Written by Rena Goldman
Medically Reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE on February 19, 2015
Honey naturally contains nutrients and enzymes that have a variety of health benefits and medical uses. Perhaps that’s why it has been used as a folk remedy throughout history. Today, honey is still a popular food and is even used in some hospitals as a medical treatment for wounds. However, these health benefits are specific to unpasteurized honey.
Manufacturers process most of the honey you find in grocery stores. Heating the honey helps improve the color and texture, and removes any unwanted crystallization. Many of the beneficial antioxidants and bacteria are also removed or destroyed in the process.
If you’re interested in trying raw honey, buy it from a trusted local producer. In the meantime, check out some of the health benefits raw honey has to offer:
- A Good Source of Antioxidants
Raw honey contains antioxidants called phenolic compounds. Some types of honey have as many antioxidants as fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants help to protect your body from cell damage due to free radicals.
Free radicals contribute to the aging process and may also contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Studies show that polyphenols in honey may play a role in preventing heart disease.
- Antibacterial and Antifungal Properties
Raw honey can kill unwanted bacteria and fungus. It naturally contains hydrogen peroxide, an antiseptic. Several hospitals in Europe have used Manuka honey to fight methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a type of staph bacterial infection that’s become resistant to antibiotics. The effectiveness of honey as an antibacterial or antifungal depends on the type of honey.
Did You Know?
The exact ingredients of honey depend on which plants bees get their nectar from.
- Heal Wounds
Manuka honey is also used in medical settings to treat wounds because it’s an effective germ killer. Researchers believe this is because it has additional antibacterial properties besides the natural hydrogen peroxide.
Studies show that Manuka honey can boost healing time and reduce infections in wounds. However, the honey used in hospital settings is medical grade, meaning it’s safe and sterile. You shouldn’t expect to treat injuries with the honey you buy from a grocery store.
- Filled with Phytonutrients
Phytonutrients are compounds found in plants that help protect the plant from harm. For example, some may keep insects away or shield the plant from harsh UV radiation.
Phytonutrients provide both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, which help you maintain good health. Because honey is made from plants, it also has phytonutrients. These valuable nutrients are unique to raw honey and disappear when honey is heavily processed.
- Help for Digestive Issues
Honey is sometimes used to treat digestive issues such as diarrhea, though there isn’t much research to show that it works. However, it’s proven to be effective as a treatment for Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a common cause of peptic ulcers. (Peptic ulcers occur in the stomach or digestive system.) Taking 1-2 teaspoons on an empty stomach is said to soothe pain and help with the healing process.
- Soothe a Sore Throat
Have a cold? Try a spoonful of honey. Honey is an old sore throat remedy. Try adding it to hot tea with lemon. It also works as a cough suppressant.
Research shows that honey is as effective as dextromethorphan, a common over-the-counter cough medicine ingredient, in treating a cough. Just eat one or two teaspoons straight.
Are There Any Risks?
In addition to beneficial bacteria and nutrients, raw honey can also carry harmful bacteria such as botulism. This is particularly dangerous for babies, so you should never feed raw honey to babies less than a year old.
Botulism causes symptoms similar to food poisoning (e.g. nausea, vomiting, fever) in adults. See your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms after eating raw honey.