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Honey & Wound Treatments

Sanne Kure-Jensen

The ancients managed bees and used honey as a salve or poultice on wounds and boils to prevent infection and speed healing. Doctors and healers around the world use honey or even table sugar in open wounds to lower the risks of infection and to speed healing.

Honeybees in Spring Flowers
Sanne Kure-Jensen

Dr. Allen Dennison of Hasbro Children's Hospital has worked with honey for many years. At a RI Beekeepers Association (RIBA) meeting, he offered a peak at modern medicine’s approach to these techniques and shared his experience in "Healing Wounds with Honey." Nearly 80 RIBA members learned to make treatment ointments.

Honey has numerous properties, biological and chemical, that make it uniquely suited for healing. Applying honey straight to wounds soothes raw nerves and helps cuts, gashes, burns and some skin infections to heal faster, according to Dr. Dennison. Applying honey to wounds encourages patient cooperation by soothing raw nerves immediately. Honey pulls fluids and moisture from injured tissue and reduces swelling/edema. This can reduce pressure on capillaries, increase blood flow and speed healing. The glucose in honey provides energy to the cells generating new tissue and skin.

Honey sooths bug bites and even bee stings.

Honey works on wounds by providing a biofilm against air and bacteria. A bonus of this effect is the prevention of scab formation. This reduces the chances that a patient will scratch or pick the scab open – risking infection, slowing healing and increasing scarring.

Honey is a natural antibiotic and immobilizes bacteria by dehydrating them. Honey has twice the osmotic strength (dehydrating power) of table sugar. Honey raises the pH in a wound inhibiting bacteria growth.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and causes a staph infection which is resistant to common antibiotics. MRSA is common in healthcare settings and can also be contacted through skin-to-skin contact - common amung football players and wrestlers. Laboratory trials have shown that honey can eradicate 70% of MRSA bacteria while reducing cross contamination.

Keeping honey on a wound can be challenging unless it is held in place with a gauze bandage. Another approach is to blend honey with an emulsifier or thickener such as Aqua Four moisturizer, petroleum jelly or fruit pectin. Lanolin can also be used for wound treatment, if the patient is not allergic to it. Lanolin-based ointments should not be used for eczema and certain skin problems.

Not many US doctors use honey for wound treatments. elsewhere, veterinarians and physicians use Medihoney or L-Mesitran made from Manuka or Tea Tree honey in New Zealand.

Many wounds can be treated with raw local honey. Granulated or crystallized honey may be more effective than liquid honey as it dribbles less and has stored more osmotic capacity. Creamed honey is not effective for wounds since it has often been heated and/or stirred which inactivates the valuable glucose oxidase and other enzymes.

Recommended Treatment for Scrapes, Shallow Wounds:

  1. Gently clean any wound with gentle soap or half strength hydrogen peroxide to remove any dirt or foreign material. DO NOT use Neosporin, Bacitracin, iodine or Silver sulphadiazine. While these products do kill unwanted bacteria, they also kill and slow the body’s natural cells slowing the healing process and risk development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
  2. Apply honey or honey ointment to wound. Cover with gauze dressing if needed, to prevent smearing on clothes or furniture. Frequent removal of wound dressings often does more damage by pulling away some of the healed tissue.
  3. If you see any signs of infection such as puss, oozing, swelling, redness or a red line heading toward the heart, fever, chills, shaking, see a medical professional.

Recommended Treatment for Small Surface Burns:

  1. Cool the burn for 15 minutes with ice and/or cold water.
  2. Apply raw honey three times per day and leave the burn uncovered; a bandage may rub or itch. Ointment (see recipe below) on burns is not generally comfortable but will last longer. Covered honey dressings can standard gauze or telfa bandages and can be changed every other day without risk to the healing process. Depending on the burn severity and area affected, pain medication may be appropriate especially for dressing changes: ibuprofen (Motrin), naproxen (Aleve) or even an opiate painkiller such as hydrocodone (Vicodin) may be prescribed by the treating doctor.
  3. If you see any signs of infection such as puss, oozing, swelling, redness or a red line heading toward the heart, fever, chills, shaking, see a medical professional.

Honey Handling:

Do not heat honey or its sugars will be denatured or broken down into simple sugars. Medical honey should not be diluted with water. Irradiation is approved by the FDA as a way to kill botulinium bacteria which is harmless to humans except to some infants and toddlers.

Dr. Dennison recommends every first aid kits have a small container of honey or honey ointment for using directly on any wound or dressing. Apply with a clean stick or cotton swab. Use the ointment if you are concerned about dribbling, and be prepared to change the dressing every other day.

Dr. Dennison’s Wound Healing Ointment *

  • 14 oz of Aquaphor (Biersdorf USA) heated to 105 degrees F in a microwave
  • 14 oz raw honey at room temperature (not heated)

Mix with hand mixer for three minutes. Decant into small cosmetic jars and label with your name and date. Honey ointment keeps for ever, according to Dr Dennison.

* You may NOT sell this product or make any medical claims as this product and recipe have not been approved by the FDA.

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