Honey is one of the oldest natural medicines in the books. In fact, this golden goo, which is the fruitful product of honeybees, has a history that dates even farther back than we can document—all the way beyond the Stone Age.
Honey is still widely used for a variety of purposes that span across nutrition, health, and beauty. “Today, we understand the composition of honey and its uses even better, yet we continue to use it in many of the same ways they did traditionally,” says Canada-based naturopathic doctor Sarah Connors, N.D. “In addition to its use as a natural sweetener, honey is used as an antioxidant.”
Break down the nutritional components of honey and it’s easy to see why it offers such a wide range of benefits. While it’s mostly sugar, it also contains a mix of amino acids, vitamins, minerals like iron and zinc, and antioxidants, per the USDA. Here’s a look at some of the ways you can use this natural wonder to bolster your nutrition, health, and beauty routines.
1. For a cough or sore throat
If you’ve ever been given tea with honey when feeling under the weather, it may have been in an effort to soothe a sore throat or calm a cough. And, in this area, honey’s medicinal magic is more than anecdotal. In fact, research, including a recent review of several studies published in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine, has found honey to be helpful for supporting upper respiratory health.
You could put this benefit to work for you by consuming honey on its own, using one teaspoon to one tablespoon at a time several times a day while dealing with a cough, according to Connors. You can also combine honey with onion to make a syrup supportive of coughs. (Onions contain a few different beneficial compounds, including the antioxidant quercetin, according to Connors.)
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If you’re intrigued by honey-onion syrup, Connors suggests taking a slice of onion, submerging it in honey, and letting it sit for a few hours. From there, remove the onion and take one teaspoon of the honey as needed throughout the day.
2. For wound care
Honey’s antimicrobial properties make it quite useful for wound care—and it has actually been used in this way for thousands of years, per research published in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. In addition to its antimicrobial properties, the high sugar content in honey also has an osmotic effect, meaning it can help reduce swelling, notes NYC-based naturopathic doctor Lana Butner, N.D. “Honey is a natural go-to for me, and I use it often in the summer months after a day of hiking, for any falls or scrapes that could occur while on the trails,” she says.
To use honey to support the healing of wounds such as cuts or burns, Butner recommends applying a thin layer across the area of injury and topping it with a bandage to keep the sticky contents contained.
Just note that you should only use honey to support minor cuts, adds naturopath Kiera Lane, N.M.D., MSAc, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac., director of Arizona Natural Medicine. Deep cuts (especially anything that requires stitches) are more prone to infection. “You can apply a thin layer three times per day,” she says. “Always remember to apply with clean hands and after the cut has been cleaned.”
3. As a hydration aid
When you’re hit with a stomach bug and can’t handle solids, honey can help you get some helpful nutrients into your body. “When you have [a stomach bug], one of the main concerns is becoming so dehydrated that your electrolytes become imbalanced,” says Connors. “Honey contains sugar, as well as a mix of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making it an ideal ingredient to add to a homemade hydration solution for when you’re under the weather.” While the sugar offers the calories your body needs for energy, its minerals support fluid balance while its other nutrients promote overall health.
Connors recommends adding between a teaspoon and a tablespoon of honey to warm water to get the job done.
4. In a face mask
Thanks to honey’s antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, it can yield pretty impressive results for our body’s largest organ: our skin. Toronto-based naturopathic doctor Olivia Rose, N.D., likes to use Manuka honey (which is made from bees native to New Zealand and Australia, and known to contain higher antibacterial properties than some other honeys) to create an at-home face mask. The extra antibacterial benefits can help stave off breakouts—and, “as a natural humectant, honey also draws moisture in, so it is great for dry skin,” she notes.
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Apply a thin layer of Manuka honey as a face mask once per week to soothe skin, ward off blemishes, and brighten the skin, Rose suggests.
5. As a deep conditioner
Mixing two teaspoons to two tablespoons of honey (depending on your hair length) in with your favorite conditioner can add moisture and strength to your hair, especially in the winter months, according to Rose. You can also use it on its own as a deep conditioning mask, she adds. Simply leave the honey in for 10 minutes and then follow up with your usual shampoo and conditioner.