You may have been spreading honey on your toast for a few years, but people have been using it to treat illnesses for thousands of years! Now honey is being used to make a product that can help wounds heal more quickly.

What is honey?

Honey is a supersaturated solution of sugar made by bees. Honeybees (Apis mellifera) collect a liquid secretion from flowers, called nectar, and take this back to their hives. At the hive, honeybees add enzymes to the nectar, and place it in wax cells where it ripens to form honey. During ripening, the enzymes convert sucrose (a type of sugar in the nectar) into glucose and fructose (other types of sugars).

Honey for healing

All honeys kill bacteria and help wounds to heal. This is because they are very acidic, have a high sugar content, and naturally produce an antibacterial molecule called hydrogen peroxide. The article How honey heals wounds explains how each of these properties help exterminate bacteria.

Some honeys, like honey made from New Zealand’s Mānuka trees, are particularly good at healing wounds. This is because the Mānuka honey has a special activity that can kill bacteria and help infected wounds to heal.

Mānuka honey for eating and treating

Comvita is a New Zealand company that specialises in the development of natural health products. They have recognised that the unique antibacterial activity of Mānuka honey can be used to make high-value, natural woundcare products.

Any honey that will be used to treat wounds needs to be safe, clean, and free of contaminants. To make sure of this, Comvita follows very careful procedures to ensure that their woundcare products meet the high safety standards that are required.

The articles Honey bees and Mānuka trees and Processing Mānuka honey explain how Mānuka honey is monitored all the way from bee to the bandage.

Making a Mānuka honey dressing

Honey is sticky, runny and not very easy to handle. Keeping it in place on a dressing is therefore very difficult - especially when you consider that honey warms up on your skin and becomes even runnier.

Researchers from the University of Waikato, inlcuding the late Peter Molan,  worked closely with doctors and nurses to develop a Mānuka honey wound dressing that is easy-to-use, safe, and speeds up the healing of wounds. From Bees to bandages explains how Professor Molan took his idea from prototype to a successfully commercial product.

Collaborative research by Comvita and others are also unlocking the healing properties of honey. Much of this research was carried out under Comvita CEO Brett Hewlett, who led the company from 2005-2016.

Take up the challenge

Explore the properties of honey with these student activities: Antibacterial effects of honey, How much water is in honey?, Making honey crystals, The osmostic effect of honey, The properties of honey, The thixotropic nature of Mānuka honey and The viscosity of honey.

There are three unit plans available. Honey for wound healing explores bacteria, the immune system and how the use of honey kills bacteria in infected wounds. From bees to bandages investigates the antibacterial properties of Mānuka honey with the goal of producing a wound dressing. The properties of honey investigates the physical and chemical properties of various honeys to design a way to distinguish Mānuka honey from other types of honey.

Published 1 June 2007, Updated 5 October 2016