Tonawanda News

May 3, 2011

In its raw form, honey can treat ulcers, pollen allergies, wounds

By Danielle Haynes
The Tonawanda News

— Honey has long been heralded as a go-to natural remedy for for a sore throat. Brew a cup of tea, add a bit of lemon and some honey and you’re good to go. While it won’t necessarily cure the common cold or flu, it’s helpful in relieving that one symptom.

Scratchy throats aside, certain honeys also have antibacterial and antifungal properties in addition to helping alleviate some allergies and dry skin. Be aware though, not just any honey will do the trick ...  there are numerous types of honey out there and each one has different properties depending on where it’s from.

“People tend to think honey is all the same thing but it isn’t,” said Geri Hens, a professional beekeeper who runs Hens Honey Bee Farm in North Tonawanda. “Honey depends on the particular vegetation the bees are foraging on. There are as many different honeys out there as there are bottle of wines and it (varies depending) on how that honey is harvested and processed.”

Manuka honey, for instance, is well known for its superior treatment of wound infections due to the uniquely high antibacterial properties of the manuka bush, which can only be found in New Zealand. Bees that harvest the nectar from this particular bush then pass those antibacterial properties on to the honey they produce.

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Catherine Stack, doctor of naturopathy and certified nurse midwife in Niagara Falls, says that manuka honey can be a very effective alternative to traditional antibiotics, which come with side effects like yeast infections and digestive issues. Additionally, antibiotics become less effective over time the more individuals use them.

“People are becoming very resistent to antibiotics because we take them too much,” Stack said. “Manuka honey releases off low levels of hydrogen peroxide, which have very anti-infective properties on wounds.”

Stack says manuka honey is also helpful in treating helicobacter pylori — commonly refered to as H. pylori — an ulcer-causing bacteria in the stomach that is often treated with long-term antibiotics.

“That’s pretty exciting that honey can cure what people are going on massive antibiotics for,” Stack said.

And if you’re want to ditch the allergy medicines, look for honeys made a little closer to home.

Hens, who is the only producer of USDA raw organic honey in N.Y., says eating a daily dose of honey that is harvested with 2 to 3 miles of where you live is an excellent way to fend off sneezing and watery eyes associated with pollen allergies.

“If you had a pollen allergy, you’d want to consume honey that’s got the same vegetation pollen in it (that you’re allergic to) ... what you’re doing is desensitizing your immune system to it and releasing the antihistamine,” Hens said.

The important thing to remember, Hens said, is that once honey is pasturized (heated higher than about 105 degrees) or filtered, it is no longer beneficial because the pollen granules have been removed. Basically the more unadulterated and fresher, the better.

“Another mythology is that honey doesn’t go bad but the truth is it does. When you buy honey for theraputic purposes, you want it to be as fresh as possible,” Hens said. “The longer its been heated or the longer its been sitting around those (health) properties are no longer attached to it.”

Hens’s advice? Make sure you know your beekeeper and how they’re raising their bees and storing the honey. She stresses the importance of a certified organic bee farm because any chemicals used on plants will eventually wind up in the honey.

“(Bees are) just like people, it depends on what they’re eating. What makes the honey bee healthy is to be in an ecosstem that is free of contaminants ... those chemicals get tracked back into their hive environment,” Hens said.

Hens produces 16 different types of honey on her farm, ranging from pale in color to a dark brown, depending again on the vegetation from which the bees harvested the pollen and nectar.

She says it’s not necessary to eat much more than a teaspoon of the honey each day to start noticing a dwindling in allergic reactions to pollen. The beekeeper stresses, however, that it’s always important to check with your doctor before starting any kind of treatment for allergies.

Stack says she sees many people turning to more natural treatments — like honey — for diseases because she believes the side effects associated with medications are often worse than the initial ailment.

“Well what they’re realizing is that most medicines don’t cure a problem, they just band-aid it. Natural therapies go much deeper than just a symptom,” Stack said. “People are tired of medicines ... they come in with a long list of medicines and a long list of side effects.”

For those interested in purchasing raw honey from Hens Honey Bee Farm, contact Geri Hens at 625-9322 and she can direct you to the nearest merchant or farmers market that carries her products.

Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 116.