Honey is one of those feel-better foods with a wellness back-story that spans the centuries. It always calls up mention of Cleopatra, who bathed in milk and honey, which sounds lovely. But what can honey actually do for your health?
Plenty, say New York wellness experts, who are buzzing about honey’s healing benefits—specifically the raw, unpasteurized, and darker varieties of honey, as well as medicinal Manuka, which hails from New Zealand.
So how do health practitioners like Gabrielle Francis, Frank Lipman, and Alisa Vitti recommend using the kitchen-cupboard staple?
Read on to learn about how honey does a sweet job as a skin-care treatment, immune-system booster, digestive aid and more… —Jennifer Kass
Sandra Rosario, lead aesthetician at The Spa at Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, NY, told us about honey’s beauty benefits. “Honey is a humectant, which means it draws water to the skin, relieving dryness and irritation.” It also has anti-bacterial properties, a boon for breakout-prone skin. She likes raw honey best because “it’s in its purest form, retaining active enzymes that haven’t been destroyed in the heating process.”
How to use it: Rosario recommends applying the honey in a thin layer, like a facial mask. Put two or three tablespoons of raw honey in a small bowl. Lightly wet your fingertips, then dip them in the honey, and gently spread the honey on. After 10 minutes, rinse your face well with warm water (try to avoid using soap afterward) and follow up with your favorite moisturizer.
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“Honey soothes sore throats, calms coughs, and boosts immunity,” says Dr. Gabrielle Francis, who practices chiropractor, acupuncture, and naturopathic medicine both in Manhattan and on tour with rock stars. “Honey contains B vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, and is high in minerals like calcium and magnesium, bioflavonoids, and antioxidants.” It’s also helpful for allergies.
How to use it: Eat one tablespoon of honey daily. “Make sure it’s locally grown with flowers from your area, and unpasteurized so it retains more of its enzymes and antioxidants,” says Dr. Francis. You can also add it to a cup of tea or mix it with apple cider vinegar, which has a lot of health perks, too.
Next time you and your scalding hot baking sheet have a collision, consider honey, which acts as an antibacterial and a skin-calmer. Dr. Frank Lipman, functional medicine physician and founder of celeb-frequented Eleven Eleven Wellness Center, first witnessed its effects on wounds and burns as a med student. “When I was a resident in the surgical wards at Baragwaneth Hospital in Soweto in the late ‘70s, I remember them using honey to heal wounds, particularly burns, with incredible results.”
How to use it: Burn yourself on a batch of melting Daiya cheese and fresh out of aloe? Reach into the cupboard for a high-quality raw or Manuka honey, and apply a generous layer. (For serious burns, consult a medical professional immediately.)
Honey is uniquely beneficial for the digestive system, says Alisa Vitti, women’s hormonal health specialist and founder of FLOliving.com. “It’s anti-inflammatory. It’s majorly antimicrobial—which seems counter intuitive given how much sugar it contains, however, its acidic nature prevents the growth of bacteria. And third, honey has a positive effect on regulating peristalsis, the muscle contractions that occur throughout the digestive tract, which can be helpful in cases of constipation, diarrhea, and IBS.
How to use it: “Honey diluted with water supports the growth of gut-beneficial bacteria while simultaneously killing off the harmful strains, says Vitti. “Manuka honey from New Zealand is the current gold standard for medicinal use. But if you can’t get it, pick the darkest honey you can find to get the most antioxidant bang for your buck.”