People like to talk about the value of honey as a “superfood” – in fact, it’s one of their favourite topics. I get questions about honey’s nutritional value and health benefits all the time.
Sometimes, in such discussions, I like to bring up the healing properties of honey, just to see people’s surprised faces, staring in awe in light of this new piece of information.
Indeed, honey is not just one of the few natural sweeteners available. It’s not just good for your health. It’s also among the best wound healers that can be found in nature.
The oldest medicine
If you do a bit of research, you will easily come across evidence that the medicinal importance of honey has been documented in the world’s oldest medical literatures.
The ancient Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, Assyrian and Romans, for example, used different types of honey to treat wounds and intestinal diseases.
We now know that this is not just a superstition or based on speculation.
Fast-forward to 2007, when the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the first honey-related wound product—a sterile wound dressing, impregnated with 95% honey and 5% sodium alginate (a gelling agent, extracted from seaweed). It was approved in the United States for use in minor traumatic or surgical cuts and burns, and on select ulcers.
Various honey-based dressings, gels and ointments have been produced since.
How wounds are healed
The wound-healing ability of honey is attributed to a number of factors:
- It has a proven antibacterial activity, which means that it helps speed up the growth of new tissue
- It keeps the wound moist
- Its high viscosity (high resistance to flow) protects against infection
When honey is applied directly on wounds it rapidly clears infection, and that’s why it can help heal wounds that may not respond well to conventional therapies, such as antibiotics and antiseptics.
A little bit of history
Interesting fact, that came up while I was researching for this article:
Ancient Greek philosophers had a hard time defining the difference between the terms “food” and “drug”. Many of them avoided even attempting to come up with a definition altogether. They found that the boundary between the two concepts was blurred.
It’s funny how this ties in with our perception of honey as both a food and a medicine, which has been quite prevalent throughout the history of the human race.
Before we had any scientific proof, we were after honey because it’s sweet and tasty, and as a result we unknowingly reaped its therapeutic benefits. Instinctively, we knew it was good for our body ever since the Stone Age, when honey was the only available natural sweetener.
Since the first written reference to honey by Sumerians, around 2100–2000 BC, where it is mentioned as a drug and an ointment, significant scientific discoveries on its therapeutic properties have been made.
The first to document honey’s anti-microbial properties was B.A. Van Ketel, a Dutch scientist, back in 1892.
Extensive research has been carried out ever since, that confirms its value in treating infected wounds.
What the future holds
To me it’s quite impressive how, in most ancient cultures, honey has been used for both nutritional and medical purposes. Centuries later, after countless scientific discoveries to back this up, its role in our overall well-being seems to be more important than ever.
We now know that honey is (among other things) an antioxidant, it can be used to help protect our heart and liver, and is reported to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activities against breast, cervical and prostate cancers.
With the increasing rise of antibiotic resistant microbes in recent years, which make wound infections harder to heal, the medical community is now focusing even more on alternative ways that can help treat wounds, including honey.
I always think about honey as a somewhat miraculous food, that will keep surprising us, constantly proving its invaluable contribution to our health. In my mind, its role as a healing agent could be just a tiny sample of more unique properties that are yet to be discovered.