Manuka or Tea Tree is a shrub or small tree native to southeast Australia and New Zealand. It is particularly common in Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales and on the drier east coasts of New Zealand. Manuka is the name used in New Zealand, and Tea Tree is a common name in Australia because Captain Cook used the leaves to make a tea drink.
It is a prolific scrub-type tree and is often one of the first species to regenerate on cleared land. It is typically a shrub but can grow into a moderately sized tree, up to 40 feet in height. It is evergreen, with dense branching and small leaves. The flowers are white, occasionally pink, with five petals. The wood is tough and hard, and was often used for tool handles. Manuka sawdust imparts a delicious flavour when used for smoking meats and fish.
Manuka products have high antibacterial potency for a limited spectrum of bacteria and are widely available in New Zealand. Similar properties led the Maori to use parts of the plant as natural medicine. Kakariki parakeets use the leaves and bark of Manuka to rid themselves of parasites. Apart from ingesting the material, they also chew it, mix it with preen gland oil and apply it to their feathers.
Manuka honey, produced when honeybees gather the nectar from its flowers, is distinctively flavoured, darker and richer in taste than clover honey and has strong antibacterial and antifungal properties. The finest quality Manuka honey with the most potent antimicrobial properties is produced from hives placed in wild, uncultivated areas with abundant growth of Manuka bushes. However a very limited number of scientific studies have been performed to verify its efficacy.