The Healing Power of Honey - The Not So Modern Housewife

The use of honey as a medical treatment dates back to ancient Egypt when it was commonly used as a topical treatment for minor wounds.  Today, honey is making a come-back as research shows its abilities as an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial agent.  It has even been shown to be a powerful treatment for wounds infected with MRSA.  Allergy sufferers will also tell you it is an effective preventative treatment for seasonal allergies.  There is no doubt about it, honey is more than meets the eye.

Growing up, my mom’s remedy for a sore throat was always hot tea with honey and lemon.  As I got older, this also became my preventative ritual before choir performances.  I never knew the differences between raw and commercial honey.  I used commercial honey because it was cheaper.  Then I started using raw honey for my seasonal allergies.  I was amazed to find how quickly a spoonful of raw honey would ease my sore throat and swollen sinuses.  I started doing some research.

Commercial Honey Isn’t Honey

As it turns out, most commercial honey does not have enough pollen in it to classify it as honey.  In an independent study conducted by Food Safety News, 76% of the 60 samples purchased had ALL of the pollen removed.  Without pollen, there is no way to trace the origin of the honey.  You could be consuming Chinese produced honey laced with illegal antibiotics.  When using honey to treat allergy symptoms, you consume small doses of pollen every day.  Your body will slowly build up immunity to the pollen and better protect you from future allergic reactions.  For best results, it is important to use raw honey produced within a 50 mile radius of your home. This ensures you are consuming pollen most likely to cause an allergic reaction in your body.  If all of the pollen has been filtered out of the honey, you will not gain any benefits from the honey in preventing allergies.

Raw Honey as Wound Treatment

Bees add a number of enzymes to honey when it is produced.  One of these enzymes is glucose oxidase which turns glucose into gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide.  The enzyme is inactive when honey is in its raw form, but activates when the honey is diluted.  Certain honeys contain a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide than others, based upon the types of plants the pollen is collected from.  The University of Bonn in Germany has discovered a blend of honey dubbed Medihoney™ with very strong antibacterial and antiseptic effects.  In one study, topical application of medical honey fully healed seven consecutive patients with MRSA infected wounds who were previously unresponsive to antiseptics and antibiotics.  Researchers at the University of Bonn also found that applying Medihoney™ to young cancer patients yielded faster healing times and less pain.  For home treatments, honey poultices can be used to treat acne, skin abrasions and burns with less pain, inflammation and scarring.  Honey can also be taken orally to help heal mouth ulcers, fight bacterial infections and reduce the risk of dry socket after dental surgery.  

Honey for the Common Cold

The coating power of honey is widely accepted as a treatment for sore throat pain.  A walk down the cold and flu aisle will yield a variety of over the counter treatments infused with honey flavor; however, a spoonful of raw honey may be all you need.  Research conducted at Penn State College of Medicine found that a small dose of buckwheat honey given at bedtime provided better relief of nighttime coughing and sleep deprivation than dextromethorphan (DM).  Not only did the honey reduce the coughing, but it increased the quality of sleep for both children and parents.  DM is not shown to improve coughing or sleep for children under 6 years old, but comes with a list of possible side effects.  Honey is not advised for children under 1 year, but it is actually recommended for relieving cold symptoms in children 2-6 years old.   

A Flavor for Every Ailment

While locally produced raw honey certainly carries more benefits than commercially produced honey, there are certain varieties that are shown to have better properties than others.
Manuka honey – strong anti-bacterial properties; used to treat colds, sore throats, indigestion, stomach ulcers and acne
Acacia honey – cleanses the liver, promotes intestinal health and reduced inflammation in the respiratory tract
Buckwheat honey – strong antioxidant properties; recommended for treating upper respiratory and common cold symptoms; unfortunately very rare, especially in the US
Red Gum honey – strong antioxidant properties; recommended as an alternative to Buckwheat honey
Eucalyptus honey – used to prevent colds and headaches
Heather honey – used for medicinal properties; contains a high level of protein
Linden honey – used for sedative and antiseptic properties; treats anxiety, insomnia, colds, coughs and bronchitis
Neem honey – used to treat high blood pressure, diabetes, skin conditions, periodontal infections, throat infections and allergies
Lepto-spermum honey – one of the ingredients in Medihoney™; known for very strong antibacterial properties

Storage and Care

Many of the enzymes in honey, including glucose oxidase, are destroyed when raw honey is exposed to heat or light, which means this enzyme is not present in pasteurized honey.  Enzymes are also removed when honey is filed through diatomaceous earth to obtain clear honey.   As a general rule when it comes to the healing properties of honey: the darker the honey, the better.  To receive the full benefit of raw honey, avoid heating it.  The best way to eat raw honey is drizzled over fruit or bread or by the spoonful.  Raw honeys have different flavors depending on where and when they are produced.  Taste the honey before adding to recipes because it will alter the flavor of whatever you are cooking.  I personally like a dark honey with a less-sweet flavor.  You can also buy a variety of flavors and use them based upon the dish.
Also, make sure you store honey in a cool, dark location as UV light can break down and destroy the enzymes in honey.  Avoid storing in cabinets near the stove, oven or refrigerator as these let off heat that could destroy enzymes in the honey.  Honey can be kept in an airtight container indefinitely due to its high sugar content.  Crystallization of honey is normal and will vary depending on the type of honey and your geographical location.  
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