Honey Properties and Uses by Ann Chilcott

Ann is a Scottish expert beemaster and spends a lot of time teaching beekeepers, mentoring beginners and learning more about honey bees herself. She lives in the Scottish Highlands and shares her beekeeping adventures on her blog: http://www.beelistener.co.uk/

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Slovenian Hives by Matic Stojs

The ancient Greeks described honey as the food of gods, and in many cultures around the world honey is associated with longevity, good health and happiness. The Koran promotes honey as a remedy for all maladies, and its medicinal uses date back to ancient Roman, Greek and Chinese times.

Today, many modern societies, including Chinese and Eastern European, include honey in their medicine cabinets. Recently here in the UK there has been a resurgence in the use of honey for treating wounds, and doctors are now being instructed to prescribe honey to patients suffering from sore throats instead of prescribing them antibiotics.

Hippocrates (466-377 BC), the father of medicine, recognised the great healing properties of honey and duly prescribed it for curing sores, ulcers, boils and carbuncles. Honey was then used successfully for hundreds of years until Sir Alexander Fleming’s amazing accidental discovery of penicillin in 1928 when honey ceased being used as a common medicament. Honey was either shoved to the back of the medicine cabinet, or shunned completely as miracle-cure antibiotics changed the medical world considerably while vastly improving and saving the lives of many patients who would have otherwise died from diseases such as pneumonia. My own life was saved by antibiotics in the mid 1950’s.

Back then at the birth of antibiotics, little did we know that over the next 80 years antibiotics would be used so frequently that some bacteria would develop a resistance and become even stronger and harder to treat thus taking on monster-like properties. It is like bacterial blackmail with drug companies developing stronger and stronger antibiotics to combat resistant strains, only to find that after a while even those drugs stopped being effective, and so the cycle goes on as more and more antibiotics are designed and produced to combat bacteria, some of which resist these drugs.

Methicillin resistant Staph Aureus is a prime example. Commonly known as MRSA, this organism has hit the headlines often in recent years. It is particularly dangerous for babies, children, older people and others with compromised immune systems because it is so difficult to destroy. A few years ago, in The Children’s Hospital Medical Centre in Bonn, Germany a young child developed a wound infection following chemotherapy. The wound was seriously infected with MRSA preventing ongoing chemotherapy for cancer. Conventional treatment hadn’t worked after 12 days so the wound was treated with medical grade antibacterial honey dressings and after just 2 days the wound healed and the infection cleared allowing cancer treatment to resume.

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Freshly Extracted Honey. Author Photo.

The pioneering work for using honey in modern medicine to treat MRSA has mostly been done in New Zealand by Professor Peter Molan (1943-2015) at the University of Waikato. Honey also provides effective pain relief, and has lowered the incidence of scarring and preventing surgery in some situations. Not only is honey useful in combatting “superbugs”, but its natural antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties provides a role in treating cold sores, dental disease, leg ulcers, eczema, psoriasis and conjunctivitis. Honey is soothing and healing for some burns and I can testify to this having burnt my hand on the grill and experienced almost instant pain relief and fast healing when I daubed the area with honey and an occlusive dressing.

Honey debrides wounds by removing dead tissue which promotes healing and removes malodour encouraging growth of new tissue which speeds healing. Anti-inflammatory properties of honey reduce swelling which in turn reduces pain.

So, how does honey actually work in wound healing and bacterial destruction? Well, honey is very sweet as we all know and the sugar kills bacteria by osmosis. The concentration of sugar inside the bacterial cell is lower than that of the sugar solution outside the cell, so, in order to equalise osmotic pressure water moves across the semi-permeable cell membrane from an area of lower concentration of sugar solution (inside the bacteria) to the higher concentration of sugar in solution outside bacterial cell effectively sucking out the water causing fatal bacterial cell shrinkage.

Natural acids in honey are also lethal to bacteria, but the cleverest trick is hydrogen peroxide which most people associate with household cleaning products, teeth whiteners, hair bleach, lavatory and work surface sanitisers. Hydrogen peroxide is just water with added oxygen but it is powerful stuff. It is also nature’s steriliser and is produced in honey when the bees add enzymes after collecting nectar. They add an enzyme called glucose oxidase and a chemical reaction takes place whereby glucose is converted to gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. The hidden hydrogen peroxide in honey kills bacteria and is powerful enough to finish off fungi.

Honey is very effective in treating sore throats and can be eaten neat by the teaspoonful, or made into a soothing throat gargle. Mix 2 teaspoons of honey with a teaspoon of cider vinegar and dilute with a little water for a great gargle throughout the day. You can add some lemon juice and also one drop of essential eucalyptus oil to alleviate congestion.

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Chunks of Comb Honey. Photo by Linton Chilcott.

Another very useful role for honey is as a mild laxative for treating the constipation that is often associated with children and ageing adults. Eating a small of amount of wax with the honey can be even more effective.

Fructose is known to speed up oxidation of alcohol in the liver and can be used to sober up over-indulgent imbibers. Because honey contains on average around 40% fructose, and has an enzyme called catalase, it is more efficacious in dealing with hangovers and some people eat honey before drinking as a preventative measure. Alcohol contains congeners which add distinctive aroma and flavour and so drinks high in congeners cause the worst hangovers because they also produce toxic effects. Both fructose and vitamin C are thought to be useful in eliminating these congeners and helping to flush them from the body, so an effective cure is to mix 2 tablespoons of honey with just a little lemon juice, or as much lemon juice as you fancy.

If you want to know more about the properties and uses of honey, I can highly recommend one of my favourite books which is called, Honey, Nature’s Golden Healer by Gloria Havenford. It was published in 2010 by Kyle Cathie Limited, London.