Honey And Its Medicinal Properties

Bees have been producing honey for 10 to 20 million years. And although mankind has been using the substance as a wound dressing, inexpensive beauty treatment, as well as many other healing purposes since ancient times, researchers believe that the therapeutic potential for honey remains essentially untapped.

Now researchers have confirmed that this delightful, gooey stuff is strong medicine for skin injuries and you may soon be hearing more of these sweet reports about this traditional medicine. Recently, the pure honey treatment for burn, wounds and sores was released in Australia, which paved the way for other medicinal honey products making their way into the US and other global markets.


The Anti-Bacterial Factor

All kinds of honey are anti-bacterial to various degrees but can vary by up to a hundredfold in their potency. A group of biochemists from the University of Waikato in New Zealand that was taking a closer look at the different types of honey and their benefits found that for fresh wounds or scrapes with no established infection, the application of any type of honey can prevent infection and inflammation. This research has also revealed that the anti-microbial properties of honey from the Leptospermum tree is particularly effective in treating serious burns, sores and wounds.

Leptospermum scoparium, commonly called the manuka or jelly bush, is a small tree that grows wild in New Zealand and Australia. Manuka honey has been shown to be particularly effective against Staphylococcus aureus and other antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, even when diluted. Although limited data exist, manuka honey has been shown to be effective against Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria most likely responsible for stomach ulcers.


A Potent Healer

When you fall and graze yourself, a kiss can certainly make it better, but even more powerful is a little bit of honey. In addition to its anti-microbial properties, honey creates a moist healing environment that allows the skin to heal smoothly, preventing the deformity that requires skin grafting. It causes dead cells to lift off, stimulating regrowth of tissues. And since honey does not stick to wounds, there is no tearing. The anti-inflammatory action reduces pain and swelling and rapidly clears infection.

Medihoney, the Australian manuka honey product, was researched by the Australian Agency for Food and Fiber Sciences and the Honey Research Unit at the University of Waikato. It is the first honey product to receive the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) listing, which is similar to an FDA listing. Only some of the honey derived from the Leptospermum species were found to have the potency needed for management of serious wounds. Honey from other countries are being tested to see if there are others with outstanding anti-bacterial properties.


How It Works

When bees add an enzyme to nectar, hydrogen peroxide is produced. Honey’s anti-bacterial activity is thought to come from this hydrogen peroxide content. Floral compounds, such as flavonoids and aromatic acids, may add other anti-bacterial components, but most of the variation in activity occurs from the differences in the amount of hydrogen peroxide formed. Hydrogen peroxide in honey releases slowly — the resulting concentration, diluted to 50%, is about 1,000 times less than that used as an antiseptic, but sufficient to inhibit bacteria.

A group of researchers have also identified an anti-bacterial factor in addition to peroxide in manuka honey, dubbed the “unique manuka factor” (UMF). The role of honey in managing burns has received the most attention. In a separate randomised, controlled study of two groups of 25 burn victims compared silver sulfadiazine, a common burn treatment, and honey.  The study found that the latter promoted quicker healing and better control of infection and pain, and resulted in less scarring. None of the burn victims treated with honey required skin grafting, whereas four of those treated with sulfadiazine did.


The Quality Issue

Manuka honey is high in anti-bacterial compounds, but even this honey can vary widely in potency. A UMF rating (equivalent to the percent of phenol, a strong antiseptic, with the same activity against Staphylococcus aureus) was developed to indicate its strength. While the Medihoney that is sold in Australia does not use the UMF trademark, as a registered medicine, it still has to meet similar standards for minimum activity.

No reports of infection have occurred in clinical usage. Allergy to honey is rare; more common are allergies specific to several pollens. In studies where honey was applied to the open wounds of 134 patients, there were no reported adverse reactions. Manuka honey products, including those with UMF ratings, are now available worldwide and should be available at your local supermarkets.


How To Apply Honey To Wounds

Typically, deep wounds or abscesses are treated by squeezing enough from the tube or spooning enough from the jar to fill the sore. For other wounds, the honey product is spread on the bandage rather than directly onto the affected area.