Bees were making honey long before man appeared on earth, however it didn't take man long to realize that the honey that bees produced was a wonderful food source and had medicinal benefits.
History of Medicinal Honey
In ancient writings as old as 2000 BC there are references to honey being used to treat wounds, eye and ear ailments and even to heal the body after surgery. In ancient Egypt honey was used for wounds, sores, abscesses, skin conditions and to loosen stiff joints. In ancient China honey was also used frequently for it's medicinal properties.
In fact, it appears that honey has been use as medicine by almost culture on the planet. It was until modern medicine became so called mainstream medicine that honey was regulated to being simply a food by many people. Even then many people still used honey to suppress coughs and to heal certain wounds. Now once again modern medicine is looking to honey to determine it medicinal benefits in this modern world.
What is Medicinal Honey?
Technically any honey that is used for medicinal purposes can legitimately be called medicinal honey and since all honey has some levels of medicinal properties that help with our immune response. Most honey get their medicinal properties from two things – firstly honey is fairly acidic at a pH of approximately 3.5 which is unsuitable for bacterial growth. Secondly an enzyme called glucose oxidase, which will break down to generate hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide by itself has antibacterial properties, but not all honeys exhibit equal activity. Also hydrogen peroxide degrades over time by light, heat and our own body enzymes – thereby affecting the antibacterial activity of a honey.
Special honeys such as Manuka honey and Trigona honey or Melipona honey (depending on the variety of stingless bee), have what is termed as “non-peroxide activity” – which are antibacterial properties that are not broken down by heat or by the human body. This quality makes them perfect to boost our immune system.
Hence it was the distributors of Manuka honey that first coined the term Medical grade honey and set up restrictions and standards that the honey must go through before it is labeled medical grade honey. This type of honey is organic honey from the Manuka tree and differs from the common types of honey you find on your grocery store shelves by the way it is harvested, the honey production process, nectars the bees feed on, and even by the way the hives are kept.
The fact is that the medicinal benefits of honey can change depending on a number of factors including whether or not the honey is organic (that the bees having only access to plants that have had no chemicals used on them) the types of flowers they pollinate and the health of the bees of themselves to name just a few factors in determining how strong the medicinal properties of the honey may be.
Manuka honey is rated for its supposed antibacterial properties getting what is called a Unique Manuka Factor our UMF which must be scored at 10 or above to be considered potent enough to be considered active.
Manuka Honey Vs. Other Types of Medicinal Honey
Manuka honey is honey that comes from bees that feed solely on the Manuka tree. These trees are found in remote parts of New Zealand, which helps to keep the honey organic. Other medicinal honeys are harvested in various parts of the world, and the bees normally pollinate more than one type of plant or flower so that the honey tastes and looks different.
Another pure honey that is considered to have strong medicinal properties is Trigona (Melipona) honey. This honey is not named after a plant, but rather the small stingless bees themselves. Native to the Philippines, Trigona honey is organic and has much less sugar than Manuka honey. It also has strong antibacterial properties and is used to help with influenza, colds and sore throats.
Similar to Manuka honey some Trigona honey are organic and in the Philippines these bees are used to pollinate organic crops, serving the dual purpose of helping produce more food and having medicinal properties. Trigona honey, however is much rarer than manuka honey since these stingless bees produce much less honey in a year than do the larger honeybees that make Manuka honey.
Key Medicinal Properties of Honey
There are three key medicinal properties of honey, and these three properties provide most of the medicinal benefits that honey is known for. These three properties are:
Hygroscopic - Honey is naturally hygoscopic which means that it can absorb moisture from the air. This can be effective in treating wounds as it may help to prevent scarring by keeping the skin moist. It may also help to encourage the growth of new tissue and make changing bandages easier, since the bandages may not stick to the wound. It is this Hygroscopic property that makes honey a great treatment for dry skin and hair as well.
Antibacterial - Honey has antibacterial properties which can help prevent certain bacteria infections from growing in wounds and burns. With so many bacteria becoming antibiotic resistant these days, the antibacterial properties of honey are gaining more attention by the medical community. Honey can provide a bacteria barrier when applied to cuts, abrasions, or burns, keeping bacteria and therefore infection at bay.
Antioxidant - Honey also has antioxidant properties that have the power to neutralize oxidizing free radicals that may be destructive to your health. This may help to support your immune function and reduce your risk for cancer, heart disease and other serious and life-threatening conditions.
Benefits and Uses of Honey
Honey has many benefits for your health and here is a look at some of these of these benefits and the way bee honey is used to achieve these benefits.
Wound Healer - When applied topically to a wound or burn honey's antibacterial properties can help prevent the wound from becoming infected. In addition, since honey keeps the wound moisture it can help heal the wound faster and may help prevent scarring.
Coughs and Sore Throat - Studies have shown that honey does as good if not better a job of helping relieve the sore throats and coughs of children then products like Benadryl (children over age 1)
Reduces the Severity and Duration of Diarrhea - Anecdotal information suggests that honey may actual reduce the severity and duration of diarrhea. Honey promotes increased potassium and water intake, which help to keep you hydrated. Recent studies suggest that honey may also block the passage of pathogens that cause diarrhea.
