Honey Antimicrobial properties and medicinal uses

By Wyler Hecht, N.D., L.Ac.

Honey has been used for thousands of years as a treatment for infected wounds. As far back as circa 50 AD, Dioscorides, a Greek physician and botanist declared honey as “good for all rotten and hollow ulcers.” Its medicinal use far predates the discovery of bacteria as the cause of such infections. Now honey is making a comeback as a medicinal star and plenty of science is backing the hype.
Honey was first studied for its antibiotic properties in 1892 and continued to be researched, without much fanfare, throughout the 20th century. After all, starting with the discovery of penicillin, the mid to late 1900s saw dozens of subsequent “silver bullet” antimicrobials. Who needed the mess of honey? But we have passed through the golden age of antibiotics and into the age of antibiotic resistance. So while many conventional therapeutic agents are failing, honey is garnering widespread attention in the healthcare industry.
The antimicrobial properties of honey vary greatly, so before you grab just any brand there are a few things you should know. There are some honeys which are 100 times more antimicrobial than others! Much of the processed, refined honey you’ll find on the grocery store shelf will lack many of the beneficial properties altogether while local, unrefined honey from beekeepers and farmers’ markets will likely have potent antimicrobial activity. If you are looking for the honey with the highest stack of medicinal research to back its efficacy, look for Manuka honey.
Manuka honey has been, and continues to be vigorously researched for its efficacy against dozens of infectious bacteria including some of the most resistant strains such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureau (MRSA). In recent studies, Manuka honey has also demonstrated anti-fungal and anti-viral properties.
Manuka honey, produced in New Zealand by bees that pollinate the native Manuka bush, is particularly rich in Methylglyoxal, an antimicrobial compound found in only small amounts in other honey. Methylglyoxal (MG), along with several other active compounds is measured in units called UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) to rank the potency of Manuka honey. The higher the UMF, the more potent the antimicrobial properties.
Specially prepared Manuka honey dressings for wounds and burns have been used in hospitals and are available in pharmacies throughout the US since 2007. For serious wounds and ulcerations these products are well worth asking about. For other basic ailments such as mild cuts and abrasions, sore throats, eczema, acid reflux, dry eyes, and even gingivitis, locally sourced, unrefined honey may perform just as well. There are plenty of topical and oral medicinal honey recipes available on the internet, but as always, be sure to separate the chaff from the grain! If you are dealing with a potentially dangerous ailment, please be sure to discuss the use of honey with your doctor.


Wyler Hecht

Dr. Hecht received her doctorate in naturopathic medicine and a master’s level degree in acupuncture from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Az. In 2004 she opened Oconee Natural Healthcare in Watkinsville, Ga. She practices naturopathic family medicine and traditional acupuncture and often combines the two for a comprehensive approach to wellness. www.oconeenaturalhealthcare.com.