Honey. We all love honey. The word alone conjures up warm, fuzzy feelings. There’s a reason it’s a top pick for a sweet pet name used by lovers around the world. But did you know it actually has real medicinal properties? I use honey like the father character from My Big Fat Greek Wedding used Windex. Got a burn? Honey to the rescue! Little cough? Honey it! Someone got you upset? Where did you put my f*@ing honey!?
The internet makes a lot of claims about a lot of things, but today I’ve put on my science hat and have researched what studies actually say on the use of honey as a healer, and have summarized what you need to know. Interested in checking my work or learning more? Links are included to the original studies. Keep in mind that you should choose your honey carefully, and only select those that you know are raw, unheated, and go through minimal filtering. It turns out some of the brands on the shelf at your grocery store may not actually be pure honey and may be cut with other sweeteners, and chances are that it has been heated and ultra-filtered, lessening its medicinal properties. Contact a local beekeeper about the best sources for local, raw honey.
A caveat: honey should never be fed to children under 1 year of age. In fact, know that anything you ever read from me should never be applied to children, even if (especially if) it’s a blog on raising/disciplining/having children.
1. Salve for Wounds and Burns
As I write this, we are in the middle of our 16th day over 100 degrees here in Austin. Ever wonder why Texas has a region known as the panhandle? It’s because Texas is just one giant “so hot it will singe your eyebrows” frying pan in the summer. So we cook with our shirts off. Ok, maybe just me. Anyway, last week, while cooking with my shirt off, I managed to accrue a giant three inch second degree burn right across my belly button. What did I do? Slather honey on it of course. Honey is antimicrobial and produces an enzyme similar to hydrogen peroxide, and found to drastically improve wound healing and sterilize wounds in less time and has a better outcome of preventing scarring than topical antibacterial burn cream. I even use honey as a safe alternative to treat wounds and lacerations on my dog! You can mix a bit of honey with lavender essential oils or apple cider vinegar to make your own homemade salve, or try this recipe from my home kitchen:
1 tbsp honey
2 ounces whiskey
Directions: Place honey on burn. Shoot whiskey. Instant relief!
2. Shorten the Stomach Flu
Next time your stomach is sending out more distress signals that the Titanic, you may want to consider reaching for the sweet stuff. In a study of infants suffering from bacterial gastroenteritis, honey was found to shorten the duration of diarrhea as a result of organisms such as Salmonella or E Coli. One possible reason? Honey has antibacterial properties, so I’d recommend keeping it on hand for those days you decide to try out that questionable take-out place around the corner.
3. Treatment for Sore Throats
Woke up with a sore throat? Funny how such a small thing can bring the most manliest of men to their knees. I think I’d rather spin the wheel of ailments and take my chances rather than be subjected to that feeling of Hades breathing what must be fire down the back of my tonsils. Take a break from swallowing every three seconds (throat? check. still sore? check.) to drink a bit of hot water or tea mixed with a few teaspoons of nature’s very own gold. Although copious searching on my part found no study that has been conducted to show honey’s ability to soothe sore throats, it is known that honey has antibacterial properties and has been found to work as an anti-inflammatory, perfect for inflamed tissue in a sore throat. And let’s be honest, have you ever seen a bee with a sore throat? Yeah, me neither.
4. Cough Suppressant
Having a hack attack, and not of the Shaq variety? Save yourself and the rest of mankind from the Superman germs protruding from your mouth at the speed of light and swallow a few teaspoons of honey. A Penn State study found that honey performed more favorably compared over-the-counter cough medicines in relieving nocturnal cough symptoms. Looking for a reason to cheat on that no-carb diet? I basically just wrote you a prescription to chug honey by the gallon at the first site of any sort of respiratory itch or ailment.
5. Treat Seasonal Allergies
You may already be aware that allergies are said to be beneficial in alleviating seasonal allergies. The logic works like this: raw honey contains pollens, and ingesting small amounts of local pollen works as a sort of immunotherapy, making your body less sensitive to those pollens. Unfortunately, a study suggests that we may all be falling victim to a wives’ tale on this one. The counter-logic is that pollens contained in flowers (and generally found in honey) are usually not those that cause seasonal allergies. Rather it’s the pollens from grasses and trees that tend to make our noses run like broken gaskets. So why am I including it here? (Other than the fact that I needed fifth item for my ‘top 5 list’.) Ingesting local honey for seasonal allergies certainly can’t hurt, and in my opinion, enough anecdotal evidence exists to give it a shot. We as humans can’t really control what pollen sources make it into a jar of honey, so it is possible that the pollens that do make you flare up will be in your jar of local honey. But beyond that, who cares if positive results are simply due to the placebo effect? The brain is a powerful thing — if given the opportunity I’d take a life filled with placebo effects. (And please see #4 above regarding a no-carb diet. Carbs don’t count when used as medicine.)
Quick note for you honey connoisseurs: a lot of fuss has been made about the healing properties of Manuka honey. I am not disputing those claims, but none of the studies I reviewed used this specialty honey. Given that Manuka honey sells for 5–6 times the price or more, I choose to save my pennies and forgo Manuka. Your wallet, your choice! However, you do need to make sure the honey you are using is actually honey, raw, and not pasteurized.
To treat everything from respiratory ailments to food poisoning, you should keep the honey in close reach. Do you use honey as medicine? Tell me about why you keep a bit of nature’s gold in your medicine cabinet!