The health benefits of honey have long been realised by humans to treat a variety of ailments. Honey contains powerful antioxidants with antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Though scientific arguments have been made for use of honey in modern times, its use is still a conventional practice under the practice of "alternate medicine." In modern times, its therapeutic uses have been researched and used in many hospitals. "Milk and honey" has been used as metaphor to explain the religious ethos and the Sun.
The nutritional and medicinal qualities of honey have been documented since ancient times in the Vedas, Greek, Roman, Christian, Islamic and other faiths and cultures. Physicians of ancient times, such as Aristotle (384–322 BC), Aristoxenus (320 BC) Hippocrates, Porphyry, Cornelius Celsus (early first century AD) and Dioscorides (c. 50 AD), and Arab physicians El Mad Joussy and El Basry, have referred to the healing qualities of honey.
In the earliest Hindu Vedic texts, honey and its evolution are described elaborately. It is used as a metaphor to describe the Sun as honeycomb. The bees incubate in the cells to form honey which is called “the nectar of the Sun”. Another metaphor states that the four Vedas, the Hindu scriptures, are represented by the honeycomb which is stated to be "sweet, beautiful, golden like the Sun". It is also described as a "blend of all the Nectars of many flowers." The knowledge of honey represents "oneness of everything." In Hindu rituals, honey is one of the five ingredients of the "five Nectars", the other four are the ghee, milk, sugar and buttermilk. Honey has been used in Ayurveda medicine in India for at least 4000 years and is considered to affect positively in all three primitive material imbalances of the body. In the Ayurvedic system of medicine, within specific bee species, curative honey is categorised under eight distinct types. Overall, more than 634 remedies with honey as an ingredient have been propounded to tackle a wide range of health problems and many of them are said to be of complex formulation. A popular concoction to cure intestinal worms is that of honey with juice of Parrot Tree (Butea monosperma) fruit (called palash in Sanskrit).
Honey has also been used by humans since pre-Ancient Egyptian times to treat a variety of ailments through topical application, but only recently have the antiseptic and antibacterial properties of honey been chemically explained. Ancient Egyptian physicians used honey in medicinal compounds 5,000 years ago and the ancient Greeks believed that honey could promote virility and longevity. Honey has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years and is still important today. Ancient Russian manuscripts attributed great importance to honey as a medicine.
From Biblical times, "milk and honey" have been said to denote fertility. Honey has been part of baptismal ritual traced to about 100 AD.
In ancient Islamic literature, honey bees have been extolled for their "intelligence, industry and creativity." The Koran mentions it as medicine to cure human illness. Prophet Mohammad himself spoke of the healing power of honey as a cure for all mental illness. In the later part of the 12th century, a Muslim physician described the healing powers of honey to disperse body fluids, soothing the bowls, curing dropsy, checking facial twitches, improving appetite, preventing the breakdown of muscles and preserving them.
Juice of Parrot tree and honey an Ayurvedic curative Honey can be traced to the Xin dynasty period of 2000 BC. One of the five medicinal qualities of honey was as a curative for insomnia, practiced from the time of Li Zzen, Ming dynasty physician. In 1000 BC, it was a Saxon herbal treatment for wounds, sties and amputated limbs. In 1446, it was used as the therapeutic drug in combination with alum to treat ulcers, and in 1623, it was used as an antiseptic and a mouthwash. Use of honey as a therapeutic cure in various combinations was popularised in Medieval Europe, in particularly in England, Germany, Finland, and Ireland. It was also extended to Ghana, USA, Nepal, Nigeria, Russia, and Brazil.
It was a gourmet medicine during the Second Balkan War in 1913, healing the wounds of soldiers. Honey from several species of sting-less bees was consumed to cure flu, to cure cataract, glaucoma and cough. In modern times, its use as a healing agent is equally popular. In 2007, in the Manchester Evening News in England, the use of “manuka honey” in a large hospital in New Zealand to control methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA} and other bacterial infections was noted; its antibacterial property to kill or inhibit is supported by many scientific studies in recent years.
Properties Scientists have revealed that honey has powerful anti-bacterial properties on at least sixty species of bacteria, and unlike antibiotics, which are often useless against certain types of bacteria, honey is non-toxic and has strong effects.
The composition of honey includes sugars such as glucose and fructose and also minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium chlorine, sulphur, iron and phosphate. Depending on the quality of the nectar and pollen, the vitamins contained in honey are B1, B2, C, B6, B5 and B3.
The pH of honey is commonly between 3.2 and 4.5. This relatively acidic pH level prevents the growth of many bacteria. The non-peroxide antibiotic activity is due to methylglyoxal (MGO) and an unidentified synergistic component. Most honeys contain very low levels of MGO, but manuka honey contains very high levels. The presence of the synergist in manuka honey more than doubles MGO antibacterial activity. Honey is primarily a saturated mixture of two monosaccharides. This mixture has a low water activity. Most of the water molecules are associated with the sugars and few remain available for microorganisms, so it is a poor environment for their growth. If water is mixed with honey, it loses its low water activity, and therefore, no longer possesses this antimicrobial property. Also, the antioxidant constituents in honey help clean up oxygen free radicals.
C6H12O6 + H2O + O2 → C6H12O7 + H2O2 (glucose oxidase reaction)
When honey is used topically, as, for example, a wound dressing, hydrogen peroxide is produced by dilution of the honey with body fluids. As a result, hydrogen peroxide is released slowly and acts as an antiseptic.
The benefits of honey have been extolled since ancient times by many religious faiths and recorded in ancient scriptures. They can be categorised as nutritional or medicinal.
Nutritional Honey contains invert sugar that has the quality of providing instant energy when consumed. It is also a heart stimulant and a useful food supplement. As a food beverage, it was widely used from the times of "the Bible (both the Old and New Testaments]]), the Talmud, the Koran, the sacred books of India, China, Persia and Egypt." In the Bible, Salomon advocates "My son, eat thou honey, for it is good." According to the Bible, Jonathon, the son of Saul, "had his eyes enlightened with the aid of honey, after which he had a better understanding of the people than his father had. While Jonathan was passing through the woods during the war against the Philistines, he found honey dripping on the ground; he plunged his spear into it, and ate enough to restore his lost strength. He was, however, sentenced to death because he ate honey on a day of abstinence".
Topical honey has been used successfully in a comprehensive treatment of diabetic ulcers when the patient cannot use topical antibiotics. A review in the Cochrane Library suggests that honey could reduce the time it takes for a burn to heal – up to four days sooner in some cases. The review included 19 studies with 2,554 participants.
It is also stated to cure some allergies, particularly localized honey to an area could help minimize seasonal allergies as bees feed on pollen from local plants which eventually finds its way to form honey. Its use for centuries is as a treatment for sore throats and coughs, and according to recent research, may in fact be as effective as many common cough medicines.
Antioxidants in honey have even been implicated in reducing damage to the colon in colitis. Honey appears to be effective in killing drug-resistant biofilms which are implicated in chronic rhinosinusitis. In 2005, researchers at Purdue University revealed that honey was a catalyst to calcium absorption in animals.
Honey is used for skin conditioning using a moisturizing mask and can reduce facial redness and acne. It is also used for conditioning of hair. It is often mixed with olive oil or castor oil for both purposes.