In The Benevolent Bee (Quarto Publishing Group) beekeeper, herbalist, and artist Stephanie Bruneau explores six amazing products of the honeybee hive—honey, pollen, propolis, royal jelly, beeswax, and bee venom.
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With a shelf life of “forever” and healing qualities that seem supernatural, honey has been used for ages in nutrition, health, and healing. Is it magic? Maybe! But it’s also science. In more recent times, scientific study has helped us understand some of the reasons why this golden healer is so healthful and helpful.
Raw honey has been found to be antifungal, antiviral, and strongly antibacterial—so strongly antibacterial, in fact, that it can inhibit the growth of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, like MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). “The unique property of honey lies in its ability to fight infection on multiple levels, making it more difficult for bacteria to develop resistance,” says researcher Susan M. Meschwitz, speaking about findings from her study on honey’s antibiotic properties, in a presentation at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.
The Science Behind the Magic of Honey Healing
So how does honey work its magic? First, honey is hygroscopic, meaning it attracts and retains moisture from everything it comes into contact with, including bacteria and microbes. Researchers say you can watch this process under the microscope, cheering at the microscopic victory as honey sucks the water out of the bacteria, rendering it inert. Second, with a pH between 3.2 and 4.5, honey is slightly acidic, a quality that inhibits the growth of pathogens. Honey also contains glucose oxidase, an enzyme transferred to the honey from the bees’ stomachs. Glucose oxidase releases hydrogen peroxide, which is strongly antibacterial.
Honey and Gut Health
Honey can help encourage balance in the gut. Manuka honey has been shown effective in preventing the growth of H. pylori, the bacteria that is responsible for most stomach ulcers and much abdominal discomfort. And in addition to discouraging bad bacteria, honey has been found to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus, which have been shown to feed on honey as a “prebiotic;” they become more plentiful and stronger with honey as a food source. This makes honey useful for individuals struggling with a bacterial imbalance, such as thrush or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The enzymes in honey have also been shown to aid digestion and boost the assimilation of nutrients from the food we eat.
Honey and Burns
Used topically, honey is an effective treatment for burns, and has modern scientific backing. A study in the Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery (2011) found that treating burns with honey instead of the standard treatment of silver sulfadiazine could cut healing time almost in half (from an average of 32 days to an average of 18 days). Derma Sciences, a medical device company, has been marketing and selling a product called MEDIHONEY—bandages covered in honey—that is now used in hospitals around the world.
To use honey on burns, first run the burn under cool (but not cold) tap water immediately to reduce the temperature. Next, apply honey directly onto the burn, or soak gauze in honey and apply that to the burn. Then, wrap a secondary dressing on top of the first layer of gauze to prevent the honey from oozing out. Change the dressing once or twice daily.
Note: Serious burns require immediate medical attention. If your burn is larger than 1 inch (2.5 cm), or if you suspect you have a third-degree burn, seek medical attention and do not attempt to treat it on your own.
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Reprinted with permission from the Quarto Publishing Group, excerpted from The Benevolent Bee by Stephanie Bruneau published by Quarry Books, 2017