This one, sweet word can serve as a term of endearment, conjure the taste of divine nectar on your tongue, and describe a very potent medicine, but not all honey is the same. You’ve probably heard of manuka honey, but do you know what makes it different and why it has become all the rage in the world of healing and wellness? It may be trendy stuff, but there’s impressive and emerging science behind it. Here’s what you should know about manuka honey, and what you can do with a jar of it at home.
Honey has been used for centuries to treat wounds, and we now know that it is naturally antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. There are at two main reasons for the antibacterial qualities of normal honey. First, it has a very high sugar concentration and a low pH, a combination that makes it difficult for bacteria to thrive. Second, when honey comes in contact with human skin or fluids, the higher pH and presence of sodium activate an enzyme in honey called glucose oxidase, which breaks down glucose and releases hydrogen peroxide. Isn’t that INSANE?? Hydrogen peroxide! The same stuff your mother poured on your cuts as a kid as you whimpered and watched it foam! So, when you apply honey to a cut or a scrape, the honey both disinfects the wound and protects it from infection. (I hope that is the coolest thing you’ve learned all week!!)
Manuka honey, which is produced in New Zealand and Australia by bees that pollinate the manuka bush (Leptospermum scoparium, pictured above), works a little differently. Back in the 1980s, Professor Peter Molan at Waikato University in New Zealand noticed that the local manuka honey seemed to have WAY more antibacterial activity than other honey, so he started investigating. What he discovered is that manuka honey is very high in a compound called methylglyoxal, which is one of the main factors responsible for its antibacterial potency.
Why should this matter to you? Well, if you’re interested in medicine, this stuff is mind-blowing (even to a physician like me). Research has now shown that active manuka honey can effectively inhibit the growth of almost all known human pathogens, including those becoming resistant to antibiotics, like Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli and Clostridium difficile. This has huge implications in wound-healing, especially because bacteria do not seem to develop resistance to manuka honey over time. Some studies even indicate that the use of manuka honey alongside traditional antibiotics may decrease the development of resistant strains - something about which we should all be concerned! (Please tell me you’ve gotten rid of your antibacterial hand soap by now?)
In addition to wound-healing applications, manuka honey has the ability to penetrate biofilm, which is a protective layer formed by certain bacteria, and is difficult for most antibiotics to penetrate. Biofilms form on mucosal surfaces (like your esophagus or stomach), in wounds, on your teeth (making gingivitis harder to treat), and on implanted medical devices like mechanical heart valves. The science is very young in this area, but it’s ripe for exploration by forward-thinking researchers.
Because not all manuka honey is high in methylglyoxal, a need for standardization arose. The Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association was established, and now provides a trademarked UMF rating system for manuka honey: in order for manuka honey to be considered “active”, it must have a UMF rating of 10 or greater, indicating a certain level of antibacterial activity - the higher the rating, the greater the activity.
Even if you don’t care about medical progress, you can incorporate manuka honey into your home health and wellness routines. When looking for a manuka honey to purchase, make sure you see a UMF rating or logo - it guarantees a pure, unadulterated product, and there are lots of manuka scammers out there! It’s expensive stuff, and the busy bees have to visit about four million flowers to make each kilogram of honey, so be sure to use it well and wisely. Here are some ways to use this incredible healer in your home.
- Wash your face with manuka honey once a week. Use a teaspoon of honey on damp skin, and massage into your face and neck with clean hands. Remove with a clean, wet cloth.
- Try a manuka honey mask once a month - apply two teaspoons of honey to freshly-washed skin and leave for 15 minutes. Wipe or rinse clean - you may not even need a moisturizer afterwards. (We also LOVE honey mixed with our adzuki and quinoa mask with a little hot water - try it and post a pic on Instagram!)
- Heal your cracked lips with a dab of raw manuka, especially at bedtime (try not to lick it off). Or, of course, you can use our Lip Repair, which combines raw manuka honey with cupuacu butter and myrrh for incredible healing potency.
- If you have cracks at the corners of your mouth (angular cheilitis), a Q-tip with tea tree oil at one end and manuka at the other works like a tiny magic wand - dab the tea tree oil first, and follow with the honey.
First Aid Kit
- Manuka honey in lukewarm water can be very soothing to an irritated throat. Gargle for 60 seconds and swallow, and do not eat or drink for 20 minutes afterwards.
- Two teaspoons of manuka or buckwheat honey at bedtime can help suppress a cough overnight. Note: do not give raw honey to children under one year of age.
- If you have heartburn, try drinking a tea made from fresh ginger root and manuka honey - wait for it to be lukewarm, and drink an hour before bedtime every night.
- Apply a thin layer of manuka honey to cuts, scrapes, or superficial burns, and cover with a clean band-aid. Repeat 1-2 times per day until healed.
- Because manuka honey is antibacterial and can penetrate biofilms, try using manuka honey with a bit of warm water as a mouthwash to improve your dental health, especially if you have periodontal disease.
Try oil-pulling with a combination of coconut oil and manuka honey. See if your dentist notices a difference on your next visit!
Last note: be sure you’re buying all of your honey from responsible suppliers who care about the health of the bees! Colony collapse is a frightening problem, and we need to do all we can to protect them and their critical work in the world.
With love and buzzing health from us to you,
Sarah + The Osmia Crew
Note: An abbreviated version of this post was originally published on Mind Body Green - read it here.