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Honey, a Natural Antibiotic and Antioxidant

Photo Credit: Honey, originally uploaded by Blinc.

Honey is a potent antibiotic and antioxidant. Honey has been shown to inhibit bacterial growth and in some cases, it is superior to antibiotics. It is extremely valuable in wound healing and may be able to avert amputation of an infected limb. It also has powerful antioxidant properties. Darker colored honey, particularly Manuka honey from New Zealand, has the most efficacious antibacterial and antioxidant properties.

Honey is a substance arising from the diligent enterprise of bees. From the gathering of nectar from flowers, the mixing of saliva, and the fluttering of thousands of wings to prevent fermentation, honey is the product of laborious love. The use of honey dates back to antiquity. In the 5th-4th century BC Greece, Plato advocated the use of honey in his dietary recommendations for its health and nutritional benefits. Honey was reputed to inspire artistic epiphanies and moments of poetic insight. In Egypt, honey was the most common medicinal. In fact, 500 out of 900 ancient Egyptian remedies incorporate honey as a main ingredient. The ancient Romans, Assyrians, Chinese, Greeks, and Egyptians utilized honey for gastrointestinal disturbances and wound healing.

Given that the use of honey, dates back to the nascence of civilization, the mechanisms by which honey exerts its illustrious effects are worth considering. Honey exerts an antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and antioxidant effect, to name but a few. Undiluted honey has been shown to inhibit the growth of bacteria such as S. aureus and the common fungus Candida albicans. In concentrations of 40% honey has been shown to inhibit bacteria, such as E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella, and Vibrio cholera. In concentrations of 30-50%, honey has been shown to be superior to many antibiotics in inhibiting growth from 9 urinary pathogens, which commonly cause Urinary tract infections.

Honey has also been extremely important in the treatment of surgical wounds, decubitus ulcers, and burns. In West Africa, the use of honey on non-healing ulcers was able to avoid amputation. A study in South Africa compared the use of Intrasite gel and honey for wound healing and found no difference between the two. Honey was shown to be as effective as the gel. However, the cost of the use of honey was 4% that of the Intrasite gel. The cost-effectiveness of honey is to be appreciated, especially with staggering medical costs and in communities with limited resources.

Honey is particularly useful against emerging antibiotic-resistant pathogens. Part of the antimicrobial property of honey is due to it high osmolarity. Osmolarity is the concentration of the number of particles in a solution. However, substances like sugar, which also have a high osmolarity, become diluted by body fluids when they are used as dressings for wounds. Honey has additional antimicrobial properties.

These additional antimicrobial properties are highly dependent on the floral origin and processing of the honey. Manuka honey from New Zealand has extremely high antimicrobial properties because of a unique phytochemical. In contrast, pasture honey has antimicrobial properties due to hydrogen peroxide in the honey. Hydrogen peroxide is deactivated by the enzyme catalase. In darker colored honey; such as Manuka honey, catalase had no effects on the inhibition of bacterial growth. Of importance is that in human blood and tissues, hydrogen peroxide is easily metabolized and deactivated by the enzyme catalase. Therefore, for use in human beings, Manuka honey may prove to be more clinically relevant. Aside from hydrogen peroxide, other antimicrobial substances in honey include flavenoids and phenols.

Phenols are also the major antioxidant component of honey. Honeys from different sources contain different antioxidant capacities. Darker honey, such as buckwheat honey has the highest antioxidant capacity. A study looked at the antioxidant and reducing capacity of human plasma after consumption of corn syrup versus buckwheat honey. The corn syrup contained 0.2mg of phenolic acid per gram and the buckwheat honey contained 0.8-1.7mg of phenolic acid per gram. After consumption of honey, plasma phenolic acid concentration increased significantly as did oxygen reducing and antioxidant capacities. This suggests that the antioxidants found in honey are available for the body to use.

Of note: honey should not be fed to infants because of risk of ingestion of bacterial spores which can cause Infant botulinum.


  1. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition
  2. Pub Med
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  4. South African Medical Journal
  5. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry
  6. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry
  7. ScienceDirect
  8. Pub Med


  Save the Bees wrote @ March 29th, 2007 at 9:50 am

Please read the sections under “The Enslavement of Bees” and “Stealing Honey”

  neelam wrote @ March 29th, 2007 at 6:06 pm

Thank you for the link. Being a vegetarian for over 20 years, I can appreciate your humanity towards other sentient beings. I was actually looking for compassionate harvesting of honey. As noted in your link, more traditional,non-western ways of harvesting honey seem more respectful of the bees and the environment. Do you know of an individual, company, or manufacturer of compassionately harvested honey? I think that the present ills of the honey industry is a pandemic across most manufactured and large-scale industrial products in the western world. It is essential that we support humane and responsible business practices with mindful choices. Thank you,again, for your enlightening link.

  Minutia wrote @ June 27th, 2008 at 6:46 pm

You should also consider the use of local honey. Local honey is typically harvested in a non-invasive way and has additional benefits. Because the pollen in your area has been harvested, local honey will have allergens that will allow allergy sufferers to build up a resistance to the local pollen. Ask around your local harvesters and see how they harvest their honey. It’s worth a try!

  neelam wrote @ June 28th, 2008 at 5:55 am

Hi Minutia,

Thank you for your suggestion. We have a local farmer’s market every weekend, and I will inquire about the locally harvested honey. I did not know about the immune benefits, but it makes sense. Thank you so much for sharing such valuable information.


  Rhonda wrote @ May 9th, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Good article of information, thank You!
I just Love the benefits of all Natural Cures being the only cures I use for sicknesses that people would normally run to get medications. HAHA FDA, some of us in the masses are not conforming to your drugs. Big drug corp drug pushers! No wonder they don’t approve all natural products. They have most of America on drugs! I rarely ever get sick, but right now me & my daughter are sick with a cold. Honey mixed with cider vinegar cure along with a couple other things are working for us. No fears of side effects and is way cheaper too! I will be showing my daughter this article because she fights me some on the taste of the honey and cider even though she’s 19 and not a kid anymore…Plus to teach her more.
Too bad there’s not many honey bees left! They say between cell phone signals, pesticides and other things, we’ve managed to wipe out the honey bee population to basically scarce, as if you look around outside you rarely see them. I live in Florida, so I should see many but only see a real honey bee once twice per year! Without the honey bees, we’re all screwed!
I heard Israel made a “super bee” breed, so Idk.

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