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Biology, Uncategorized

The Medical Uses of Honey

Honey is pretty cool. It’s a non-Newtonian fluid. It’s the only popular example I know of where people willingly eat spit, that’s right honey is partially bee spit or bee vomit would be even more accurate. I presume that many of you reading this will say that it is at least tasty bee vomit; but, as I’m allergic to honey, I have no frame of reference to agree with you. Honey also has anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Close up of jar of white honey

Honey by Beaver Creek Apiaries in Alberta

An anti-oxidant is something that stops reactions that produce free radicals. Free radicals are atoms that high energy, unpaired electrons. They move around trying to find an electron for their unpaired one causing damage. Anti-oxidants combat this which is a good thing.

We’re more familiar with the idea of anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory substances so I won’t spend much time review those. Suffice to say that honey can do a lot of really beneficial things. The beekeeper I know was saying that all of these properties have been selected for by evolution because they keep the honey in the hive healthy over the long term. This makes sense as honey, without human intervention, serves as food stores for the honeybees.

Since all these properties are based on surface interaction with, as opposed to ingestion of, the honey, it also makes sense that humans would explore medical uses of honey. And wound dressings seem pretty logical. So, how successful are honey-coated wound dressings?

Yaghoobi, Kazerouni, and Kazerouni (2013) reviewed the literature and found that the anti-bacterial properties, along with its high acidity, osmotic effect (pulls water across a membrane like a bacterium’s outer layer, think dehydrating the bacterium), anti-oxidant properties, and the presence of hydrogen peroxide, lead to improved wound healing, decreased inflammation, and reduced pain. Not bad for bee vomit.

Mancuso et al (2019) are one of many groups that are extending the research on honey. They tested to see if they could create a mesh wound dressing by layering honey (the layers are nanometers thick) with special meshes to create a dressing that would slowly release the honey over a period of two to three weeks. Their results demonstrated that this was possible and it was successful in addressing many types of bacteria in lab settings. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future with this research.


Mancuso, E., Tonda-Turo, C., Ceresa, C., Pensabene, V., Connell, S. D., Fracchia, L., & Gentile, P. (2019). Potential of Manuka Honey as a Natural Polyelectrolyte to Develop Biomimetic Nanostructured Meshes With Antimicrobial Properties. Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology7(344). doi: 10.3389/fbioe.2019.00344

Yaghoobi, R., Kazerouni, A., & Kazerouni, O. (2013). Evidence for Clinical Use of Honey in Wound Healing as an Anti-bacterial, Anti-inflammatory Anti-oxidant and Anti-viral Agent: A Review. Jundishapur Journal of Natural Pharmaceutical Products8(3), 100–104. doi: 10.17795/jjnpp-9487

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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