite a buzz (sorry, I couldn't resist that). From my research, I'm not convinced that we should make a bee-line for manuka as an anti-ager. However, it could be a safe preservative (now wouldn't that be a breakthrough) and helpful against acne.

Manuka honey is produced by bees that feed exclusively on the New Zealand manuka bush, also called tea tree. The most striking thing about manuka honey is that it is a proven and powerful antibacterial agent, according to Dr Peter Molan at the Honey Research Unit at New Zealand's Waikato University. This is due to a natural hydrogen peroxide in the honey, which has been labeled unique manuka factor (UMF).

The problem is that not all manuka honey has UMF and the concentration of UMF can vary from each batch and from year to year. The higher the UMF level, the higher the antibacterial activity. Manuka honey with a UMF level of 10+ is recommended for therapeutic use such as treating a wound or a sore throat. In Manchester in the UK, two hospitals are using it for wound treatments and for patients with mouth or throat cancer.

Claire found a more recent piece of research that has identified the source of manuka's powers. Scientists at the University of Dresden have found it is a natural compound formed in manuka plants known as methylglyoxal.

Whilst no miracle cure, I have come across acne sufferers who claim it helps significantly and, in one case, better than hydroquinone. The honey is smeared on the face at night and, apparently, red marks and spots start to look better within a couple of days. Given the instability of UMF, it seems to be important to buy a reliable brand. Comvita is one that was identified as such in an independent study.