I recently had surgery on my foot and on a follow-up visit the surgeon was concerned that the wound was not healing as well as it should be. He left the room and returned with a small plastic cup containing a thick, golden orange substance which could technically be classified as goo. He proceeded to apply the goo to the incision site. Was it a pharmaceutical grade ointment concocted in a lab somewhere? No, in fact, it turns out the original source of the goo was bees. Yes, those same insects that fly around and pollinate flowers, the ones who will sting you if you make them mad. It turns out, the honey they make will take the sting away. That’s right, the doctor said he was applying medical grade honey. After coating the incision with honey, then placed a bandage on top. Sure enough, the soreness and inflammation around the wound subsided that day. I repeated the process in a couple days with an extra cup of honey he sent home with me, and was on my way to recovery.
Putting honey on a wound sounds like something your grandma would recommend, not an orthopedic surgeon. It raised many questions in my mind: What kind of bees make medical grade honey? Do they need special training? So off to the internet I went, to find the medicinal properties of honey.
I went to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central , a site that indexes peer-reviewed and published research. I searched for uses of honey and quite a few links were returned. One, a 2015 paper published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology was a review of papers published on the use of honey in skin care and dermatology. (1) Not only is honey a tasty sweetener, but it has a lot of other uses for skin care, dressing for wounds and burns, and everything from diaper rash to hemorrhoids and anal fissures. I’ve been putting honey in the wrong end all this time. Honey has been used since ancient times too, long before there was a CVS, Walgreens, or RiteAid on every corner.
But what about medical grade honey? Are the bees specially selected and trained? Is there a special, sterile hive? A quick Google search revealed that medical grade honey has been sterilized by gamma radiation so that it can be applied to wounds without fear of infection. I know you’re thinking, maybe you can take that plastic honey bear from your pantry and throw it in the microwave for a couple of minutes to make it medical grade. But the microwave isn’t gamma radiation. Plus, it will create a hell of a sticky mess to clean up. You’re better off buying some at the local drug store or ordering it online.
(1)Burlando B, Cornara L. Honey in dermatology and skin care: a review. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2013 Dec;12(4):306-13. doi: 10.1111/jocd.12058. PMID: 24305429.