From our land, for our skin: How the humble mānuka tree is creating a game-changer for skincare

New Zealand is home to thousands of native botanicals that are as varied as they are powerful. One essential oil, harvested in an isolated region of the North Island, is proving to be the most potent of the bunch.

Photos: Rachael McKenna, Brennan Thomas

With millions of years without human contact, plants in New Zealand have had ample time to adapt and flourish. The result is an impressive list of botanicals found nowhere else in the world – many with powerful compounds developed over time for survival. For instance, kawakawa, a native shrub known for its healing properties, contains a compound that self-repairs its leaves after insects nibble on them.

Native botanicals have benefited humans since Māori settlers first discovered them. The mānuka tree was initially described by Māori as taonga, or treasure, for its ability to transform into a fever-reducer, a salve to ward off infections, and even a bacteria-killing mouthwash. When the mānuka tree met the honeybee, first introduced by Europeans in the 19th century, its sweet byproduct – honey – prompted a “gold rush” worldwide.


The global appetite for mānuka honey has driven considerable sales and research since the 1990s. Meanwhile, another product of the mānuka tree has been quietly gaining momentum. Scientific researchers were perplexed by the potency of mānuka oil, particularly when distilled from trees grown on the East Cape of New Zealand’s North Island.

This taonga is a testament to the unique landscape of Aotearoa. The nation’s high levels of UV exposure mean mānuka trees produce higher levels of polyphenols than any other. And on the sunshine-soaked East Cape, mānuka trees boast the highest concentration of triketones in the world.

When used topically, these chemical compounds make mānuka oil from the East Cape a thousand times more powerful than mānuka honey against gram positive bacteria. The essential oil is as versatile as it is mighty, with more than 80 active compounds that carry antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-aging benefits.


The mānuka tree can be found in forests, farms and properties around the country. But on the East Cape, home to the most powerful variation, the humble tree is serving an isolated region with economic opportunities. It is grown on iwi-owned and managed plantations, with more than one million mānuka trees planted to date.

Locals gently harvest twigs and leaves; up to six hours of steam distillation eventually produces a pure essential oil. The oil is so potent that it’s too strong for direct application to the skin in its raw form.


So how does one reap the benefits of this powerhouse ingredient? ManukaRx, a 100 per cent NZ-owned company, transforms the finest mānuka oil from the East Cape into effective skincare solutions. Its versatile Skin Rescue Ointment harnesses the natural efficacy of the oil without the use of harsh ingredients. This everyday balm is a first-aid kit in a tube, cleansing skin and fighting bacteria on scratches, insect bites, burns, blisters, and more, helping to combat common skin concerns.

ManukaRx believes its hero ingredient can benefit the land, people and a variety of skincare needs, which is why the brand uses only the finest, sustainably sourced East Cape mānuka oil and turns it into ready-to-use natural skincare solutions. Shop online at

This is an extract from the spring edition of Nadia: A Seasonal Journal. This quarterly publication from celebrity chef Nadia Lim offers tips and tricks on how to grow vegetables and fruits at home, cook nutritious and tasty dishes, plus projects inspired by Nadia’s life on a farm.

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