The Science Behind The Medical Use Of Honey

Humans have been using honey for medical purposes for at least 4,000 years. It has been used as a food and a medicine in ancient Egypt, China and India, amongst other places, and the bible contains many references to honey which was known in ancient times as “the food of the gods”. A lot of effort goes into its manufacture, with the average worker bee making around 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its 6-week lifetime. Honey is usually classified according to its floral source, and it can either be monofloral, if it is made predominantly from the nectar of one type of flower, or polyfloral.

Honey has a number of specific physical and chemical characteristics which give it unique properties that are responsible for its effectiveness in treating some medical conditions:

  • Osmotic effect – honey is a concentrated sugar solution predominantly consisting of the monosaccharides fructose and glucose. Few water molecules are available for micro-organisms and therefore it is a poor environment for their growth
  • Hydrogen peroxide – this is slowly released when the honey comes into contact with body fluids and has antiseptic properties
  • Acidity – honey is very acidic with a pH of 3.2 to 4.5, as acidic as some vinegars, which also makes micro-organism growth difficult
  • Antioxidants – contains bioflavanoids and other antioxidants which may contribute to its activity


Honey that is applied to the skin should be “medical-grade”. Application of untreated, raw honey often causes local inflammation reactions which can be quite severe, as it contains many impurities from bees and from hives; it literally contains “bees knees”. Medical-grade honey is made by purifying and sterilizing raw honey in a two-step process involving filtration and irradiation or pasteurization.

When applied to the skin, medical-grade honey has been shown to be an effective treatment for:

  • Burns – studies of the use of medical honey for burns have found markedly greater efficacy of honey compared with alternative dressing treatments for superficial or partial thickness burns.
  • Wounds – many studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of honey as a treatment for wounds. In addition to its antimicrobial properties which prevent and treat infections, it’s hygroscopic properties assist healing by keeping the wounds moist.
  • Cold sores – honey has been shown to be superior to the widely used antiviral agent acyclovir, for both oral and genital herpes, for a number of outcome measures including healing time, in two studies.
  • Nappy rash – two studies have found that the improvement in severity scores was consistent with a therapeutic effect. As skin damage is to a large degree due to ammonia-like excretions, acidic honey will act in part by neutralizing these.
  • Rosacea – Honevo has been proven to be effective in a small and a large clinical trial.
  • Acne – Honevo has also been shown to be effective in several studies.

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