Medicinal Properties of Honey

Posted by John B on

Cultures spanning thousands of years across the globe have sought out and employed the use of honey in medicinal and therapeutic applications.  In Ancient Egypt, of 900 medicinal remedies examined, 500 of them mentioned the use of honey in the recipe.  Even today, honey continues to be employed for wound care, and at-home remedies for sore throats, allergies, and beauty regimens.  The use of honey to treat wounds, illness, allergies, and skin irritations has continued, unabated, for thousands of years.  There is documented evidence of humans' use of honey for some 8,000 years; a true testament to the useful application of nature’s sweetest treasure. 

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics of beekeeper harvesting honey and dumping into jar

Throughout time, honey has often been used for its medicinal and therapeutic effects.  In ancient Egypt, honey was used extensively for a variety of uses spanning different industries and social classes.  Most of the discovered ancient Egyptian medicinal recipes utilized honey, which was already widely known for its healing properties.  Even today, honey is widely regarded for its therapeutic effects.  Although honey is primarily composed of fructose and glucose sugars, it also contains amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes.  The exact composition of honey is dependent on what the honey bee feeds, but all honey contains compounds that work together to provide an antioxidant effect.  Today, honey is not as widely utilized in medicine as it once was during the time of the Ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Chinese, Greeks, and Romans; however, it is noted for its remarkable antibacterial activity and potential use as an anti-inflammatory agent.

Cave painting found in Spain that shows an early human climbing a ladder or rope to harvest honey from cliff-dwelling honeybees

The antibacterial characteristics of honey are related to the composition and properties of the honey itself.  First, honey has a unique property of being hygroscopic.  This means that honey will draw and retain moisture from the environment.  Because of this hygroscopic quality, honey will actually dehydrate bacteria.  In addition to being hygroscopic, honey is also slightly acidic with pH levels generally ranging from 3.2 and 4.5.  This acidity is enough to inhibit the growth of bacteria and microorganisms.  Honey also contains an enzyme called glucose oxidase which will produce hydrogen peroxide from the glucose sugars in the honey.  This is perhaps the most important contributing factor to honey’s antibacterial properties.  In addition to having antibacterial properties, honey is also considered antifungal and antiviral.  

Honey has been used for thousands of years to treat a range of ailments, diseases, and medical conditions.  The use of honey for therapeutic purposes continues, unabated, to this day. Not that we needed any more reason to love honey, but appreciating the history and range of therapeutic applications of honey makes it all the sweeter!


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