Medicinal Honey

Medicinal Honey

Exploring Manuka Honey & Jelly Bush Honey for Health

The therapeutic use of honey can be traced as far back as early Egyptian civilizations. Despite this long traditional use, it was not until the twentieth century that honey proved its worth in scientific trials. In the past 100 years countless studies have shown manuka honey and other medicinal honeys to offer an effective treatment of coughs, sore throats, burns, wounds and ulceration with far less side effects than other topical treatments such as silver sulfadiazine.

Honey & Coughs

Honey has also been found to be equally effective as cough medicines for soothing coughs. This research paper highlights that most prescribed and over-the-counter preparations for cough in children are not effective and might carry the risk of adverse events. A single dose of honey before bedtime was shown to diminish cough and the discomfort experienced by children and their parents. And only regular honey was used in this study, so we can imagine that medicinal honey would be even better!

Honey & Wounds

Honey’s wound healing properties are attributed to osmolarity, pH, hydrogen peroxide production and nutrient content. The high osmolarity of honey draws excess fluid from the wound helping relieve inflammation. pH refers to the level of acidity and alkalinity of an environment. The low pH of honey creates an acidic environment that reduces bacterial growth and stimulates wound healing. These factors work synergistically in creating a favourable environment in the wound bed during the early stages of healing.

Manuka Honey

Not all honey is created equal.  Manuka honey comes from flower nectar of the manuka bush Leptospermum scoparium, a plant indigenous to New Zealand. Although all honey possesses generalised antibacterial activity, Manuka honey is a cut above. These unique antibacterial and antifungal properties, discovered by researchers in 1981, is what sets this honey apart from the rest. New Zealand native bees do not produce honey, however, the European honey bee was introduced to New Zealand and became the source of local medicinal honeys.

Jelly Bush Honey

Australian Jelly Bush honey also possesses similar antibacterial properties to Manuka honey. The Jelly Bush or Golden Tea Tree plant, Leptospermum polygalifolium, grows in certain areas of the coast between Kempsey and Bribie Island as well as in Far North Queensland. Tasting a lot like paperbark honey, with a strong malt taste, Jelly Bush honey is only produced in the spring when the coastal heath explodes into a shower of tiny flowers that the local bees love. Some say that Australian Jelly Bush does not crystallise as readily like its competition across the Tasman, making it superior for skin wounds that refuse to heal. The Australian Aborigines have a long history of using native bees - harvesting both honey, pollen and wax for many applications. See this article for more info.

How Medicinal Honey Works

The chemical compounds hydrogen peroxide, methylglyoxal and dihydroxyacetone give active honeys their antibacterial power. These compounds, also known as the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) is what Manuka honey is graded on. So far researchers world wide have not been able to identify all the exact compounds in the plant that the bees harvest and are specifically responsible for the efficacy of the active honey.

Image courtesy of Dr Ben McKee, Managing Director of Capilano Honey Ltd (2018)

Methylglyoxal (MGO) has been shown to be effective against the following bacteria infamous for causing skin infections, leg ulcers and peptic ulcers:

  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus
  • Psuedomonas aeurginosa
  • Proteus mirabilis
  • Enterobacter cloacae
  • Helicobacter pylori

 

Grading System

Most manuka honeys use the UMF grading system. This grading system was set up by the UMF Honey Association of New Zealand (UMFHA) to ensure industry standards.  Another standard commonly referenced is the MGO level or methylglyoxal content.

Below is a conversion chart to help understand the two systems:

Image courtesy of Comvita (2018)

Active Honey Doesn’t Come Cheap!

The price of manuka honey is dependent upon the UMF or MGO rating. A higher rating denotes that the honey has a greater therapeutic effect and therefore a higher price. Because there are two grading systems, it is easy to get confused between what each means. UMF is largely thought of as the better grading system because it not only takes into account the methylglyoxal content but also the hydrogen peroxide and dioxyacetone levels. In a nutshell the higher the number, the better the honey. Active honey can range in price from $20 to $80 for a 250g jar – depending on its activity rating. I stock the Active Jelly Bush Honey in my Buderim clinic for $35 for UMF 15.

So while we need to be mindful of consuming too much sugar and honey is no different, active honeys from Manuka or Jelly Bush offer health benefits as well as a sweet taste.  Using these honeys topically on wounds, for inflammation and for a local antiseptic action on sore throats or for coughs is a great way of getting a simple natural remedy we can use at home!

 

 

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