Honey Has Been Healing for Ages

Honey Has Been Healing for Ages

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

"Grind to a powder river dust . . . and then knead it in water and honey, and let oil and hot cedar oil be spread over it." ( Sumerian clay tablet, c. 2000 B.C.)

"Boil together strong white vinegar, honey, alum from Egypt, toasted natron [sodium bicarbonate] and a little bile." ( Ancient Egyptian wound treatment)

"Thou shouldst bind fresh meat upon [the wound] the first day, thou shouldst apply two strips of linen; and treat afterward with grease, honey, (and) lint every day until he recovers." (Recommendation of Herophilus, founder of the medical school in Alexandria, c. 300 B.C.)

Such were the concoctions prescribed by physicians of the ancient world to soothe ailments of the eye and ear, to eliminate skin infections and to promote the healing of wounds or the site of surgeries such as circumcision. In "The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting," Eva Crane says honey was even used by the Babylonians to preserve corpses, by preventing putrefaction. During the Middle Ages, write Bodog F. Beck and Doree Smedley in "Honey for Your Health," honey was used extensively "for boils, wounds, burns and ulcers." And it continued to be applied as a topical salve well into the 20th century. During World War I, Russian soldiers used honey-based preparations to prevent infections in wounds. Germans used honey and cod liver oil for ulcers -- a variant on a honey dough mentioned by the Roman author Pliny as a treatment for skin sores. More recently, during World War II, the Chinese mixed an ointment out of honey and lard.

Though belief in honey's curative power was widespread, evidence was not. Research into its potential antibacterial and healing value in the last century waned with the advent of penicillin and the launch of the antibiotic revolution.

-- Frances Stead Sellers

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