Honey Bee Good

manuka jarWe’ve all come to expect articles on how healthy honey is for you, but typically they are referring to ingesting it. Now we are beginning to learn that it has healing properties when applied topically.

A variety of honey known as manuka is widely used that way in New Zealand. Particularly effective on wounds, the honey is thought to have potential as an antimicrobial, and might also be the answer to the vexing bacteria strains such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Hospitals have seen the incidence of this superbug increase 32 fold over the last thirty years. Manuka honey sterilizes the infection and acts as a barrier to prevent cross-infections. Because of its low water content, honey can draw fluid away from wounds, and its high sugar content discourages the growth of microorganisms.

Considering that at one time the manuka tree was considered worthless and was routinely chopped down, the product has made quite a comeback and spawned a thriving industry for New manuka treeZealand. About 120 tons are sold each year, and as you would expect, hundreds of online marketers are touting it as a cure for just about everything.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of manuka for wound and burn care, the first time a honey-based product has ever been approved for medical use in this country. Known as apitherapy, treatment with manuka honey has been advanced consideralbly by the work of Professor Peter Molan, Professor of Biological Sciences and Director of Honey Research Unit, University of Waikato, New Zealand. He has published dozens of research and review papers in scientific and medical journals on the antibacterial properties and medical uses of manuka. His work was sparked by anecdotal accounts of folk medicine successed based on manuka. Although honey is cited in historical documents dating back 4,000 years, until recently its benefits have been somewhat of a mystery. Only available from the manuka tree, found only in New Zealandmanuka and bee, the honey is said to be very good for stomach and digestive disorders when ingested. The manuka strain of honey is darker and more bitter than the honeys we are familiar with, and Molan likes to say that manuka “tastes like medicince because it is medicine.” Worker bees secrete an enzyme known as glucose oxidase. Once it gets into the nectar, it releases a disinfectant hydrogen peroxide when the honey comes into contact with dampness, such as a wound.

Given the growing danger of microbes that are resistant to traditional antibiotics, manuka honey may just turn out to be the ancient solution we need. Woudn’t that be sweet.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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