Many people may think of honey as just another sweetener, but those in the natural health world know better. And with more studies coming out that confirm some of the health benefits of raw honey, people are starting to take notice.
Honey already has a big role to play in the herbal world. It's often used to sweeten and preserve syrups and can also have the properties of herbs infused into it. But that doesn't mean you can't get a lot out of honey all on its own.
Here's more about the hidden goodness of raw honey and reasons to start using more of it.
What Is Raw Honey?
If you think about it, bees provide us with many wonderful substances. There's honey, of course, and also beeswax, royal jelly, bee pollen, and propolis.
Though all have their own benefits, honey is probably the most popular of the group (followed closely by beeswax) and has been used for thousands of years all around the world.
Bees make honey by first collecting sugar-rich nectar from the flowers they visit. Back at the hive, they regurgitate the nectar and store it in hexagonal holes that we call honeycombs. It serves as food for the bee colony, which means that ethical beekeepers won't ever deplete the store of honey when they collect it.
In its natural state, honey contains some amount of bee pollen and propolis as well as dead bee parts.
But unless you're eating it straight from the honeycomb, the larger particles (aka dead bee parts) usually get strained out before it gets bottled. It will still retain the rest of its natural goodness, including live enzymes.
Pasteurized honey goes through an additional step of being heated to kill certain microbes, which unfortunately destroys many of the great nutrients and enzymes in the honey.
This is what really sets raw honey apart. It retains its nutritional value and has the most health-boosting power.
Top Health Benefits of Raw Honey
Nutritious + Full of Antioxidants
Raw honey contains a surprising array of nutrients. It has many different kinds of enzymes (which vary from honey to honey), including some that help with digestion, like diastase. (1)
Vitamins and minerals- iron, zinc, B vitamins, potassium, calcium, magnesium- are also present in trace amounts. Raw honey contains around 22 amino acids (the building blocks for protein) as well.
Perhaps more importantly, honey is full of bioactive compounds, including antioxidants.
Antioxidants are so important to overall health, protecting your body and possibly helping to prevent diseases like cancer. Consuming raw honey daily has been shown to raise the level of antioxidants in your blood, particularly a specific type known as polyphenols. (2)
Honey has natural antimicrobial power and some especially notable antibacterial qualities. This, combined with its antioxidant status, is what has made honey an excellent preservative for thousands of years. (3)
Raw honey is frequently called for in herbal preparations (like syrups and oxymels) to give them a long shelf life. On its own, honey rarely- if ever- goes bad.
There may also be more to honey's antibacterial properties. Manuka honey has been shown in studies to inhibit some serious pathogenic bacteria like E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus (staph), and Helicobacter pylori (bacteria that causes stomach infections). (4)
Helps With Pollen Allergies
Consuming raw, local honey is one way to help tone down seasonal allergies. It works because your immune system is exposed to small amounts of pollen at a time (through the honey), which can desensitize you to these allergens. (5)
A few things to keep in mind:
- It takes a while for the honey/pollen to do its work, so take it daily for at least 4-8 weeks before expecting a noticeable difference. Also, honey isn't a cure-all for hay fever, so you may want to add in some other natural allergy remedies.
- Choosing both raw and local honey is very important in this situation. Consuming the pollen from another country won't help much.
May Aid Weight Loss
Are there really benefits of raw honey for weight loss?
There are- but mainly if you use it a specific way.
It should come as no surprise that sugar is one of the most overconsumed food substances today and a significant contributor to weight gain. However, some research has found that replacing sugar with honey may prevent weight gain and even lead to weight loss. (6)
Of course, cutting down on total sugar is key to a healthy weight as well, but making this simple swap could make a difference with little effort.
Good Energy Source
Honey is an excellent source of carbohydrates that can give you an energy boost before exercising.
Typically, honey is made up of about 80% sugar (this varies slightly depending on the type of honey) that provides your body with an easily digestible energy source. It's even been dubbed "the perfect running fuel."
There's evidence that honey was once used as fuel by runners in the Olympic Games in ancient Greece, and modern research confirms that it can be as effective as glucose when used as a sporting fuel. (7)
Given how much more nutritious honey is for you, it makes a far better choice for energy than super sugary sports drinks and the like.
Helps Relieve Coughing
Coughing is one of the most annoying parts of getting sick, but there are some significant benefits of raw honey for relieving a cough.
There's even evidence that honey may be better than cough medicine for children.
One study found that buckwheat honey reduced cough symptoms and outperformed dextromethorphan, a common cough medication. Another study found that honey outperformed two cough medications. Both studies involved children only, but that doesn't mean it won't work for adults as well. (8)(9)
Just remember not to give honey to children less than a year old.
Good for Heart & Brain Health
Raw honey has a minor, but positive, impact on heart and brain health, mainly because of its high antioxidant content.
Studies have shown that it can modestly reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and lower triglyceride levels. This is all great for your heart, and the most impact seems to come when sugar is swapped out for honey. (10)(11)(12)
In animal studies, honey also seems to have a minor protective effect on the brain. Most significantly, it countered inflammation in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory. (13)
Aids Wound Healing
Honey has been used for a long time to help wounds heal, and modern research is now confirming this traditional use. Mainly, its antibacterial nature helps prevent infection and encourages healing. (14)
You can also use honey as a natural burn remedy, and it has shown particular potential for healing diabetic foot ulcers. This is significant because this type of foot ulcer can lead to amputation if treatment is unsuccessful. (15)
Great Skincare Ingredient
Given all the benefits of raw honey, it's no surprise that it's a wonderful natural ingredient for your skin. Not only does it have antimicrobial properties, honey is also naturally moisturizing and a mild exfoliator!
Honey even improves circulation when rubbed into your skin, which helps bring out a natural glow. It's gentle on sensitive skin and can be used as a face cleanser or in a face mask.
Using Raw Honey
There are many ways to use raw honey but one of the most significant is as a substitute for refined sugar. Many of the studies on honey and health found the most impact when people ate less cane sugar and more honey.
To get the absolute most out of raw honey, buy local and try not to heat it above 95 degrees F. That being said, there are still benefits to using honey rather than sugar in baking recipes, even though the honey will get heated.
There's no standard "dose" of raw honey to take daily, but most people can do one or two tablespoons a day without overconsuming sugar.
The biggest precaution with any type of honey is to never feed it to children who are under a year old due to the risk of botulism.
If you have pollen allergies, there is some risk of allergy to raw honey, so discontinue use if you notice any symptoms.
Finally, keep in mind that honey is still a source of sugar. It does have many significant benefits, but moderate consumption is still best.
The Many Benefits of Raw Honey
Honey is truly a unique substance provided to us humans by hard-working bees. Raw honey is by far a superior choice to the pasteurized kind and carries many health benefits.
To get the most out of it, start decreasing your white sugar intake and upping your honey intake. You can also use it for skincare (and even hair care) to nourish your body from the outside in!
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and should not be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider, herbalist, midwife, or naturopathic physician before taking herbs, supplements, etc. Here's the link to our full disclaimer.