Humans have used honey as food and medicine since ancient times. Stone Age people from 8,000 years ago painted pictures of it on caves. But what can it really do for your health? (Hint: Not all the assertions you read on the Internet are true.) Scientists continue to study how honey can, and can’t, benefit your health.

Wound healing

Ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Chinese, Greeks and Romans used honey to treat wounds. During World War I, Russians soldiers apparently used honey-based preparations to prevent wound infections.

Should you try it next time you cut yourself?

In the lab, experts have found honey can inhibit about 60 species of bacteria, plus some viruses and fungi. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. In one study, researchers compared a honey dressing with a conventional dressing in 52 plastic surgery patients who had two symmetrical incisions. They applied the honey dressing on one incision and the conventional dressing on the other. After six months, the incisions that received the honey dressing had narrower scars. The experts concluded, "The healing process of the surgical wound and its final aesthetic results could be improved by using honey dressing."

For any wound, see a doctor if it isn't healing or you notice redness, increasing pain, drainage, warmth or swelling, recommends the Mayo Clinic.

Related: 10 Common First Aid Mistakes


Researchers agree honey may help treat superficial burns. In one study, researchers treated 150 patients who had burns in more than one place. Some burns were treated with honey, others, with a commonly used topical burn cream. The honey-treated burns healed faster, in 21 days on average compared to 24 days for the other burns.

Honey also appears to help with some more serious burns, known as partial thickness burns. According to the Cochrane Library, a collection of independent evidence pertaining to health, “There is high quality evidence that honey heals partial thickness burns around four to five days more quickly than conventional dressings.”

So should you put honey on a burn? It can be effective, writes alternative health expert Andrew Weil, MD, on his website. But he advises using manuka honey, produced in New Zealand (and available commercially) instead of supermarket honey. And even manuka is not meant for home care of bad burns, he says.

Coughs in kids — but not babies

For years, the World Health Organization (WHO) has suggested honey might have a role in treating coughs and colds in children, and now more research backs that up. In one study, researchers found giving a single, half-teaspoon dose of honey in the evening to children 2 to 5 years old reduced their cough frequency better than giving nothing and worked as well as dextromethorphan, a common cough suppressant ingredient.

Honey should never be given to a child younger than one year, Mayo Clinic experts warn, due to a risk of botulism. Honey is safe in kids older than a year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Related: Wet Coughs, Dry Coughs, Constant Coughs: When Your Child Should See a Doctor

Allergy relief

Some allergy sufferers swear by local honey for hay fever. Taking in a small amount of local pollen, the theory goes, makes the body less sensitive to it over time — similar to how allergy shots work. The two treatments aren’t the same though.

Injections contain a controlled amount of a specific pollen or pollen mixture, and the amount is slowly increased under the supervision of an health care professional.

What’s more, the pollen in honey may not be what you need to combat allergies. Unprocessed honey does have small amount of pollen, but that pollen often originates from flowers, whereas people are more often allergic to pollen from trees, grasses and weeds (which aren’t pollinated by bees).

No science backs up eating local honey for improving seasonal allergies, according to the American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology (ACAAI). That group warns that in rare cases, unprocessed honey can result in ''an immediate allergic reaction involving the mouth, throat, or skin — such as itching, hives or swelling — or even anaphylaxis.''

ACAAI also points to a study that tested honey as a treatment for allergic rhinoconjunctivitis, which causes a runny nose and watery, itchy eyes. Researchers assigned 36 people who suffered from it to one of three groups. One group took a tablespoon of filtered, pasteurized honey, another the same amount of unfiltered, unpasteurized honey and the third, corn syrup with synthetic honey flavoring. They all kept a dairy tracking 10 allergy symptoms. None of the honey group participants had any more relief than those in the fake honey group.

Honey as a sugar substitute

Some people, including those with diabetes, think honey is a better sweetener choice than sugar. But nutrition experts say that generally speaking, there is no blood sugar benefit to using honey instead of sugar. Both raise blood sugar. And honey contains slightly more carbohydrates and more calories than the same amount of sugar.

Honey is slightly sweeter than granulated sugar, however, so it's possible you might use less in recipes.

If you prefer honey over sugar, go for it, experts say. It does contain small amounts of vitamins and minerals. Just be sure to count the calories and carbs the same way you would sugar.

Related: Are You Eating More Sugar Than You Think?

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Kathleen Doheny is a Los Angeles journalist specializing in health, behavior and fitness topics.