Feature Archive

Sweet Solution

Can honey help cure infections?

By Charles Downey
WebMD Feature

After decades of turning up their noses at this ancient wound dressing, modern doctors are turning sweet on honey.

March 13, 2000 (Big Bear City, Calif.) Peter Molan, Ph.D., likes to tell the story of the 20-year-old wound. Infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, an abscess oozed in an English woman's armpit long after it had been drained. Nothing seemed to help, and the pain prevented her from working.

Then in August of 1999, she read about the remarkable wound-healing properties of honey. She convinced doctors to apply some to the dressing to her arm, and a month later the wound healed. Now she's back at work.

Novel as this treatment sounds, it would have inspired yawns among doctors in ancient Egypt, according to May Berenbaum, Ph.D., a University of Illinois entomologist. "Honey has been used for centuries to treat a wide range of medical problems like wounds, burns, cataracts, skin ulcers and scrapes," she says. "And now various researchers worldwide are also studying -- and finding -- strong antimicrobial properties in some honeys."

Honey fell from favor as a wound dressing when antibiotic dressings were developed during World War II. But the new research -- and the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria -- are putting this old-time folk remedy into the contemporary medicine chest.