What is melaleuca honey? Or gelam honey? Why so many different names?

melaleuca honey aha cajeput honey aka gelam honey

What is melaleuca honey? And who heard of this, anyway? And why so many studies about a honey that cannot be found on the market? Could it be from the actual Tea tree?

The truth is that all countries have specific trees and that some names are borrowed as they are, others are translated, others are scientific, and others are kept from tradition. This is what happens to this tree and to so many others on this planet. But it’s important to known which are which.

Gelam honey or Melaleuca honey is Malaysian honey produced from some species of trees in Melaleuca genus, Family Myrtaceae. Especially from the tree called Melaleuca cajuputi, also known as Melaleuca leucadendra or leucodendron
The names of this tree can confuse a lot of people, especially as they are all related to “tea tree”.

In English: tea tree, paperbark tree, cajeput tree, punk tree, river tea tree, weeping tea tree, white wood, broad-leaved paperbark.
In China: bai qian ceng
In Indonesia: cajeput, gelam, minjak kajuputih,
In Malaysia: gelam, kayu puteh

I was so surprised to see how many different, unrelated plants are called “Tea Tree” or “Ti-Tree”. What is the real one? If there is such a thing like the real one….

There are 6 plants that are called Tea Tree!


Camellia sinensis leaves. Our teas are made from them!

1. Camellia sinensis (or Thea sinensis) Other names: “tea plant”, “tea shrub”, and “tea tree”. (Again “tea tree” – though it is not the tea tree used to make the honey, or the “tea tree oil”)
It’s a species of evergreen shrub or small tree, whose leaves and leaf buds are used to produce tea. Our teas comes from here.

This plant has 2 major varieties: sinensis for Chinese teas, and assamica for Indian Assam teas.
From the leaves of those two plants we have the following teas:
White tea, yellow tea, green tea, oolong, pu-erh tea and black tea. What differentiate them is the the way they are processed to attain varying levels of oxidation.
From the twigs and stems of Camellia sinensis we have Kukicha, aka twig tea.

 White tea, yellow tea, green tea, oolong tea,
pu-erh tea, black tea and twig tea come from this plant.

2. Melaleuca species from Myrtaceae family. The best-accepted common name for Melaleuca is simply melaleuca; however most of the larger species are also known as tea tree, and the smaller types as honey myrtles, while those species in which the bark is shed in flat, flexible sheets are referred to as paperbarks.

lelaleuca honey aka cajeput honey or gelam honey benefits for healthThere are more than 200 species, most of them from Australia, a few from Malesia and 7 species from New Caledonia. Their flowers are crowded together in a spike of variable length, usually red or pink with numerous stamens, the fruits are woody capsules crowded together.
The leaves are usually narrow and when they are held to the light we can see oil dots on them. When the leaves are crushed this oil produces a characteristic smell.

The tree is probably called “Tea tree” because the water courses near by turn to brown after the leaves fall down, into them. Otherwise, its leaves are not used for tea, but for their oil.

Melaleuca alternifolia is notable for its essential oil, which is anti-fungal and antibiotic, and safely usable for topical applications. It is produced on a commercial scale and labeled as Tea Tree Oil.

The Tea Tree OIL comes from Melaleuca alternifolia.
(which is not the Tea Tree known by North Americans)

cajeput tree

Flowers of cajeput tree (Melaleuca leucadendra)

Melaleuca leucadendra, also known as Melaleuca leucadendron, cajeput tree or white tree (derived from the old Indonesian spelling: kaju putih – meaning “white wood”). It is native to Australia and is commonly known in North America as the Tea Tree. (!) The Malay name of this tree is “gelam”. The honey made from its nectar is called “gelam honey”.

Cajeput tree is the name given to all these melaleuca species:
M. leucadendra, M. linariifolia, M. viridiflora and M. quinquenervia.

The cajeput trees are also important for their oils, especially in Southeast Asia, where the essential oil is extracted from the leaves and twigs of the tree.

The Cajeput oil is made from M. leucadendra and M. quinquenervia species and is primarily used in aromatherapy as an expectorant, painkiller, antifungal oil and skin mite reducer. The cajeput oli is used for: toothache, colds, headaches, tumors, used as a tonic, thinning mucous (congestion) and making it easier to cough up, when taken by mouth or inhaled. Also good for fungal skin infections, when applied to the skin. Helps in joint pain (rheumatism), when applied to the skin.

The oil is also used in many pet fish remedies, promoting fin and tissue regrowth, such as Bettafix (which contains a lighter dilution of cajeput tree oil) and Melafix (in a stronger dilution), to treat bacterial and fungal infections.
The Cajeput oil is similar to Tea Tree oil.

North Americans call the Cajeput tree, Tea tree.

Cajeput trees grown in Australia are well known for having powerful therapeutic properties. Compared to other countries, Australia’s Cajeput contains high amounts of anti-infectious properties (cineol, pinene and others), and is a favorite among health professionals.

