The use of honey as a medicine can be traced back eight thousand years and can be seen depicted in Stone Age paintings. Honey has been used as an ayurvedic medicine to treat many health complaints; gut problems throughout Indian history, wound treatment in Ancient Egypt, as a cure for fevers, among other ailments in Ancient Greece, and as a treatment for tuberculosis in Ancient Islamic medicine. Around the world and throughout history honey has been hailed as a cure for all, but to understand what it can actually do, we have to begin with the very basics; how it is made?
John Mosely is the head of The Malvern and Upton Beekeeping Society. He first got into beekeeping ten years ago through his love of gardening, he now runs beekeeping courses for anyone interested in becoming an apiarist. Moseley talked to me about the process of honeymaking. He said, “Bees gather nectar and return it to the hive where they transfer it from their mouth to the mouth of a younger worker bee. The young worker bee then puts some enzymes in it and puts it in a hexagonal wax cell. When the cell is full of nectar, another bee comes along and fans the nectar until the water evaporates. After it reaches a certain concentration it becomes honey”.
There are many different types of honey, Manuka honey is thought to have the most medicinal benefits due to its methylglyoxal (MGO) content which is highly antibacterial. Real Manuka honey is only produced in New Zealand where the Manuka plant grows, the honey is known as a monofloral, meaning it is made using the nectar from the flowers of only one plant, in this case, the Manuka plant. The flowers of the Manuka plant contain a substance called leptosperin which has unique healing properties. However, not all Manuka honey has the same potency. The MGO content varies so it is important to check how much MGO your Manuka honey has before buying. The MGO content you want will depend on what you want to use your honey for, here are some recommendations: 200+ MGO for daily wellness and vitality, 600+ MGO for daily immune support, 850+ MGO for daily digestive support, and 1000+ MGO for advanced support. A honey with 1000+ MGO content will do you the world of good but keep in mind, the higher the MGO content the higher the price.
Raw honey, which is made from the nectar of multiple flowers, also has numerous health benefits. Whilst it is not as antibacterial as Manuka honey, it still has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties as well as beneficial enzymes and amino acids. The phytonutrients within raw honey give it a massive amount of antioxidants which provide it with it’s immune-boosting power. Most Manuka honey is also raw which keeps its nutrients intact.
The majority of the honey we have available to us in supermarkets today has been pasteurised, meaning it has been heated up to one hundred and sixty degrees Celsius and then quickly cooled down. This stops fermentation and keeps honey in its liquid state longer without any crystallisation, making it more marketable to the average consumer.
There are very few comparative studies done between pasteurised and raw honey but many reports state that the pasteurisation process leads to a decrease in the active nutrients which make honey such a brilliant medicine. This process also removes all the bee pollen from within the honey which contains, among other things, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties.
In addition to the pasteurisation process, many commercially available kinds of honey have sweeteners and sugars added, making them closer to sugar syrup in composition than honey. Always check the ingredient list of your honey to make sure there are no nasty additions.
Now we have some honey clarification let’s get into the benefits. As the above information suggests all of these benefits will be the most potent in Manuka honey and raw honey, any honey with additional sugars will not be beneficial in any way as it has been heavily processed.
As a daily supplement honey is amazing at supporting the immune system. The multitude of vitamins and minerals found in honey support your body’s natural immune responses whilst the antioxidant and antimicrobial content help fight viruses and infections. Manuka honey is, of course, an even more powerful immune-supporting form of raw honey due to its MGO content.
Honey can be used in wound dressings to speed up healing and prevent/treat infection. This is due to the enzyme glucose oxidase which produces hydrogen peroxide making it highly antibacterial, the acidity of the honey also increases the antibacterial nature of it. The amino acids and vitamins help to regenerate tissue, promoting healing. Manuka honey has both glucose oxidase and methylglyoxal making it more potently antimicrobial. This study concluded that Manuka honey was effective at suppressing inflammation and rapidly healing wounds.
Raw honey helps to balance the bacteria on your skin and can also speed up the healing process of spots. Its anti-inflammatory properties also make it useful in reducing acne inflammation. It is also a natural exfoliant which aids in skin-cell regeneration. There is also some evidence to suggest it can be used to treat eczema and some forms of dermatitis due to its ability to intensely moisturise the skin. Manuka honey amplifies all these skin benefits and is a popular ingredient in many skin care products.
There is significant evidence to suggest raw honey can be utilised as a prebiotic, which supports the growth of probiotic bacteria in the gut. The anti-inflammatory properties of honey also make it great for stomach ailments such as gastritis. In addition to these uses, Manuka honey has also been found effective at treating gastric ulcers due to its high antimicrobial content and ability to heal lesions rapidly.
The traditional use of honey to heal ailments is now backed by scientific research, it seems there has always been an innate knowledge of its medicinal properties, eight thousand years on and we are still reaping the healing benefits of honey.