First Aid Tips: Using Honey to Fight Infections

Old wives’ tales are usually little more than archaic practices based on superstitions and observations with little to no scientific foundation. But then, there are some wives’ tales that have been proven to merit continued use and are now backed by science. One of those is the use of honey as a home remedy for stomach ailments, infection control, and wound healing.

The Science

At first, it may seem that honey would promote infection. Why would you want to place sugar made of bee vomit on a wound in the hope that it will help heal said wound? Enter science!

Honey is so thick that it does not allow the free movement of water which takes away bacteria’s breeding ground. After sealing the wound off, the bacteria already in the wound is killed when the secretions from the wound mix with enzymes in the honey. This mixture creates a low level of hydrogen peroxide that kills the bacteria but is mild enough to not harm the healing tissue. If you find honey that was made from the pollen of a plant that has antimicrobial properties, the honey will have those properties as well, giving your honey dressings a third healing action.

Choosing Honey

Manuka flower
Manuka flower

Not all honey is fit for wound treatment. Some is said to promote infection, some will protect, and some will help to heal. The good news though is that the lack of stores makes finding the right honey easier as you want RAW honey. Avoid the store bought processed stuff that is akin to corn syrup.

I know some people who use processed honey to treat wounds on animals with success; however, the FDA has stated that the properties of this type of honey may cause increased infection, and the ones who do use it on their animals see a notable increase in effectiveness when they use raw honey.

On top of raw honey, Manuka honey, named for the plant it is harvested from, is the only one approved by the Food and Drug Administration to be used in a medicinal manner. However, this lonely endorsement is not to say that honeys harvested from other plants will not work.

What to Treat

There are several things that can be treated with honey. As already mentioned, cuts would be one. It is also useful for stomach ulcers, necrotic wounds from diabetes, mild to moderate burns, stubborn coughs, sore throats, and mild stomach bugs.

How to Use the Honey

For stomach bugs, mouth sores, sore throats, or any other ailment to be treated with ingested honey, take 0.5 to 2 teaspoons of honey once per day (studies suggest it is best done at bedtime).

If you are going to apply the honey to a wound or burn, apply 15 to 30 mL to a sterile (or as sterile as you can find) dressing, depending on the size and depth of the wound. The dressings should be changed daily. For some really stubborn infections, the dressing can be left in place for up to 25 days, but should be checked at least every other day. When checking the dressing, you are making sure the honey is still “honey like” and not overly thinned out or cloudy. For topical usage on wounds, the more pus produced by the wound, the more honey will be needed.

Side Effects and Interactions

There are no know interactions with honey; however, if you notice any unusual reactions while taking honey with other medications, consult a doctor (if available) and stop using one or the other until you can identify the issue.  There are very few side effects of honey usage, but they should be noted:

  • Honey should not be given to children under 12 months old, though pregnant and nursing mothers can still ingest honey.
  • If the honey is produced from a plant you are allergic to the pollen of, chances are you will be allergic to the honey as well.
  • Honey from the Rhododendron plant should not be consumed as it is toxic to humans and may cause heart problems.

Quick Notes

All wounds should be flushed well and cleared of debris before any honey or other dressings are applied. Stay away from bee hives and ant hills when using honey. Keep covered to help avoid flies.

If any condition worsens, or an allergic reaction develops, stop use and flush wounds to clear out all honey.

And, the Disclaimer

Any and all information in this article is to be used at your own risk and is not intended to replace the care or advice of a doctor. Any bug bites sustained while covered in honey are not the responsibility of this author, any website or other publication displaying this article, or the manufacturer/producer of the honey, which really leaves the responsibility up to the wearer of said honey and the offending, sweet-toothed bug.

Seth Belt

Seth Belt

Seth grew up in Southern Arizona before joining the U.S. Navy. While serving in the Navy, Seth was an anti-narcotics operator and an anti-submarine operator for 5 years. He was lucky enough to travel to many of the Central and South American countries, as well as visiting many South East Asian nations and islands. One of Seth’s greatest joys from his time in the Navy was teaching new Sailors firearms education and safety. After leaving the Navy in 2010, Seth returned to Arizona and had a rough time learning how to be a civilian again, often working jobs that could barely pay the bills. After going to school, Seth became an Emergency Medical Technician in the Phoenix Valley, where he now lives with his wife and son.His areas of knowledge cover military, firearms, and emergency medicine.
Seth Belt
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2 thoughts on “First Aid Tips: Using Honey to Fight Infections

  1. We are seeing more and more honey preps rx’ed for simple wounds. I have used ‘Medihoney’ TM Manuka honey in treating diabetic ulcers and stage II and III pressure ulcers. Honey is a cost-effective alternative to more expensive topical anti-biotics.
    Thanks for this informative and correct article.

    CG59
    Odessa, TX

    1. Thanks for reading! I find it awesome that there are DR’s out there who are RX’ing honey and that it truely works. Thanks for your input

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