Tucked away in one of the quiet corners of Malvern, a British expatriate is running a honey company out of her home. This honey doesn't come in a cute bear-shaped bottle, though, and it certainly is priced differently, ranging from $19.99 to $41.99 per bottle.
Manuka honey, hailing from New Zealand, is priced 10 to 15 times as much as its bear-shaped cousins because of its medicinal uses. Its champions say that manuka honey possesses an antibacterial agent, and can be used topically on burns and wounds, and internally for digestive problems.
While medical researchers struggle to define what it is about manuka that sets it apart, its use in wound dressing is growing around the world, and the FDA just cleared the use of manuka-infused dressings in the United States last July.
Which is all good news for Fiona Nelson, Malvern resident and president of the U.S. branch of Wedderspoon.
Joseph Schilling is diabetic, which gives him digestive problems, in addition to his acid reflux. He used to take six to eight pills a day for his diabetic digestive issues, and another pill for the acid reflux.
Then a year ago he met Nelson, who introduced him to manuka. Now the 50-year-old chef from Conshohocken takes a teaspoon of Wedderspoon-brand manuka every morning, and his digestive issues have cleared up, sans pills.
"I'm thrilled with it," said Schilling. "I've never really endorsed or talked this positively about a product, but it worked for me."
Nelson, 47, has four teenage children. She came to America 20 years ago, and up until last year ran a day-care center out of her house.
"It's basically a natural antibiotic with no side effects," said Nelson of her product. When the 60-something Diane Wedderspoon, an old neighbor of Nelson's from Camberley in England, visited Nelson about two and a half years ago, the two went out to local food stores in search of some manuka.
"No one seemed to know what we were talking about," said Nelson. And so a business venture was born, between Nelson and Wedderspoon's daughter and son-in-law, who live in Vancouver and run Wedderspoon's Canadian operation.
The man who is most responsible for the discovery of the medicinal properties of manuka is Peter Molan, codirector of the Honey Research Unit at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, who began researching the honey in the early 1980s.
"All honey in varying degrees has antibacterial properties because of hydrogen peroxide," said Molan, 64, in a phone interview earlier this month. "Manuka has a unique antibacterial activity for it to be effective it's got to be in a localized concentration. If you've got an infection in your blood it won't work, but an eye infection, outer ear, any sort of skin infection, or in the stomach, you can expect it to be effective," said Molan.
The Active Manuka Honey Association estimates New Zealand's manuka sales at about 1,000 to 1,200 tons annually, bringing in about $60 to $80 million in New Zealand dollars, or about $45 to $60 million in U.S. dollars. These numbers were all near zero 25 years ago.
Manuka-infused wound dressings, created by Derma Sciences, a Princeton company, were cleared by the FDA in July. They are being tested across the country, including at the Wound Healing Center at Bryn Mawr Hospital.
"I think it's too early to tell," said Sharon Hannum, program director for the center, about the medical future of manuka. Derma Sciences dressings just arrived at Bryn Mawr this month. "Once more studies are done and out there, more people will be prone to buy them," said Hannum of the dressings.
Nelson, meanwhile, hopes that Wedderspoon manuka will be popping up in more and more medicine cabinets as the word gets out. She refuses to discuss specifics on sales, other than saying that "Sales are good." Her chief clients are wholesalers, not individuals.
Wedderspoon products, which include manuka of varying strengths, and thus prices, as well as manuka throat lozenges, chapsticks, and soaps, are available at local Whole Foods, Arrowroot, and Kimberton Whole Foods locations, among others.
"I hope that one day Wedderspoon will be a household name, as being a top-quality brand," said Nelson. "We just need somebody like Oprah to get a hold of us."
Looking for Honey
These stores carry manuka honey products, but it's best to call to verify that they're in stock before you go shopping.
821 Lancaster Ave., Devon, 610-688-9400
83 E. Lancaster Ave., Paoli, 610-640-2720 and 834 W. Lancaster Ave., Bryn Mawr, 610-527-3393
Kimberton Whole Foods
2140 Kimberton Rd., Kimberton 610-935-1444
150 E Pa. Ave., Downingtown 610-873-8225
1139 Ben Franklin Highway, Douglassville 610-385-1588
Great Pumpkin Nutrition
607 E Market St., West Chester. 610-696-0741