May Help Prevent Acid Reflux - Some research shows that honey may coat the esophagus and stomach helping to prevent acid reflux and lowering your risk for GERD.
Lower the Amount of Sugar in Your Diet - Replacing table sugar with honey may help to reduce the amount the sugar in your diet. Honey is lower on the Glucose index than table sugar and therefore can help diabetics better regulate their blood glucose levels. It should be noted that Trigona honey (stingless bee honey) contains only 17% sugar as opposed to Manuka honey which contains around 70% to 80%.
May Help Lower Blood Pressure - Honey contains antioxidants that have been linked to the lowering of blood pressure. This may mean that honey can also reduce your risk of stroke and heart disease.
Honey May Reduce Cholesterol and Triglycerides - Several studies suggest that honey may reduce your LDL cholesterol as well as your triglyceride levels while increasing your HDL cholesterol levels.
Honey May Help Fight Gastric Problems - Due it its antibacterial and antioxidant properties particularly Methylglyoxal honey may help to fight gastric problems and make it easier to digest your food.
Honey May Help to Relieve Nausea - Adding honey to a bit of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar may help to relieve nausea and vomiting.
Can Help You Sleep - A couple of spoonful of honey before bed may help you to get a better night's sleep.
Honey Can Treat Dandruff - Thanks to the antibacterial properties in honey it can help to treat dandruff. Just mix equal parts honey and water and massage into your scalp, let sit for an hour and rinse.
Can Prevent Low White Blood Cell Count – Honey may be a promising and economical remedy to prevent low white blood cell count caused by chemotherapy treatment. In a recent study, 40% of cancer patients who were known to be at risk of leukopenia (low white blood cell count) had no further episodes of the condition after taking 2 teaspoons of honey each day during chemotherapy.
Can Help Treat Acne - the Antibacterial properties in honey may also help treat your acne by preventing the bacteria that can cause acne.
Boost Immunity - Honey contains various vitamins and nutrients and while these are enough to supply you with the daily dose of vitamins and minerals you need, adding honey to smoothie, your breakfast oatmeal or toast can help to build a healthy immunity system.
Supports good bacteria - Honey contains probiotics which helps the growth and activity of the bacteria Bifidobacterium, which lives in our gastrointestinal tract, and is essential for good digestion and health.
Slows the signs of aging – Part of aging is the slow depletion of enzymes in our bodies. Raw honey helps slow the depletion of enzymes through the ingestion of amylase, which is an enzyme that breaks down sugars and carbohydrates. This has the ability to repair damaged skin, giving it a softer younger look.
While honey is believed to treat a host of health problems today, Ayurveda medicine has found honey to be useful in treating the following:
Keeping gums healthy
Diarrhoea and vomiting
High blood pressure
While more studies into the medicinal benefits of honey still needs to be done, it appears that honey is able to treat, cure or relieve a wide array of health issues from minor issues to more severe complaints.
What to Look For
Many people who would like to try some of health benefits that honey has to offer are not sure what type of honey to buy. Here are a few things for you to look for and look out for.
Is Raw Honey Better than Process Honey? - There is a widely held belief that raw honey has more health benefits than processed honey and this may be true. Raw honey or unfiltered honey often contains antioxidants, bee pollen, probiotics, enzymes and at times even the infusion of the propolis – which is especially true for Trigona honey that comes from the Philippines. It is believed that the propolis has added health benefits, which may make raw Trigona honey more beneficial than processed honey.
Is Medicinal Honey Best Raw? - Since all honey has medicinal properties it is safe to say that honey is preferred to be raw for you benefit from its medicinal qualities. Do keep in mind that honey that is not raw means it has been more processed, and may have additives added to the honey like additional fructose or corn syrup, which makes it a less healthy option.
What is the Rating System for Honey? - There really is no official rating system for honey or it's medicinal properties. The producers of Manuka honey claim to have developed a rating system to determine the grade of the Manuka honey produced – this is known as the Unique Manuka Factor grading system. Only manuka tested by the UMF Honey Association can be verified as authentic and is of a certain medicinal quality.
What Lab Tests and Clinical Studies Have Been done on Honey? There have been numerous clinical studies and trials conducted on the various medicinal properties of honey. While these tests have shown that honey is treatment for wounds, infections and also for coughs, other tests have been less certain. For example in the Laboratory honey has been proven to prevent E.Coli and Salmonella as well as certain bacteria. Currently scientists are trying to see if honey can be used as a treatment for itchy swollen eyes. And the tests are ongoing.
However, using honey to help treat certain health conditions will cause no harm and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to show that honey just may have all the health benefits it claims to have. So, if you want to try a Trigona honey product or just regular honey to see if it relieves that sore throat or aids your digestion go ahead. You just might be surprised how well honey can work.
How to Store Medicinal Honey Safely
Storing medicinal honey is just like storing any honey. Try to keep it in it's original container and keep it tightly sealed. Then store in a cupboard or pantry away from the light since the light may deteriorate the honey's medicinal properties.
Try to store it around 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit and in a cupboard or room where the temperature does not fluctuate a good deal. As honey has no definite shelf life, it is important to keep it well-stored.
Now that you know that honey not only tastes good, but may have several benefits for your health, go ahead and enjoy this natural sweet treat.