Modern man is pretty savvy – we can explore space, cure diseases and we practically have the entirety of human knowledge in our pockets. But our ancient ancestors were geniuses of the natural world. For instance, through careful scientific analysis we know that honey is packed with impressive compounds that have antioxidant, humectant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties; in fact, early Greek, Roman, Vedic, and Islamic texts all touted honey’s benefits long before lab coats and spectrometry came into play.
Meanwhile, science has given us more synthetic chemicals than our bodies know what to do with. So why not kick those chemicals to the curb and follow the lead of generations past by putting honey to use for its healthy benefits?
With a tip of the hat to the bees that provide us with this incredible ingredient, here are just a few of the ways in which honey can be used as a potent natural remedy.
1. Wound salve
Many studies have found honey to be effective in treating wounds. In one study, a therapeutic honey and Norwegian forest honey were found to kill all strains of bacteria in wounds. And other studies confirm that honey promotes healing and in some cases, gets rid of and prevents infection when other treatments fail. WebMD advises applying honey directly to the wound or to the dressing. When used directly, apply 15 to 30 milliliters (3 to 6 teaspoons) to the wound, then cover with sterile gauze and bandages or a polyurethane dressing; change the dressing every 12 to 48 hours. (Note: In general, the darker the honey, the stronger its antibacterial and antioxidant power.)
2. Dandruff treatment
Honey to fix dandruff? At least one study agrees. Patients with chronic seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff were given topical treatments of honey; for all of the patients, itching was relieved and scaling disappeared within one week. Skin lesions were completely healed within two weeks, and patients showed subjective improvement in hair loss as well.
Try this at home: Mix 90 percent honey with 10 percent warm water and rub into the scalp for a few minutes. Cover with a shower cap and leave on for three hours, then rinse. Do this every other day for four weeks, after which the treatment can be done once a week to prevent relapse.
3. Cough suppressant
There’s a reason so many cough medicines are flavored with honey — it’s a great natural cough tamer. One study found that buckwheat honey outperformed the cough suppressant dextromethorphan (DM) in combating nighttime coughs in kids. In another study, researchers gave children with colds 2 teaspoons of honey 30 minutes before bed – they coughed less frequently and less severely when compared to those who didn't get honey. You can take honey straight to treat a cough, using between 1/2 teaspoon and 2 teaspoons, or you can make a cough syrup like this one, created by Nurse Barb for the National Honey Board:
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon zest
1/4 cup sliced ginger
1 cup water
1 cup honey
1/2 cup lemon juice
Add all ingredients except honey to a small pan, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain into a heat-proof vessel. Heat honey on low, making sure it doesn't boil, and then stir it into the other mixture. Pour into a clean jar and seal. This mixture can be refrigerated for up to two months.
For children 1 to 5 years: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon every two hours
For children 5 to 12 years: 1-2 teaspoon every two hours
For children 12 and older and adults: 1 to 2 tablespoons every 4 hours
4. Eyelash balm
A honey-based makeup remover is a treat for eyelashes. (Photo: Gang Liu/Shutterstock)
Because eyelashes need love too! But this formula (also from the National Honey Board) plays double-duty as an effective (not to mention affordable and natural) eye makeup remover as well.
1 teaspoon honey
3 teaspoons castor oil
Mix honey and castor oil in a sterilized, small bowl or jar and cover. Let it sit in a cool place for a week, stirring occasionally, until it reaches a smooth, homogenous consistency. Use nightly to remove makeup and make your lashes lush.
5. Burn treatment
In a number of studies, scientists have found that honey’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties may promote healing of small burns; and in fact, nonserious burns healed faster when treated with gauze and honey, on average, than those treated with antibiotic creams and other dressings. A paper published by the National Institutes of Health notes why honey is so effective for this – namely, because of its antibacterial action, low pH, high viscosity, hygroscopic effect, and hydrogen peroxide content. For treatment, you can follow the same instructions as those listed for wound healing above. (And of course, serious burns should be seen by a medical professional.)
6. Sunburn remedy
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
Combine the ingredients and apply to sunburned skin; leave on for 10 minutes before rinsing with tepid water.
7. Blood booster
According to the Mayo Clinic, honey may hold promise as way to prevent low white blood cell count caused by chemotherapy. In one trial, 40 percent of cancer patients who were at risk of neutropenia (very low levels of a specific white blood cell) had no further episodes of the condition after taking 2 teaspoons of honey daily during chemotherapy.
8. Face food
Honey and aloe are the perfect allies for your skin. (Photo: joannawnuk/Shutterstock)
Honey’s properties make it especially agreeable for the skin; this method will feed your face with a one-two punch of soothing aloe and healing honey. Take an aloe vera leaf and slice it open, then spread honey on the surface. Gently rub the honey side on your face for a few minutes, spreading the aloe-honey mixture evenly. Leave on for 15 minutes and then rinse with cool water.
9. Dry hair treatment
Honey’s humectant qualities make it a great match for treating dry hair. This formula from Sue Bee Honey will condition even the driest of locks.
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup olive oil (for normal to oily hair, use only 2 tablespoons oil)
Mix together oil and honey and gently work through hair. Cover with a shower cap and leave on for 30 minutes. Rinse, shampoo and style as usual.
10. Allergy fighter
The scientific jury is still out on this one, but the premise is that by consuming local honey (which naturally includes small amounts of local pollen) you can build up your immunity to seasonal allergens. A few studies have concluded that this claim has little merit, but many holistic enthusiasts heartily disagree. Either way, dosage recommendations include consuming 2 teaspoons of honey daily – and to do so with patience, proponents say it can take up to six weeks to start working.
For serious medical conditions, see your doctor. And remember, due to the risk of botulism in infants, pediatricians strongly advise against feeding honey to children until after their first birthday.
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