Derived from the nectar of flowers by the honeybee, honey is essentially a supersaturated sugar solution. Viscous in nature, honey comprises of 40% fructose, 30% glucose, 20% water and 5% sucrose, amongst other substances like amino acids, vitamins, minerals and enzymes present in smaller proportions.
For what it’s worth, honey finds a mention in early pharmacopeia as a substance used in wound care. The Greek physician and pharmacologist Dioscorides suggested that honey carries therapeutic agents. Even Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine advocated the use of honey in wound care.
The Edwin Smith papyrus, an ancient Egyptian surgical text also recommends the use of honey as a treatment for the wound, though the writer of this text is unknown till date.
The London Medical Papyrus of 1325 BC also promotes a mix of honey with certain plant materials as a way of treating burns. As a matter of fact, numerous other ancient medical sciences such as Indian Science of Ayurveda along with Chinese as well as Roman Sciences have been known to use honey for the purpose of wound care.
The healing power of honey has also been proven through controlled trials in as many as 5 animal models including buffalo calf, mice, rabbit, rat, and pig. 15 out of the 16 conducted trials proved the effectiveness of honey in incisions as well as exceptional wounds, along with that in standard burns in animals. The studies also proved that wounds treated with honey also healed faster than the control wounds.
There was also a systematic review conducted on burn patients to test the efficacy of honey in the process of healing, although, the trial reports weren’t up to the mark and hence there were no explicit recommendations. Nonetheless, the findings did indicate the role played by honey in hastening the process of healing.
It is believed that honey exerts microscopic actions of wounds and draws fluids from the underlying circulation. This helps in building a moist environment that enhances tissue growth. There are also reports that suggest that honey instigates a debriding action.
In addition to the previously mentioned reviews, Cochrane reviews also inferred the evidence regarding the effects of applying honey on wounds. There were a total of 26 studies with as many as 3011 people involved, all with different kind of wounds. In each of these studies, honey was compared with various other treatments. The large number of variables involved made it near impossible for the reviewers to draw any conclusions. Moreover, the quality of evidence was below par for many comparisons.
The quality of evidence for quicker healing of partial thickness burns through honey, as compared to that via conventional dressings is high. However, the quality of evidence pertaining to the effectiveness of honey as against antiseptic treatments is moderate.
Hence, it cannot be said, whether honey is better or worse as compared to other treatments for the healing of chronic and acute wounds, burns, ulcers, and Leishmaniasis.