Honey as Healer

by Nathaniel Altman



The use of honey as a healing agent is nothing new. It was an ingredient in medicinal compounds and cures made by Egyptian physicians over five thousand years ago. In India, Ayurvedic physicians recommended using honey to promote good health, while the ancient Greeks believed that honey could promote both virility and longevity. Traditional Chinese healers starting using honey thousands of years ago, and it continues to make up an important part of Chinese medicine today.

Although several hundred articles on the medicinal value of honey appeared in medical and scientific journals between 1935 and 1990, scientific research was often overlooked while physicians focused on antibiotics, antivirals and other drugs to treat human disease.

But with the rapidly increasing spread of superbugs like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE), various strains of Extended-spectrum beta-lactamases (ESBLs) and other microbes like Pseudomonas and coagulase-negative Staphylococci that are becoming resistant to antibiotics, modern medicine has taken a second look at the healing properties of honey.

There are a number of specific ways that honey can heal:

The Power of Osmosis

When honey is applied to a wound, it acts like a dry sponge that soaks up water. This is a process called osmosis. Because of osmosis, the honey draws fluid away from the infected wound. This helps to kill bacteria, because bacteria need liquid in order to grow.

Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2 ) Activity

Hydrogen peroxide is made naturally in honey by an enzyme called glucose oxidase, which is added to the plant nectar by bees. Glucose oxydase has been found to be practically inactive in full-strength honey. Yet it gives rise to hydrogen peroxide only when the honey is diluted, such as when it is applied to a moist wound. Pasteurization destroys the enzymes that produce hydrogen peroxide, so any honey used therapeutically should be raw and unpasteurized. The honey should be stored in a cool place and away from light. If it is necessary to liquefy honey, it should be heated at a temperature no higher than 37o C (98.6o F).

Phytochemical Factors

Chemical compounds (such as a carotenoid or phytosterol) occur naturally in plants. They are found in the nectar that the bees collect. Not only does each plant species supply specific phytochemicals, but the chemical activity can also vary from plant to plant.

Research at the University of Waikato in New Zealand found that pasture honey and manuka honey stimulate the release of a variety of cytokines [immunoregulatory proteins that are secreted by cells especially of the immune system] including tumor necrosis factor, a protein that reduces tissue inflammation, induces the destruction of some tumor cells and activates white blood cells, which is vital to healing.

Antioxidant Capacity

Antioxidants are enzymes (such as catalase, superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase) that protect cells from free radicals by chemically changing them into harmless compounds like oxygen and water. Because excess free radical activity can seriously deplete our body’s antioxidant reserves, nutritionists recommend that we augment those supplies with foods rich in antioxidants. Buckwheat honey has the highest antioxidant activity. Others include tupelo and clover honey.

The Mechanics


What Kinds of Wounds Can Honey Treat?

Laboratory and clinical research –performed mostly at universities and hospitals outside the United States- has found that honey can successfully treat the following health problems and conditions.

At a time when health care consumers are looking for inexpensive, nontoxic and effective remedies for both preventive care and to treat injury and illness, honey is a viable alternative to antibiotics and other medications.

The Amazing Honeybee

Yet the story about the therapeutic value of honey is invariably connected with the amazing creature that produces it, the honeybee. Human beings have exploited honeybees since pre-Egyptian times. Honey hunting and beekeeping are among the oldest and most widespread of human activities. Yet the current methods of industrial agriculture- where animals, plants and the land that sustains them are treated as disposable commodities designed to return the greatest profit for the investment- pose a threat to the future well-being of bees, especially in North America, Western Europe and other developed nations of the world.

While most of us think that bees are valued primarily as honey producers, their most important commercial value is that of pollinator. Honeybees pollinate most of the fruits and vegetables we eat: if it were not for their labor, these foods would never grow. The welfare of the honeybee and other insect pollinators is essential to our future well being.

© 2010 by Nathaniel Altman. All Rights reserved.