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March 5, 2021

Tea tree honey variation is the bees knees

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Most of us are familiar with the medicinal properties of honey – assuming, of course, it hasn’t been diluted with water by some greedy multinational food company.

But researchers from Southern Cross University have discovered a new form of the naturally-occurring  sweetener that has the potential to make both humans and bees noticeably healthier.

The new honey variation comes from bees that have foraged on tea trees, giving it unusually high anti-oxidant and anti-microbial qualities that leave generic honeys in the shade.

Bees at the tea tree plantation in the Bungawalbyn Valley. Supplied

Dr David Rudd from the university’s School of Environment, Science and Engineering conducted the research at a tea tree plantation in the Bungawalbyn Valley, south-west of Evans Head.

During the research trials, tea tree was provided to the honeybees as a diet supplement and they were also allowed to naturally forage in the old growth tee tree plantations.

‘We found bees foraging on Melaleuca trees produced a honey that combines immediate anti-oxidant activity and a significant sustained anti-microbial activity even in young honey, without having to wait for the honey to mature,’ Dr Rudd said.

He said the tea tree foraging not only benefited honey-eating humans but the bees themselves, owing to the generation of a bioactive monoterpene.

‘A diet of Melaleuca trees is slightly different to what bees usually feed on so we wanted to conduct gut microbe analysis in case there were any problems for the bees,’ Dr Rudd said.

‘But we found the slight changes in the gut suggested the bees could handle tea tree really well and it actually gave the bees a slightly higher immune function, making them more resistant to bacterial infections and viral infections without affecting the gut metabolic function’

‘So tea tree within the diet actually acted as a probiotic for metabolism, increasing beneficial immune defensive bacteria while maintaining nectar metabolism bacteria within the honeybees’ gut.”

When it came to the all-important question of taste, Dr Rudd said the tea-tree infused honey had: ‘a fresher lighter aspect to the taste, similar to the freshness you have in tea-tree cough lollies’.

While still in its trial phase, the research is being developed in conjunction with Northern NSW producer Meluka Honey, meaning there’s every chance it will appear on local shelves sooner rather than later.

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  1. Sounds like Manuka honey, for which all these same claims are made. Isn’t Manuka actually tea tree? I think it is. The story should have mentioned the connection and the existing research on Manuka, whether or not the new research is identical or some small variation.

    • Good point David, Manuka,(Ti Tree) honey is from a variety of ti tree in NZ – and to top it off there are a number of honeys already collected in SE Qld that are from species of leptospermum that perform just the same as Manuka, They have high health value and are rated at 30+. Manuka comes from Leptospermum scoparium, usually commonly known as the Manuka bush.
      The leptospermum species here in SEQ is Leptospermum Polygalifolium which is in the same family as NZ’s Manuka species and produces honey as high a quality as NZ Manuka and rated at 30+. Unfortunately the price is pretty much similar to NZ’s. Its collected from Starbroke Island and areas near Noosa and a few araes in the S.Coast hinterland

  2. The common name Tea Tree for Leptospernum spp is used by gardeners. Ti tree, sometimes Tea tree for Melaleuca is used by beekeepers. It is unclear from the article just what is being referred to. Melaleuca quinquinervia is regularly worked by bees. Leptosermum spp is also found around the NSW north coast, particularly Broadwater Woodburn areas. Some spp here were found to be ‘active’ soon after the NZ Manuka activity was discovered . Unfortunately Leptospermum spp are effectually pollen short, meaning they are usually very hard on bees unless another pollen source is flowering at the same time. Pollen is where almost all a bees nutrition comes from.

    Other than as a topical dressing Manuka/Jelly Bush/ Leptospermum has not been shown to have any particular health benefit, nor is it likely to do so.

    There is a passing reference to the honey having taste reminiscent of teatree cough lollies. Is this implying Melaleuca alternifolia the teatree oil source?


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