Healing Properties of Honey

Injuring yourself by a cut or a burn can be painful. One of the things we sometimes seek after an injury is to be soothed to help soften the pain. Sure spreading some anti-biotic ointment and slapping a bandage on the wound might be a practical solution, but here’s a scientifically proven trick to make it even sweeter. Use honey instead of the anti-biotic ointment.

Honey has been recognized in its healing effectiveness for thousands of years. Yet only recently have we understood how honey works in its healing. Honey is a sweet food produced by honey bees from the nectar of flowers. Bees make honey for themselves to feed the colony in cold weather and during food shortages. What bee keepers have learned to do is to encourage bee colonies to produce more honey than is needed, so a portion of the honey can be harvested and eaten by us – or in this case, spread onto a bandage to cover a wound.

But first, lets take a look at how bees make honey, because it’s in this process that honey gets it’s special healing ability. When the honey bee finds a flower, it drinks the nectar produced by the flower. Then the bee returns to the hive and regurgitates the nectar. Then the bees then work together to ingest and regurgitate the regurgitated nectar not just once, but several times until the partially digested nectar reaches the highest quality. Yum! It’s in this digestion process that the bees add an enzyme that, for their purposes, preserves the honey – but for our purposes helps in healing wounds. More on that in a moment.

Skin wounds heal best when kept moist by covering it with a bandage, however this moist environment is perfect breeding ground for microbes that cause infection. The University of Waikato in New Zealand has studied honey and has documented its ability to kill the seven most common bacteria that are know to infect wounds, including E-Coli, Staphylococcus and Salmonella. They found that the chemistry behind this is multi-fold. First, honey is a super saturated solution of sugars leaving very low water content. Bacteria needs water to grow and multiply. So honey by default is a poor breeding ground for bacteria. Second, honey is very acidic having a pH below the levels bacteria need to grow.

Healing Properties of Honey

This is all fine, if the honey remains undiluted. If you add water to the honey, the water content naturally increases and the pH rises effectively eliminating its use as in wound healing. This is a problem as most wounds will naturally seep body fluids and this moisture will dilute the honey on the bandage. Well, here come the bees to save the day. Remember that enzyme that the bees put into the honey as they digested it? Well, as the water content in the honey rises, this enzyme becomes activated and creates a chemical reaction that produces hydrogen peroxide which then kills any bacteria that might grow in the diluted honey!

But that’s not all. Not only does honey kill microbes, it is also anti-inflammatory, helps promote the removal of dead skin cells as the wound heals, and has also been shown to help the growth of new blood capillaries. As an added bonus, using honey on a bandage allows for fewer changes to the wound dressing and doesn’t irritate the skin the way anti-bacterial ointments can.

According to Waikato, the amount of honey needed for a dressing depends on the amount of fluid the wound is likely to produce – the more fluid the more honey. They recommend about 1 ounce of honey per 4×4 inch bandage spread evenly across it. The bandage should be large enough to completely cover the wound and any surrounding inflammation. A second layer of either absorbent or waterproof dressing is needed to help keep the honey from oozing out. Using this method, Waikato states that several days can elapse before the dressing might need to be changed.

Now, depending on the severity of the injury, seek medical attention if the wound is severe enough or conditions don’t improve in a few days. Also, honey should never be eaten by infants and young children because their digestive tracts are not fully developed and serious complications can result.

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