Even up to the second world war, honey was being used for its antibacterial properties in treating wounds. But with the advent of penicillin and other antibiotic drugs in the twentieth century, honey's medicinal qualities have taken a back seat.
But that might be about to change - thanks to one New Zealand based researcher. Working in his Honey Research Unit at the University of Waikato Professor Molan has shown that honey made from the flowers of the manuka bush, a native of New Zealand, has antibacterial properties over and above those of other honeys.
He said: "In all honeys, there is - to different levels - hydrogen peroxide produced from an enzyme that bees add to the nectar".
"In manuka honey, and its close relative which grows in Australia called jellybush, there's something else besides the hydrogen peroxide."
"And there's nothing like that ever been found anywhere else in the world."
That "something else" has proved very hard to pin down. Even now, after more than twenty years of research, Peter Molan admits he still has no idea exactly what it is that provides these Manuka honey benefits. But he has given it a name: Unique Manuka Factor, or UMF Honey.
He has found a way to measure its antibacterial efficacy, by comparing UMF manuka honey with a standard antiseptic (carbolic, or phenol) in its ability to fight bacteria. The results are astonishing. He said: "We know it has a very broad spectrum of action".
"It works on bacteria, fungi, protozoa. We haven't found anything it doesn't work on among infectious organisms."
In fact, he says UMF Manuka Honey can even tackle antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria - a growing problem for hospitals around the world.
"Staphylococcus aureas is the most common wound-infecting species of bacteria, and that's the most sensitive to honey that we've found".
"And that includes the antibiotic resistant strains - the MRSA - which is just as sensitive to honey as any other staphylococcus aureas."
Clinical trials at the Waikato Hospital have shown that even out of the lab, UMF Manuka Honey has amazing healing properties. Nurse practitioner Julie Betts has successfully used honey to treat leg ulcers and pressure sores. And she says it helps healing after surgery - particularly for diabetic patients.
"It has an anti-inflammatory effect as well, so if I want to do several things apart from actually controlling the bacteria in that wound, then that's when I'll use honey."
Manuka Honey Benefits Cancer treatment
Cancer specialist Dr Glenys Round has also found honey to be an effective treatment. "We've been using honey to treat fungating wounds, where the cancer has broken through the skin," she said.
"The results in that situation have been excellent."
Most recently, she has had success in using honey dressings on patients with wounds or ulcers resulting from radiation therapy. "Most of these patients in the past had tried various other conventional treatments without good success, and that is the reason why at least initially honey was tried."
Most patients seem happy to try the honey treatment. "They don't have a problem with it at all," said Julie Betts. "Humans in general have a fondness I think for natural remedies, so they're quite happy to use them."
"I think the problem we encounter is when people don't understand how it works."
"They think that sourcing any honey will achieve the same outcome, and that's not always true."
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