Honey has a long medicinal history dating back to the wound-dressing of ancient Egyptians. Today, many people swarm to honey for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. And holistic practitioners consider it one of nature’s best all-around remedies.
Here is what researchers are learning about honey’s health benefits:
Manuka honey is sometimes used to treat chronic leg ulcers and pressure sores. Manuka honey is made in New Zealand from the nectar of Leptospermum scoparium. It’s the basis of Medihoney, which the FDA approved in 2007 for use in treating wounds and skin ulcers. It works very well to stimulate healing. It is Manuka honey’s pH content, which leans toward acidic, that helps the healing process. It is soothing and feels good to the wound.
The Common Cold
Buckwheat honey-based syrup can be used to ease the early symptoms of a cold. It calms inflamed membranes and eases a cough — the latter claim supported by a few studies. In a study that involved 139 children, honey beat out dextromethorphan (a cough suppressant) and diphenhydramine (an antihistamine) in easing nighttime cough in children and improving their sleep. Another study involving 105 children found that buckwheat honey trumped dextromethorphan in suppressing nighttime coughs.
If you’re suffering from a cold or something going on in the throat or upper airways, getting on board with honey syrup will help fight infection and soothe membranes. Buckwheat honey-based allergy medicine is also recommended for the same purpose.
Even if honey is natural, it is no better than ordinary white or brown sugar for dieters or people with diabetes. A tablespoon of honey, in fact, has more carbohydrates and calories than granulated white or brown sugar. ‘A sugar is a sugar’ when it comes to diabetes. I think it’s a widespread myth that honey is better for diabetes. Some patients don’t classify honey as a sugar.
Get your carbs from a cup of fresh berries or a carton of yogurt because they have about the same number of carbs as a tablespoon of honey — but less sugar. There are some minerals and vitamins and antioxidant properties in honey — the darker the honey, the higher the level of antioxidants — but with yogurt, you can also get those benefits. When you have diabetes, you have to be picky and choosy about carbs and calories.
In the laboratory, honey has been shown to hamper the growth of food-borne pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella, and to fight certain bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, both of which are common in hospitals and doctors’ offices. But whether it does the same in people hasn’t been proven.
Shop for honey and you’ll see that some are lighter, others are darker. In general, the darker the honey, the better its antibacterial and antioxidant power. Honey comes in many varieties, depending on the floral source of pollen or nectar gathered and regurgitated by the honey bee upon arrival in the hive.
Honey producers may apply to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a grade on their product, but the score does not account for color. Rather, the honey is judged for clarity, aroma, and flavor, and the absence of sediments, such as honeycomb particles.
Never Give Honey to an Infant
Honey is natural and considered harmless for adults. But pediatricians strongly caution against feeding honey to children under 1 year old.
“Do not let babies eat honey,” states foodsafety.gov, a web site of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
That’s because of the risk of botulism. The spores of the botulism bacteria are found in dust and soil that may make their way into honey. Infants do not have a developed immune system to defend against infection.
It’s been shown very clearly that honey can give infants botulism, a paralytic disorder in which the infant must be given anti-toxins and often be placed on a respirator in an intensive care unit. But parents may feed their infants cereals that contain honey. If it’s cooked, so it’s OK—we’re talking about honey out of the bottle.
The National Honey Board, which the USDA oversees, also agrees that infants should not be given honey. “The concern for babies stems from the fact that infants lack the fully developed gastrointestinal tract of older humans,” the Board’s web site states.