Gelam honey is made of Cajeput tree (especially Melaleuca leucadendra)

All melaleuca species are very rich in nectar and pollen. Birds and other animals are very attracted to the them. Honey bees produce what we call “gelam honey”, with powerful health benefits. It is one of the most common types of honey found in lowland rain forest of Peninsular Malaysia. And because the tree is called “gelam” in Malayan, and most of the studies were made at the University of Malaya, the name “gelam honey” was preferred.

3. Leptospermum species, also in the family Myrtaceae, are also called Tea tree. This is because the early Australian settlers soaked the leaves of several species in boiling water to make a herbal tea rich in ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). It is said that Captain Cook brewed tea of Leptospermum leaves to prevent scurvy among his crews.

Mānuka honey is produced from mānuka bush (Leptospermum scoparium), and (again) tea tree (Leptospermum polygalifolium). Sometimes it is met as Leptospermum honey.

The honey produced from Australian Leptospermum polygalifolium, also known as jelly bush or the lemon-scented tea tree, has been found to contain up to 1750 mg/kg of ‘methylglyoxal’ (MGO), a powerful antibacterial compound.

kanuka tree

Kānuka tree (Kunzea ericoides)

4. Kunzea ericoides it is also known as  Kānuka, White tea-tree or Burgan is a tree or shrub of Australia and New Zealand.

It was classified as being in the genus Leptospermum until 1983. but then considered to belong to Kunzea.

Mānuka and kānuka are superficially similar species and are often confused with one another. The easiest way to tell the difference between these trees is to feel the foliage, kānuka leaves are soft, while mānuka leaves are prickly. Kanuka oil is also a good therapeutic oil.

Mānuka honey and kānuka honey are not the same. 

5. Lycium species, including

Lycium europaeum or European tea tree,  a deciduous shrub growing to 4 m. The fruit is a very rich source of vitamins and minerals, especially in vitamins A, C and E, flavanoids and other bio-active compounds. It is also a fairly good source of essential fatty acids, which is fairly unusual for a fruit. It is being investigated as a food that is capable of reducing the incidence of cancer and also as a means of halting or reversing the growth of cancers.

Lycium barbarum or Duke of Argyll’s Tea Tree. It is one of two species of boxthorn in the family Solanaceae from which the goji berry or wolfberry is harvested, the other being Lycium chinense. A deciduous shrub growing up to 4 m, from which only the fully ripe fruits (aka goji berries) should be eaten. A very rich source of vitamins and minerals, especially in vitamins A, C and E, flavanoids, essential fatty acids and other bio-active compounds.

6. Ti Plant. Cordyline fruticosa, an evergreen flowering plant in the Asparagus family.

Alos known as: Cabbage Palm, Good Luck Plant, Palm Lily, Ti Plant, Kī, Lā‘ī (Hawaiian), Tī Pore (Māori), Sī (Tongan), Lauti (Samoan), andʻAutī (Tahitian).

hula skit made of tea tree leaves

Hawaiian hula skirt made of Ti Plant leaves

This plant is native to tropical southeastern Asia, Papua New Guinea, Melanesia, northeastern Australia, the Indian Ocean, and parts of Polynesia. It is not native to either Hawaii or New Zealand but was introduced to both by Polynesian settlers.  Its starchy rhizomes, which are very sweet when the plant is mature, were eaten as food or as medicine, and its leaves were used to thatch the roofs of houses, and to wrap and store food.

The Hawaiian hula skirt is a dense skirt with an opaque layer of at least 50 green leaves and the bottom (top of the leaves) shaved flat. In ancient Hawaiʻi the plant was thought to have great spiritual power; only kahuna (high priests) and aliʻi (chiefs) were able to wear leaves around their necks during certain ritual activities.

Tī leaves were also planted at the corners of the home to keep ghosts from entering the home or property (for which its alternative name: terminalis). To this day some Hawaiians plant tī near their houses to bring good luck.

How is gelam honey?

Gelam honey is produced from Melaleuca species, especially from Melaleuca leucadendra, aka Melaleuca leucadendron, Cajeput tree, Tea tree or White tree. Not from the Tea Tree the essential oils are made, not from the tea trees our green or black teas are made, or from the tea tree the manuka honey is made.

It is one of the main monofloral Malaysian honeys, among acacia, pineapple, nenas, longan, rubber tree, sourwood. Their polyfloral honey include: kelulut and tualang honey.

These days, gelam honey has become very popular and raise the science attention due to its high total phenolic content and high concentration of flavonoids.

Phenolic compounds that have been found in Gelam honey: ascorbic acid, catecilin, benzoic acid, naringenin, luteolin, kaempferol and apigenin.
The researchers reported that the extracted phenolic and flavanoid content from Gelam honey showed in-vitro anti-inflammatory effect and they stated that gelam honey has a potential therapeutic value in an inflammatory conditions.
In addition, other research has found that gelam honey has been found to kill liver cancer cells, exhibiting selective cytotoxicity, anti-angiogenic, cytotoxic, and anti-proliferative properties, in both cell and animal research. Both, gelam and nenas monofloral honeys exhibit anti-cancer properites in colorectal cell lines.




