Honey is a homesteader’s dream. Produced as a necessary byproduct of a honey bee colony’s pollination of your precious plants, honey is a fantastic addition to a meal or beverage (or—and we know you do it—for eating right out of the jar). But did you know that honey also can save your life?
Since 50 A.D. (and possibly even earlier), honey has been utilized as a powerful healing agent. Historians track one of the first uses to the Greek physician Dioscorides as a treatment for sunburn and inflamed wounds. Even the Bible references honey’s mystical healing properties.
Honey has powerful wound care capabilities that enable the quick, efficient healing of skin damage and infection. Whether you accidentally burned yourself, have ulcers, or even hosting a small bacterial infection, that delicious jar of honey might be your savior.
Various studies have proven that honey, when used as a topical ointment, not only clears infections but also prevents wounds from spreading infections. Scarring is dramatically reduced, and honey can help remove some of the odors associated with healing wounds. Honey’s anti-inflammatory properties also help to reduce pain.
Not without its faults, honey can become contaminated with germs from plants and bees, as well as during collection and processing. Some bacteria, such as the bacterium that causes botulism, can remain despite honey’s powerful properties, so it’s wise to use honey collected from a germ-free hive that has not been treated with antibiotics. Don’t use honey for wound treatment if it was collected in an area that contains plants treated with pesticides. Although most raw, natural honeys are suitable for use as wound treatment, there are commercial products available to mitigate any risk. Medihoney, a store-bought filtered honey, is an example of an available product that has been treated by gamma-irradiation to reduce the likelihood of contamination.
However, untreated raw honey has such strong germ-fighting properties that most contamination cannot survive. In fact, honey is effective against many antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. These antibacterial properties include the ability of honey to release low levels of hydrogen peroxide (the quantity depending, of course, on the type of honey used). It has even been used as a prophylactic for patients liable to contract MRSA or other antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. It has been reported to inhibit over 60 different types of bacteria, as well as some fungi.
The effectiveness of honey as a topical treatment will vary based on its source. Although any type of honey contains strong antibacterial properties, many physicians argue that Manuka honey or medical grade honey work best at treating infection. Manuka honey is the only variety of honey approved by the United States Federal Drug Administration as a recommended option for wound treatment.
Manuka honey is formed from pollen gathered from the Manuka bush. Typically farmed in New Zealand and Australia, Manuka honey can help clear many common infections. It has the ability to treat serious infections, including scalded skin, rashes, staph infections and even boils. Clover honey is another popular choice as a topical ointment because it contains high amounts of potassium, iron and vitamin B, along with crucial antioxidants to fight disease.
Some may argue that only Manuka or medicinal honey will suffice as topical ointments. However, these claims are typically unfounded. Although these aforementioned types of honey are the most effective at treating wounds, any type of raw honey will work as a wound treatment. Raw honey is that which has not been treated with heat (such as through the pasteurization process). Heat-treated honey loses nutrients and valuable antibacterial properties.
However, do not, under any circumstances, use store-bought Grade A honey for wound care. Store-bought, processed honey often contains high-fructose corn syrup, which can spread infection. Since it has been treated with pasteurization, many of the valuable characteristics of the product are lost, as well.
Before using honey, make sure you thoroughly clean the wound first with warm water, soap and, if possible, rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. Then, apply a healthy layer of honey over the wound. Substantial amounts may be needed, so use as much as possible without making too much of a mess. You should correlate the amount of honey you use to how much fluid is coming out of your wound (gross—but true).
Wrap the wound carefully, being sure to cover any exposed areas. Change your wound dressings whenever the honey becomes too diluted and begins to run. If spreading honey directly on your skin becomes too cumbersome, there are also over-the-counter, prepacked wound dressings that contain honey which are significantly less messy.
The amount of honey required on the wound relates to the amount of fluid exuding from the wound diluting it. The frequency of dressing changes required will depend on how rapidly the honey is being diluted by exudate. If there is no exudate, dressings need to be changed twice weekly to maintain a “reservoir” of antibacterial components as they diffuse into the wound tissues.
Honey is an ideal wound treatment for many homesteaders, as it does not require any refrigeration or special storage. It lasts indefinitely without developing mold or bacteria. Unlike many common antibiotics, honey doesn’t require a prescription, and it has no adverse side-effects. Make sure your first-aid kit and medicine cabinets are fully stocked—and try not to eat all of your supply first!
How have you used honey to heal? Share your tips in the section below: