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Principal Proposed Uses
  • Wounds (topical), Burns (topical)

Honey has been appreciated as food since the dawn of history, and undoubtedly long before. Its medicinal use is also ancient. The Greek physician Hippocrates recommended topical application of honey for infected wounds and ulcers of the lips; Roman physicians used honey as an oral medication for constipation, diarrhea, upset stomach, sore throat and coughs.

What Is Honey Used for Today?

Honey consists largely of fructose and glucose, two related forms of sugar. Its sugar concentration is high enough to kill microorganisms in the same manner as the sugar in jams and jellies. This would appear to be the primary basis for honey's most studied use: as a topical application to treat or prevent infection.

In preliminary controlled trials, honey has shown promise for treating abcesses, 3burns , 4-6minor abrasions17 and post-operative wound infections; 7 as well as for preventing infections following surgery 9 and catheter infections in people undergoing hemodialysis. 10

Sugar paste too has shown promise as a wound treatment. However, some evidence hints that honey may be more effective than concentrated sugar. 1 If true, this suggests that additional non-sugar constituents of honey provide benefit. It is often stated in honey-related literature that honey produces hydrogen peroxide, and that this explains additional benefit. However, there is no evidence that honey produces sufficient hydrogen peroxide to have any meaningful effect. Another theory is that honey might stimulate healing. 2

Other uses of honey have also shown some promise. In one study, when participants regularly chewed "honey leather" their inflammation of the gums ( gingivitis ) decreased. 11

Oral consumption of honey might have a slight laxative effect. 14 Honey taken by mouth might also increase the body's ability to metabolize alcohol, thereby limiting intoxication and more rapidly reducing alcohol blood levels. 12 Finally, one study hints that honey might improve cholesterol profile and blood sugar levels. 13

It has been suggested that consumption of honey can reduces symptoms of hay fever . However, the one published study designed to test this suggestion failed to find benefit. 15


When used topically to treat burns, honey is generally applied either directly to the wound in a thin coat, or in the form of a honey-soaked dressing.

Oral dosages of honey for medicinal purposes range from 1 to 5 tablespoons several times daily.

Safety Issues

As a widely consumed food, honey is believed to be quite safe. However, infants younger than 12 months should not consume honey, due to the risk of infant botulism.

Honey may contain slight amounts of pollen. However, it appears that allergy to honey is uncommon among pollen-allergic people. 16


1.   Efem SE, Udoh KT, Iwara CI. The antimicrobial spectrum of honey and its clinical significance. Infection. 1992;20:227-9.

2.   Molan PC. Potential of honey in the treatment of wounds and burns. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2001;2:13-9.

3.   Okeniyi JA, Olubanjo OO, Ogunlesi TA et al. Comparison of Healing of Incised Abscess Wounds with Honey and EUSOL Dressing. J Altern Complement Med. 2005;11:511-3.

4.   Subrahmanyam M. Honey-impregnated gauze versus amniotic membrane in the treatment of burns. Burns . 1994;20:331-3.

5.   Subrahmanyam M. A prospective randomised clinical and histological study of superficial burn wound healing with honey and silver sulfadiazine. Burns. 1998;24:157-61.

6.   Subrahmanyam M. Honey impregnated gauze versus polyurethane film (OpSite) in the treatment of burns--a prospective randomised study. Br J Plast Surg . 1993;46:322-3.

7.   Al-Waili NS, Saloom KY. Effects of topical honey on post-operative wound infections due to gram positive and gram negative bacteria following caesarean sections and hysterectomies. Eur J Med Res . 1999;4:126-30.

9.   McIntosh CD, Thomson CE. Honey dressing versus paraffin tulle gras following toenail surgery. J Wound Care . 2006;15:133-6.

10.   Johnson DW, van Eps C, Mudge DW et al. Randomized, Controlled Trial of Topical Exit-Site Application of Honey (Medihoney) versus Mupirocin for the Prevention of Catheter-Associated Infections in Hemodialysis Patients. J Am Soc Nephrol . 2005 Mar 23 [Epub ahead of print]

11.   English HK, Pack AR, Molan PC. The effects of manuka honey on plaque and gingivitis: a pilot study. J Int Acad Periodontol. 2004;6:63-7.

12.   Onyesom I. Honey-induced stimulation of blood ethanol elimination and its influence on serum triacylglycerol and blood pressure in man. Ann Nutr Metab. 2005;49:319-24.

13.   Al-Waili NS. Natural honey lowers plasma glucose, C-reactive protein, homocysteine, and blood lipids in healthy, diabetic, and hyperlipidemic subjects: comparison with dextrose and sucrose. J Med Food. 2004;7:100-7.

14.   Ladas SD, Haritos DN, Raptis SA. Honey may have a laxative effect on normal subjects because of incomplete fructose absorption. Am J Clin Nutr. 1996;62:1212-5.

15.   Rajan TV, Tennen H, Lindquist RL et al. Effect of ingestion of honey on symptoms of rhinoconjunctivitis. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2002;88:198-203.

16.   Kiistala R, Hannuksela M, Makinen-Kiljunen S et al. Honey allergy is rare in patients sensitive to pollens. Allergy. 1996;50:844-7.

17.   Ingle R, Levin J, Polinder K. Wound healing with honey - a randomised controlled trial. S Afr Med J. 2006;96:831-5.

Last reviewed October 2007 by EBSCO CAM Review Board

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