Medicinal properties of honey

The antibacterial properties of honey have been recorded and utilised for thousands of years, from honey-based wound dressings to oral medicines. Honey has been shown to have many therapeutic properties in wound healing, altering the immune response and acting as an anti-inflammatory.

The antibacterial activity of unprocessed honey occurs due to the combination of different antibacterial factors. This includes low water content paired with high sugar content, as well as the presence of other chemicals, such as hydrogen peroxide. Some of those chemicals will be phytochemicals, derived from the plants the bees forage on to make their honey. Manuka honey, from New Zealand, is known for its high antibacterial activity; a quality it gets from the Manuka bush, Leptospermum scoparium used by the bees.

This study by Dr Jenny Hawkins used DNA barcoding to investigate these plant-derived medicinal properties of honey. Using honey donated by beekeepers across Wales, samples were screened and tested for their antibacterial activity against the hospital infection MRSA. The factors that make honey generically antibacterial were neutralised allowing the action of only the plant-derived compounds. The honeys that showed antibacterial activity at this stage were analysed using DNA barcoding.

Using the DNA from the pollen in honey, we can identify the plants visited by the bees by using DNA barcoding. By identifying the plant composition of honeys, this information can be used as a guide to identifying novel compounds for the treatment of antibiotic-resistant infections.