For more than three thousand years, honey has been used to treat a variety of ailments through topical and oral application.
Assyrian relics, for examples, show that honey was used as a medicine, and similar medical usage was reported in ancient Egyptian annals, which stated that honey aids the healing process of wounds and in treating abdominal and urinal ailments, in addition to its use for ophthalmologic application.
Ancient Chinese medicine prescribed the usage of honey for treating smallpox patients. Honey was applied to affected skin to accelerate the healing of erupted pustules and help reducing scarring.
The ancient practice of medicine in India included honey for treating cataracts. The famous Hippocrates used to treat wounds with honey, and prescribed it for strep throats, coughing, and to dry up phlegm.
Muslims expanded the usage of honey in medicine, guided by the revelation in the ’Qura~n:
“And your Lord inspired the bee saying: “Take your habitations in the mountains and in the trees and in what they (men) erect. Then, eat of all fruits, and follow the ways of your Lord made easy (for you).” There comes forth from their bellies, a drink of varying colour wherein is healing for mankind. Verily, in this is indeed a sign for people who think.” (chapter of Anna’hl: 68-69)
And by the following Hadeeths (sayings) of the Prophet (P.B.U.H):
“Healing is in three things: A gulp of honey, cupping, and branding with fire (cauterising).” But I forbid my followers to use (cauterisation) branding with fire.” (Albu’kaary: Volume 7, Book 71, Number 584)
“Use the two remedies, namely, honey and ’Qura~n.” (Ibn Maajah: Volume 3, Book 31, Number 3443)
“A man came to the Prophet (P.B.U.H) and said: “My brother has some abdominal trouble.” The Prophet (P.B.U.H) said to him “Let him drink honey.” The man came for the second time and the Prophet (P.B.U.H) said to him, ‘Let him drink honey.” He came for the third time and the Prophet (P.B.U.H) said, “Let him drink honey.” He returned again and said, “I have done that ‘ The Prophet (P.B.U.H) then said, “Allaah has said the truth, but your brother’s abdomen has told a lie. Let him drink honey.” So he made him drink honey and he was cured.” (Albu’kaary: Volume 7, Book 71, Number 588)
The medical benefit of honey was ascertained by science, which identified many of the healing effects of honey.
Composition of Honey
Honey is a mixture of sugars and other compounds. With respect to carbohydrates, honey is mainly fructose (about 38.5%) and glucose (about 31.0%). The remaining carbohydrates include maltose, sucrose, and other complex carbohydrates.
In addition, honey contains a wide array of vitamins, such as vitamin B6, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid. Essential minerals including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and zinc as well as several different amino acids have been identified in honey.
Honey also contains several compounds which function as antioxidants. Known antioxidant compounds in honey are chrysin, pinobanksin, vitamin C, catalase, and pinocembrin. Unlike most other sweeteners, honey contains small amounts of a wide array of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants.
The specific composition of any batch of honey will depend largely on the mix of flowers consumed by the bees that produced the honey.
Honey has a density of about 1.5 kg/litre (50% denser than water) or 12.5 pounds per US gallon.
Typical Honey Analysis:
• Fructose: 38%
• Glucose: 31%
• Sucrose: 1%
• Water: 17%
• Other sugars: 9% (maltose, melezitose)
• Ash: 0.17%
The analysis of the sugar content of honey is used for detecting adulteration.
Medicinal Uses of Honey
Honey is an essential and attractive nutrient for many factors, both nutritional and medicinal. Honey is:
• Gentle on the digestive system;
• Largely made up of simple sugar, which is quickly digested;
• Not harmful to the kidneys at all;
• Calming to the nervous system without side effects;
• Of agreeable taste to most.
Honey’s medicinal usage is in both prevention and treatment, such as in:
Honey is known to have some significant nutraceutical effects (or positive long-term health effects resulting from honey’s consumption). In addition to its primary carbohydrate content, honey often contains polyphenols, which can act as antioxidants, which prevent oxidative stress to cells throughout the body. Antioxidants in honey have even been implicated in reducing the damage done to the colon in colitis.
Furthermore, some studies suggest that honey may be effective in increasing the populations of probiotic bacteria in the gut, which may help strengthen the immune system, improve digestion, lower cholesterol and prevent colon cancer.
Honey is used to treat burns, cankers and skin ulcers because it acts as an antiseptic/antibacterial agent. The pH of honey is commonly between 3.2 and 4.5. This relatively acidic pH level prevents the growth of many bacteria. Honey also helps in scar tissue reduction by regulating collagen production via slowing down hydrogen peroxide release at the wound.
Hydrogen peroxide in honey is activated by dilution with body fluids. As a result, hydrogen peroxide is released slowly and acts as an antiseptic. Unlike medical hydrogen peroxide, this slow release does not cause damage to surrounding tissues.
Honey aids in the treatment and prevention of gangrene in diabetic feet when used topically.
Another medical use for honey is in the prevention and treatment of the dental cavity, particularly for malodour. Honey is hygroscopic and antiseptic, and is rich with fluoride; an excellent combination for oral hygiene.
Honey is also used in the treatment of conjunctivitis, in addition to several other corneal maladies.
Honey is a potent medicine for stomach ulcer and diarrhoea, when used under medical supervision.
The osmotic effect in honey makes it suitable for the treatment of enuresis (involuntary bed-wetting) for children above the age of five, particularly at night or when the child is playing outdoors
The affected child swallows a spoonful of honey, either in the morning or before going to sleep, depending on the child’s condition.
Due to its osmotic effect, honey absorbs significant amount of water and retains it for a long time. And since honey poses no health risks to children (with the exception of juvenile diabetics) and is generally likeable, it is an ideal treatment for enuresis. For best results, however, honey must be administered to the child after having emptied his/her bladder prior to going to bed, or before leaving home in the morning.
Honey may also help adults and the elderly whose need to visit the water cabinet may interrupt their sleep repeatedly. A spoonful of honey before going to bed, on an empty bladder, helps significantly. Diabetic patients must be careful with honey consumption, however.
The osmotic and antiseptic effects of honey make it an ideal treatment for sore sufferers of pharyngitis and laryngitis.
Honey is an essential ingredient in skin care products, both for beauty treatments and face masks and in medical applications such as the treatment of acne and abscesses.
The regular application of honey every three days, with other ingredients, to the face delays the appearance of wrinkles. A mixture of honey and olive oil has been successfully used to rejuvenate the hair by providing nutrients for hair bulbs via massaging the scalp with this concoction.
For a long time, honey has been used to treat a variety of ailments without fully understanding the medicinal effects of it.
Folk medicine, however, relied – successfully – on honey for the treatment of many a disease, by applying and observing and documenting.
Recent and oN.G.O.ing modern research and techniques are shedding new light on the efficacy of honey for treating various maladies, including some bacterium strains that have developed complete resistance to penicillin and any of its derivatives.
This medicinal effect of honey is best described by Allaah in the ’Qura~n: “There comes forth from their bellies, a drink of varying colour wherein is healing for mankind. Verily, in this is indeed a sign for people who think.” [chapter of Anna’hl: 69]
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4. R. White, “The benefits of honey in wound management,” Nursing Standard, November 16, Vol. 20, No.10, 2005
5. VN. Golychev, “Use of honey in conservative treatment of senile cataracts,” Vestn Oftalmol. 1990 Nov-Dec, 106(6), 59-62