Honey has been appreciated as food since the dawn of history, and undoubtedly long before. Its medicinal use is also ancient. The Greek physician Hippocrates recommended topical application of honey for infected wounds and ulcers of the lips; Roman physicians used honey as an oral medication for constipation, diarrhea, upset stomach, sore throat and coughs.

What Is Honey Used for Today?

Honey consists largely of fructose and glucose, two related forms of sugar. Its sugar concentration is high enough to kill microorganisms in the same manner as the sugar in jams and jellies. This would appear to be the primary basis for honey's most studied use: as a topical application to treat or prevent infection.

In preliminary controlled trials, honey has shown some promise for treating abcesses, 3 , diabetic foot ulcers, 19minor abrasions , 17 and post-operative wound infections, 7 as well as for preventing infections following surgery 9 and catheter infections in people undergoing hemodialysis. 10 In most of these studies, honey was not used alone but combined with standard treatments, such as oral or topical antibiotics or surgical debridement (removal of dead tissue). Not all studies show clear benefit , however. O ne trial found that antibacterial honey (Medihoney) did not significantly improve wound healing in 105 patients mostly suffering from leg ulcers. 20 The best evidence is probably for the acute treatment of minor burns, 4-6,18 though the studies supporting this use remain inconclusive.

Sugar paste too has shown promise as a wound treatment. However, some evidence hints that honey may be more effective than concentrated sugar. 1 If true, this suggests that additional non-sugar constituents of honey provide benefit. It is often stated in honey-related literature that honey produces hydrogen peroxide, and that this explains additional benefit. However, there is no evidence that honey produces sufficient hydrogen peroxide to have any meaningful effect. Another theory is that honey might stimulate healing. 2

Other uses of honey have also shown some promise. In one study, when participants regularly chewed "honey leather" their inflammation of the gums ( gingivitis ) decreased. 11

Oral consumption of honey might have a slight laxative effect. 14 Honey taken by mouth might also increase the body's ability to metabolize alcohol, thereby limiting intoxication and more rapidly reducing alcohol blood levels. 12 Finally, one study hints that honey might improve cholesterol profile and blood sugar levels. 13

It has been suggested that consumption of honey can reduces symptoms of hay fever . However, the one published study designed to test this suggestion failed to find benefit. 15


When used topically to treat burns, honey is generally applied either directly to the wound in a thin coat, or in the form of a honey-soaked dressing.

Oral dosages of honey for medicinal purposes range from 1 to 5 tablespoons several times daily.

Safety Issues

As a widely consumed food, honey is believed to be quite safe. However, infants younger than 12 months should not consume honey, due to the risk of infant botulism.

Honey may contain slight amounts of pollen. However, it appears that allergy to honey is uncommon among pollen-allergic people. 16