Cuts, scrapes, scratches, burns, coughs, canker sores, heartburn, stomach upsets, diaper rash—mostly minor, but sometimes painful and always inconvenient—are common occurrences in most households. What to do?
Some people reach for the honey.
Food and medical historians remind us that traditional healers have used honey for a wide variety of medicinal purposes since prehistoric times. A growing body of modern research confirms their wisdom.
Honey is even making inroads into mainstream clinical (and veterinary) practice, especially for wound healing. It has strong bactericidal properties, doesn’t stick to healing tissue like bandages, doesn’t cause allergic reactions, helps prevent scarring, and removes debris from wounds. Bacteria have shown no resistance to its antibiotic properties. Researchers say it shows promise for treating MRSA and other antibiotic-resistant infections.
Although they’ve discovered many of honey’s healing properties and compounds, scientists and say they’ve only begun to understand the whats, hows, and whys of this complex natural substance.
For one thing, it would be better to characterize honey as “honeys.” Each honey is has a distinct constituent profile, depending on its geography and the flowers the bees visited to collect nectar. Although all honeys tested have shown strong healing potential, some honeys are better than others for treating a given condition.
Most of the large volume of research on the health benefits of honey to date has been on manuka honeys, honeys made by the bees who sip the nectar of the manuka tree (Leptospermum scoparium) native to Australia and New Zealand.
Manuka honeys contain unusually high levels of antibacterial activity for reasons only partly understood. Most of the so-called “medical-grade” or “medicinal” honeys on the market are manuka honeys.
Honey first aid in your household
Most honeys on supermarket shelves have likely been pasteurized, heated, and/or otherwise processed, which destroys some or most of their beneficial properties. Some “honeys” are also adulterated with other forms of sugar.
For healing purposes, look for “raw” (unheated, unpasteurized, unprocessed) honey, ideally one whose source you can vouch for such as a local beekeeper or a one of the several brands of commercial medical-grade honey.
Medical honey, usually one of the Manuka honeys, is available online or in speciality stores in jars, or in honey-impregnated dressings, creams, gels, and ointments. For local honeys, experts suggest the darker the better.
Note: Before using honey, see a doctor first for puncture wounds (you may need your tetanus shot updated), deep wounds (may need stitches), badly infected wounds, and hard-to-heal wounds. During your visit, ask about using medical honey for treating these and other wounds.
- For treating a cut or wound, including hard-to-heal or infected wounds, clean and pat dry the injured area, wash your hands well, and apply raw honey directly to the wound. You could also soak a strip of sterile gauze in honey or purchase bandages already impregnated with medicinal honey. Apply a sterile waterproof tape to seal the wound. If the wound oozes, change the dressing periodically. Once it’s started to dry out, you can leave the dressing on for the whole day.
- For a sore throat or sores in your mouth, swirl a teaspoon or so of raw honey* around in your mouth several times a day.
- For effective cough suppression, sip honey with lemon juice, or just sip a spoonful of raw honey* as needed
- For occasional mild heartburn or stomach upsets, sip a spoonful of raw honey* from time to time.
- For burns, use medical-grade honey as directed above for cuts and other wounds. The honey may sting; if the pain continues or becomes stronger, discontinue the honey treatment. Visit a doctor first if your burn covers a large area or has resulted in charred skin.
- For diaper rash, combine warm olive oil, beeswax, and honey (1:1:1) and spread it over the area.
*Don’t feed honey to infants less than a year old; some experts suggest withholding honey until four years old. Honey may contain botulinum spores the young child’s digestive system isn’t mature enough to destroy. External honey applications, e.g. for diaper rash or wounds, don’t carry this risk.
Interested in making your own honey? See what’s involved in raising bees!