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The Healing Power of Honey

There is nothing sweeter than honey when it comes to healing. Scientists and doctors are now taking note of the effectiveness of the sticky stuff as a treatment for wounds.
The Healing Power of Honey

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While most think of honey as something used to sweeten food, it also has unique properties that are the bee’s knees when it comes to healing burns and wounds. But it’s not just any old honey that’s buzzing with healing powers [1]. Certain types of medical grade honey may help prevent infection when applied directly to wounds [2].

A Sweet Deal for Healthcare — Why It Matters


People have been using honey for thousands of years as a home remedy for things like aiding digestion and calming a cough. Because of its high sugar content and other antimicrobial effects, honey also has the ability to kill many kinds of bacteria, and (by forming a moist environment) can speed the healing of wounds and minimize scarring [3]. However, with the emergence of antibiotics, natural remedies like honey have fallen by the wayside as modern drugs become the treatment of choice to tackle wounds and infections.

As honey makes its comeback, the sweet stuff has been found to be a safe, fast-acting natural antiseptic, making it a good salve for burns and wounds [1] [4]. Research also shows that honey can be used as a natural remedy to treat superbug infections that may be resistant to strong antibiotics [3] [5] [5].

High Five to the Bee Hive — The Answer/Debate

Manuka honey is the queen bee when it comes to antimicrobial properties. It comes only from New Zealand and Australia, where bees congregate and pollinate the Manuka bush (a type of evergreen) [6]. Other types of honey lack the key substances that make Manuka honey so potent, like an enzyme added by the bees that produces hydrogen peroxide, and an antibacterial property called UMF [3].

Most commercially sold honey (think cute bear shaped containers in the grocery aisle) goes through a heating process in pasteurization, which not only cooks out those beneficial anti-bacterial components, but also destroys the natural crystallization process. This keeps the honey in a liquid state for a longer period of time, which may be good for the shelf life, but not for slathering on a cut or burn [7].

So don't search the pantry for the nearest honey jar. Dousing wounds with store-bought honey (which isn't medical grade) can cause more harm than good, and it may worsen the wound, since it hasn't been irradiated like medical grade varieties. Manuka honey can be purchased online or at health food stores. And look for the name and level of UMF clearly displayed on the front label, which guarantees the honey has high antibacterial activity (UMF10 is the minimum). Remember that honey is most effective on superficial wounds or minor burns [8]. Leave the deep gashes and serious burns to the professionals. All hail Winnie the Pooh!

Photo by Kristine Lockwood

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Works Cited +

  1. Honey: a potent agent for wound healing?  Lusby, P.E, Coombes, A., Wilkinson, J.M. School of Biomedical Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, Australia. Journal of Wound Ostomy Continence Nursing, 2002 Nov;29(6):295-300.
  2. Honey and microbial infections: a review supporting the use of honey for microbial control. Al-Waili, N.S., Salom, K., Butler, G., et al. 1 Al-Waili's Charitable Foundation for Sciences and Trading, New York. Journal of Medical Food, 2011 Oct;14(10):1079-96.
  3. Honey for wound healing, ulcers, and burns; data supporting its use in clinical practice.  Al-Waili, N., Salom, K., Al-Ghamdi, A.A. Al-Waili's Foundation for Sciences, Chronic Wound Management and Hyperbaric Medicine, Life Support Technology Group, New York. The Scientific World Journal, 2011 Apr 5;11:766-87.
  4. Wound healing with honey--a randomised controlled trial. Ingle, R., Levin, J., Polinder, K. Department of Family Medicine, University of Limpopo, South Africa. South African Medical Journal,  2006 Sep;96(9):831-5.
  5. The effect of manuka honey on the structure of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Henriques, A.F., Jenkins, R.E., Burton, N.F., et al. Centre for Biomedical Sciences, Cardiff School of Health Sciences, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, UK. European Journal of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Disease, 2011 Feb;30(2):167-71.
  6. A survey of the antibacterial activity of some New Zealand honeys. Allen, K.L., Molan, P.C., Reid, G.M. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, 1991 Dec;43(12):817-22.
  7. Honey: a reservoir for microorganisms and an inhibitory agent for microbes. Olaitan, P.B., Adeleke, O.E., Ola, I.O. Department of Surgery, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology Teaching Hospital, Osogbo, Osun state, Nigeria. African Health Sciences, 2007 Sep;7(3):159-65.
  8. Honey as a topical treatment for wounds. Jull, A.B., Rodgers, A., Walker, N. Clinical Trials Research Unit, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2008 Oct 8;(4):CD005083.