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Product Review: Honey's Soothing Balm
Maybe those bears are on to something.

Honey, an old bear favorite, has recently been rediscovered as an effective treatment for various types of wounds and burns. An age-old remedy that had been widely used for centuries for dressing wounds, honey was supplanted in recent years by the antibiotic dressings developed during World War II.

Now honey is staging a comeback, thanks to recent research illuminating its remarkable wound-healing properties and the increasing problems posed by wounds that are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Healing Properties

Several studies in recent years have reported on the use of honey to treat wounds, burns, and postoperative infections. For example, in 1998 an Indian researcher described striking evidence of honey's effectiveness as a wound dressing. In this study, honey was compared with standard silver sulfadiazine dressing in two groups of patients with superficial burns. The honey dressing yielded superior results: quicker wound healing, better control of infection, and more rapid disappearance of the inflammation.

A 1999 study in Yemen also found that applying crude undiluted honey to infected surgical incisions eradicated the infections and allowed the wounds to heal much more quickly than standard antiseptic therapy. The honey-treated wounds healed completely in 11 days versus 22 days for wounds treated with antiseptics. And a couple of years ago, Israeli researchers used fresh, unprocessed honey to treat open, infected surgical wounds in infants. Although the babies' wounds had failed to heal after conventional antibiotics, 21 days of honey therapy rendered them closed, clean, and sterile.

And just this April, a report in Nursing Times described an impressive case in which honey helped heal wounds resulting from a serious bacterial blood infection. The patient, a 15-year-old boy, had several infected lesions on his legs that had not healed despite nine months of intensive therapy in the hospital using standard dressings. After the switch to honey dressings, the wounds began to improve, and within 10 weeks all the lesions had completely healed.

How Sweet It Is

Based on such positive research findings, Australian health authorities recently approved a product called "Medihoney" for the home treatment of wounds and infections. This product is a form of crude unprocessed honey obtained from bees that harvest the pollen of a specific tree in New Zealand--the Leptospermum, or manuka, tree.

What exactly accounts for honey's remarkable healing powers? Well, it has several beneficial properties:

 It is highly viscous, forming a barrier to prevent wound infection.

 It creates a moist environment, enabling skin cells to grow across the wound without forming a scar.

 It stimulates regrowth of tissue under the skin surface.

 It has an anti-inflammatory effect, reducing swelling and pain.

 It shows a strong antibacterial effect, helping eradicate infection.

Although most varieties of crude honey produce an antibacterial effect by releasing hydrogen peroxide, manuka honey has an additional and different type of antibacterial activity, reports Peter Molan, Ph.D., an associate professor of biology at the University of Waikato in New Zealand and an expert on the use of honey for wound therapy. The additional antibacterial component, termed "unique manuka factor," has not yet been identified, but it is known to be about the size of sugar molecules and to penetrate the skin rapidly, according to Dr. Molan.

The only type of honey shown to be effective in treating wounds is crude unprocessed honey, not the commercial varieties sold in the supermarket. When using Medihoney or another form of raw unprocessed honey to treat a minor cut or burn, you should spread it on a dressing pad and then apply it to the wound, ensuring that the surface of the wound is evenly covered.

Where to Buy It Medihoney is available in drugstores in Australia and can be obtained over the Internet in the United States ( A tube containing 5 grams of honey costs $18.50.

Date Published: 06/30/2002
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