Honey has been used in traditional cultures throughout Egypt, Greece, China, India as well as many other countries. Commonly used for wound healing, digestive ailments, cough and earaches. Evidence from Sumerian culture (3100 B.C.) and Akkadians (2400 B.C.) report that honey was used in the treatment of amnesia. Pots of honey were frequently uncovered in Egyptian tombs by archeologists. The honey they discovered was several thousands of years old, yet in perfect preservation.
The biological activity of honey will also depend on its geographic origin. Each jar of honey you buy has a unique and powerful antioxidant, immunomodulatory, prebiotic and antibacterial signature. I personally keep a jar in the fridge for when I need a quick teaspoon for a sore throat. I have also found it to be more effective at treating burns at short notice compared to ice, water or any chemist salve.
Honey is truly remarkable. Here, I’ll tell you all about it.
- B vitamins: B1, B2, B3, B5, B6
- Ascorbic Acid
- Fructose & glucose
- Phenolic acid
Fun Honey Fact: Bees spend a lot of hours buzzing and foraging to make honey. It takes around 2 million flowers to make approximately 500g of raw honey.
Biological Activities of Honey
- Wound healing
- Digestive aid
Honey - An Everlasting Elixir
It might be something you’ve heard from your grandma, a neighbour, your home economics teacher: ‘Honey never spoils’. Well, it turns out to be true. Honey has a cocktail of cool chemicals that give it the superpower of immortality! And these compounds that provide a long shelf-life are also what gives it therapeutic benefits.
Low osmolarity, sugar content, an acidic pH of around 4 all help make honey a naturally antibacterial functional food. The other key to honey’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial activity, is the presence of hydrogen peroxide. Honey has similar small amounts of hydrogen peroxide, to that found in humans, which can promote healing. Finding raw, unprocessed and local honey will ensure the maximum medicinal benefits of your honey. This is precisely why untreated honey is the way to go. Commercial pasteurised honey has been heated and much of the advantageous antimicrobial components are missing.
Australian honey is not only of a particularly high quality, it’s therapeutic potential has now been backed by research. Sindi et al. (2019) published a review on two honey varieties from Western Australian native flora. Honeys from the flowers belonging to Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) and Marri (Corymbia calophylla) were examined. These varieties were assessed in a recent report for their antimicrobial activity against various bacterial colonies. Honey made from Jarrah (Eucalypt) species had some compelling activities against bacterial membrane and biofilm formation. Some bacteria produce an added protective layer called a biofilm, making it difficult to break down. This makes some traditional antimicrobial agents ineffective in killing bacteria. Honey applied to biofilms resulted in decreased metabolic activity and inhibition of bacterial growth. These results demonstrate the understanding of the antibacterial action of Jarrah and Marri honeys, and provide further support for the use of Australian local honey in the treatment of infected wounds. The authors noted that Western Australian honeys are also comparable to Manuka honey with regards to their antibacterial activity and effects on bacterial biofilms.
Honey Is Neuroprotective & Improves Memory
A Malaysian polyfloral honey called Tualang honey has shown promising benefits in enhancing memory and brain function. A recent review published in the journal Medical Sciences, showcased several studies of Tualang honey. It demonstrated Tualang honey improved the morphology (shape and function) of memory centres in the brain. These studies also exhibited increases in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and acetylcholine (ACh) levels, which promote neuronal cell growth and memory maintenance. Tualang honey also showed anti-inflammatory activity in the brain, reducing oxidative stress on nerve cells and therefore protecting brain tissue.
Another randomised trial established similar neuroprotective effects of honey consumption in a large group of 2893 participants. The subjects had either mild cognitive impairment or none and were administered 1 tablespoon per day of honey or placebo. Honey was given to 1493 subjects, while 1400 received placebo. In total, 489 subjects developed dementia. Of this total, 394 were diagnosed with dementia in the placebo group and only 95 in the honey test group. These results led the authors to conclude that honey is a natural preventative intervention for both cognitive decline and dementia.
Different Honeys Provide Different Antibacterial Protection
The strength and efficacy of honey against pathogenic microorganisms depends on a wealth of factors. The type of flower or flowers, the health of bees, their origin and the various steps in commercial processing all weigh in to determine how potent a particular honey is for human health. The antioxidant activity of honey is chiefly due to the polyphenol content of the flora from which it has been derived. A well known example of this is Manuka honey from New Zealand. Manuka (Leptosperm species) has broad antibacterial uses and is supported well by research. It is so credentialled that it is known by researchers as medical-grade honey. The combination of many plant chemical compounds including benzoic acid, ascorbic acid and terpenes remain in the end product of honey and contribute to its bacteriostatic actions.
Honey Provides Allergy Relief
Are you a seasonal allergy sufferer? Modern research has shown that honey is effective in providing relief from pollen allergies via a form of natural immunotherapy. The concept is that local bees making local honey from local flowers from the very flora that cause your allergies, provides a protective package of honey and pollen together. In this way, the immune system interprets the offending pollen differently, in the form of honey. After some exposure, seasonal allergy symptoms may be reduced after prolonged consumption of local honey. Honey may provide a type of desensitisation therapy and allergy responses improve as a result.
A study from 2013 found that high-dose honey consumption improved symptoms of allergic rhinitis over an 8-week study period. Symptoms of watery eyes, itchiness and sneezing were improved with the consumption of raw, unpasteurised honey, which contained local pollen.
Honey Alleviates Upper Respiratory Infections
A study from 2014 comparing salbutamol, honey and a placebo in the treatment of childhood respiratory tract infections revealed some interesting results. This randomised controlled trial included children between 1-12 years of age, presenting with a common cold and symptoms of acute cough, malaise and mild fever. They were split into 3 groups, 45 children in a placebo group, 57 in the honey group and 43 in the salbutamol group. Honey significantly reduced the frequency, severity and extent to which coughing disturbed both the child and parent's sleep. This was measured over a 5 day testing period during phone interviews. Overall, honey rated the best at upper respiratory symptom relief while salbutamol and placebo were comparatively ineffective in this study.
Honey Helps Heartburn & Reflux
Heartburn, acid reflux and inflammation are all symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease. The consumption of honey has been found to reduce these symptoms by coating the oesophageal and stomach lining. In natural medicine, this is known as a mucilage remedy and provides a healing barrier to the epithelial and squamous cells lining the upper digestive tract.
Honey May Reduce Heart Disease Risk
Atherosclerosis, high cholesterol and inflammation are all linked to the development of vascular disease, stroke and heart attack risk. Nguyen et al. (2019) demonstrated that natural honey has been found to ameliorate cardiovascular risk factors, both in healthy subjects and in patients with high disease risk factors. The antioxidant and antiinflammatory activity from honey due to its polyphenol content is responsible for this effect. In all participants, honey reduced total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, triacylglycerols, fasting blood glucose, and CRP. The results also showed an increase in high-density lipoprotein which is considered protective in metabolic health generally.
Honey Aids Wound Healing
The high acidity, natural hydrogen peroxide content and anti-bacterial activity make honey an ideal soft tissue healing agent. It’s used widely in paediatric burns as well as in eczema, dermatitis and uncomplicated ulcers. The use of honey helps to clean and disinfect wound sites while reducing scarring and the risk of muscle contractures. It also acts as a barrier, keeping the internal skin and tissue moist while preventing fibrosis. Honey promotes skin debridement, stimulates new tissue growth, reduces pain and associated inflammation.
Is Honey Safe For Babies?
It’s best to wait until 1 before introducing honey to your baby.
Honey is considered one of the safest foods at a microbiological level. Honey has a low contamination risk due to its natural antimicrobial properties as outlined above. Yet there have been reports of spore-forming bacteria such as Clostridium Botulinum found in honey, simply as a result of the environment of beehives or possibly via processing. The first reported case of infant botulism was in the USA in 1976 and can be very harmful or fatal for babies in particular. The reason why babies are susceptible to botulism infection is due to where these spores migrate and multiply in the body. They thrive in the intestinal tract, of which babies have immature microbial flora to combat infection. It’s therefore recommended that honey is introduced into the diet after the first year for babies, when their digestion and immune function have had a chance to mature.
Honey & Lemon Cough Syrup
- zest of 2 lemons
- ½ cup lemon juice
- ½ cup ginger (peeled, sliced or ½ tsp. ground ginger)
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup honey
- In a small saucepan, combine lemon zest, ginger and 1 cup of water.
- Bring mixture to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes, then strain through into a heat-proof measuring cup.
- Rinse the saucepan out and pour in 1 cup of honey. Warm the honey gently, don’t let it boil.
- Add the strained lemon ginger water and the lemon juice. Stir the mixture until it combines to form a thick syrup.
- Pour into a clean jar with a lid and store in the fridge for 2 months.
Children ages 2-5: ½ to 1 tsp. every 2 hours.
Children ages 5-12: 2 tsp. every 2 hours.
Children and adults age 12 onwards: 1-2 tbsp. every 4 hours.
Important note: Of course this remedy does not substitute medical advice. If you have any concerns please consult with your preferred medical provider.
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