“Cordyline fruticosa plant with fruit” by Ethel Aardvark – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Csinensis” by AxelBoldt at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Kanuka Tree in Puhi Puhi valley, near Kaikoura” by Karora – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons;

“Melaleuca leucadendron flowers” by Ethel Aardvark – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Hula dancing girl” credit jasohill licensed under CC via flickr.com




What is melaleuca honey? Or gelam honey? Why so many different names? was last modified: February 15th, 2016 by Laura

10 Responses

  1. Helen Marshall says

    Hi Laura

    Thank you for you article. We have been thinking about starting up a small Cajeput honey business for a while from when we found the trees growing wild on a local Island. I only know of the Manuka honey and have been trying to find out if it would be a good idea. We are aromatherapists living in Bali so know the essential oil Cajeput …. Kayu Putih as it is called here.
    My daughters partner comes from this Island and we would like to do something for the local community .Do you think that this is a worthwhile venture?

    • Laura says

      I’m not sure I understand. Are you beekeepers? If yes, then go for it, move your hives among those trees, cajeput/gelam honey is one incredibly therapeutic honey. Lots of people have asked me where to buy it from. And the market really needs it. Amazon lacks it completely.

      And send me a jar after the first harvest! 😉

  2. ml says

    where can you buy gelam honey?

    • Laura says

      Unfortunately I don’t know a trustful source of gelam (melaleuca) honey. From what I’ve seen on the online, there are some shops selling it like here, or here, but I don’t know if they sell worldwide, or if they are trustful. Or here.

      My advice is to ask for details, send emails, check Facebook – some local beekeepers use this simple form of advertising to sell their products. And gelam honey surely is worth all this trouble.
      I hope some day we will be able to find it on more reliable and popular online shops.


  3. Suzie says

    Dear Laura please can you write about about Australian Ti trees in relation to the honey here, the vast number and results for L Polygalifolia. Do you know what paperbark honey properties are?Bees seem to love it. How does it and jelly bush compare with Manuka? Are there other Australian Ti trees that are showing high beneficial microbial and antiseptic properties?At this point are all of the most beneficial honeys those of leptospermum varieties? Thanks

    • Laura says

      Hi Suzie,

      You do like honey, don’t you?
      As you can see in this post here, “tea trees” refers to many species of trees worldwide.

      Manuka honey comes from 2 related types of tree: Leptospermum scoparium and/or Leptospermum polygalifolium. As a rule, manuka honey is made from L. scoparium (which is called tea trea in New Zealand and Jelly bush in Australia), and sometimes from both: L scoparium and L. polygalifolium.

      If the manuka honey is gathered ONLY from L. polyfalifolium it has a specific name: Berringa honey or Berringa manuka honey. And it is considered to be superior to regular manuka honey. Here is an online shop that sells very good quality berringa honey – in case you are interested. Don’t buy honey with a higher MGO, that is not for eating, but for external therapy. And more info about these honeys here: Manuka honey.

      Better than manuka and berringa seems to be Kanuka honey. It is made from a cousin of Leptospermum, Kunzea ericoides. This honey has a double quantity of MGO than manuka honey. (But the marketing made for this honey is less than half!) You can read more about it in the article kanuka honey.

      As for “paperbark honey” this refers to gelam honey (or maleleuca honey) and here some of its properties: Gelam honey makes the cancer cells commit suicide!

      I hope I’ve covered all your questions. I do intend to write an article about all Australian honeys, at least a summary of the the most important ones. Stay tuned! 🙂


  4. keye says

    Wow Laura, i never knew there’s so many diff kinds of honey made from diff tea trees! Very interesting educational post 🙂

    • Laura says

      🙂 And so many different tea trees!
      Thank you for your good words.

  5. Cathy says

    Hi Laura,

    I’ve heard of Melaleuca oil but definitely not the honey part. Although, I am from Malaysia, I have never heard of Gelam Honey before. The more popular honey here is Manuka and they are only sold at premium outlets.

    I need to check out where to get local Gelam Honey. By the way, what are the difference in terms of honey properties between Manuka and Gelam? Thank you for such an interesting article.


    • Laura says

      And I didn’t know Malaysians don’t know about their local honeys, especially as it is so heavily researched at your University. There are lots of studies on all your local types of honey, especially on tualang, acacia, gelam, and sourwood. I have included some on them in my next article “Gelam honey makes the cancer cells commit suicide!“.

      As for Manuka Honey, this one was so intensely researched and praised, that everyone now gives tons of money on it. It is true that the high content of MGO makes it a powerful antimicrobial product, but that’s it. Not to mention that there are other therapists that don’t recommended manuka honey to diabetics, or generally, for internal intake. Exactly for this high content of MGO.

      Other honeys have exceptional qualities, way above manuka. For example your Malaysian sourwood honey and tualang honey, both had been found to have higher contents of poliphenols and flavonoids, which makes them better antioxidant products.

      So, if you are interested in raising immunity, or fighting against free-radicals and their related diseases, than manuka is not what you need. I will write something on this subject really soon. Stick around. 🙂