When you cut your finger and it isn’t too serious, you just clean it and slap a bandage on it. Done. But if you lived during the time of the ancient Egyptians (and other ancient civilizations as well), you might use honey to treat the problem. Honey was an integral part of their medical treatment plan. They would wash the wound and then smear a mixture of honey, fat and vegetable fiber over it. After this ointment had been applied, a cloth was placed over the wound. Was this irresponsible, backward medical practice? Many people today feel that using honey for wounds is downright foolish.

But something very exciting has been discovered about honey that elevates this humble ingredient in the medical community.

Jars of this ancient Egyptian ointment mentioned above survived thousands of years in Egyptian tombs. When scientists examined the ointment, they found that it was an incredibly effective antibacterial agent and a strong fighter against bacteria; even common resistant strains found today. How has this knowledge changed the way wound care is managed?

Today you will find many hospitals that use honey for treating wounds and other infections. Doctors even report that the healing time for wounds treated with honey is usually quicker than conventional methods!

But you may be asking yourself, “how in the world can honey help heal wounds?”

Though there is still much about honey that we simply don’t understand, we do know that it all starts with the hard-working bees.

A Honey Bee clinging to the stamen of a common mallow flower

There is no disputing the fact that plants contain vital nutrients necessary for life. We use the entire plant for medicine – the stems, petals, etc. And you will find a plethora of products derived from plants (aromatic essential oils to enhance our well-being, for example).

It is simply fascinating how worker bees gather the vital sweet nectar from plants, add beneficial enzymes, and then condense it (in the form of honey) so that it maintains its medicinal properties for years.

In a nutshell, the way honey works on wounds and infections is summarized below.

The worker bee that gathers the nectar from flowers has saliva that contains a substance called “glucose-oxidase.” This enzyme breaks down the glucose in the nectar. A by-product of this breakdown is hydrogen peroxide. I’m sure you probably have seen hydrogen peroxide on drug store shelves and stored in dark brown bottles. People use it mainly to clean and disinfect wounds. Keep this fact in mind as we examine a few of the characteristics of honey that affect wound healing.

• Honey protects the skin

A layer of honey provides a moist environment that protects the skin and prevents a hard scab from forming.

• Honey contains very little water

Due to the sugar in honey, moisture is kept to a very minimum. This is important because when honey is placed on a wound, it acts like a sponge to soak up any moisture. No moisture – no bacteria, because bacteria need liquid to survive.

• Honey is stimulating

Honey stimulates the growth and formation of new blood capillaries and triggers the cells that produce new skin to grow.

• Honey is quite acidic

The pH of honey is about 4. That’s quite high (imagine a can of soda). Bacteria cannot live in such an acidic environment.

• Honey is an anti-inflammatory

Antioxidants in the honey possess an anti-inflammatory action that helps reduce swelling, improve circulation, and keep the wound from ‘weeping.’

• Honey produces hydrogen peroxide

As I mentioned above, honey produces hydrogen peroxide. The interesting thing about honey is that because it is so acidic, this enzyme, glucose-oxidase, is not very active. But, once honey is diluted (by bodily fluids from a wound for example), the honey becomes less acid, and hydrogen peroxide is produced. At this point, honey has what is needed to produce tiny amounts of hydrogen peroxide over a long period of time; resulting in a steady flow of bacteria-destroying help for wounds and infections.

So here we have a marvel of nature and a reason why I call honey “intelligent honey”.  For honey to produce hydrogen peroxide, the conditions have to be just right. Honey, by itself, will not supply hydrogen peroxide.  So the honey in your cupboard or pantry doesn’t produce hydrogen peroxide.  To become active, the glucose-oxidase requires the right amount of acidity and the right amount of sodium.

Based on honey’s amazing ability to act as a perfect antibacterial ointment, no wonder it is excellent for our skin, hair and body.

According to Woundresearch.com, ” Honey is a biologic wound dressing. Each of the healing-promoting activities can be found separately in pharmaceutical products, but in honey they are all present and work together synergistically to enhance the healing process.” What man-made medical product can you think of that works as efficiently and inexpensively as honey to bring life-saving healing to wounds and infections?  I can’t think of any such creation.