by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

If you don’t have antibiotic ointment, honey’s a great antibacterial for wounds. It kills bacteria and helps cuts, scrapes, burns and even ulcerated wounds heal, and there have been plenty of clinical studies to prove it.

How Honey Works as an Antibiotic

  • The high sugar concentration dehydrates bacteria.
  • It’s acidic and most bacteria hate that.
  • When mixed with a little fluid—say from the wound—it has an enzyme that produces a small amount of hydrogen peroxide. Unlike the commercial kind, this peroxide is dilute enough to not irritate or inflame the skin. But it’s strong enough to kill bacteria.
  • Researchers are finding other ways honey works as an antibiotic. For example, it may stimulate the body’s natural bacteria-fighting white blood cells to get to work.

Some honeys are more antibacterial than others. The New Zealand manuka honey is particularly popular in medical circles.

Caveat: Babies have died from eating honey because it may contain a few Botulism spores. The spores are not nearly enough to hurt an adult and have never been known to cause harm by applying to wounds. Still, to be safe, don’t use honey on children under two years old unless it’s sterilized. Sterilized honeys such as Medihoney have been zapped clean of bacteria and can be found at pharmacies.

How to Use Honey as an Antibiotic Ointment

  • Apply liberally. If the wound is deep, pour it in. For scrapes and abrasions, paste it on. Then cover the wound and seal with tape.
  • Another way is apply the runny honey to gauze or clean cloth first, pop the material on the wound, and seal it with tape. If the bandage remains clean and dry, only change it every day or two. You may have to change it sooner if the wound is oozing a lot of fluid on its own.

If you don’t have honey, sugar’s next best.  Surround the wound with petroleum jelly and sprinkle the sugar in the middle. Apply a bandage and replace at least every 24 hours.