5 Health Benefits of Honey — in Ancient Times and Today

Honey’s use for health and healing is older than the history we have to trace it. But the health benefits of honey are not merely ancient tales. Although scientific research once minimized traditional wisdom when it came to honey’s benefits, many researchers have validated the healing, revitalizing, and medicinal properties of honey in the last few decades. Here are five of the most impressive health benefits of honey, from thousands of years ago to today. 

A pot of honey on a wooden cutting board surrounded by fresh herbs

1. Increasing Longevity with Honey

India’s longstanding medical system, Ayurveda, regards honey as a wonder medicine capable of lengthening life. In the Ayurvedic tradition, honey is used to soothe ailments from upset stomachs to arthritis. But two of its most valued benefits are slowing the effects of aging and inhibiting cancer. To this end, honey is believed to be especially effective when mixed with cinnamon and taken daily, extending one’s lifespan and increasing stamina and strength in the elderly (Sampath-Kumar et al., 2010).


What does modern research say?


Although honey is composed primarily of sugars and water, it also contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals including calcium, potassium, magnesium, and the B vitamins riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and folic acid (Ajibola et al., 2012). 

Importantly, honey contains several flavonoids and phenolic acids, antioxidants that help eliminate free radicals. Because free radicals damage DNA, reducing their presence does indeed slow aging and decrease the likelihood of cancer (Sampath-Kumar et al., 2010).

2. Supporting Gut Health

The importance of the gut microbiome is a trending topic in health circles today, but the concept has been around since at least the third or fourth century BC. That’s when the Greek physician Hippocrates is credited with saying, “All disease begins in the gut.”


Hippocrates was slow to prescribe drugs. Instead, he said, “I eat honey and use it in the treatment of many diseases because honey offers good food and good health,” (Boukraâ. 2014).


Recent research confirms that oligosaccharides are one of the health benefits of honey. These non-digestible prebiotic substances foster the growth of probiotic lactobacilli and bifidobacteria in the gut microbiome, improving metabolic function. There is also a possibility that oligosaccharides work synergistically with honey’s antibacterial actions, although more research is needed to say for sure (Mohan et al., 2017).

3. Better for Blood Sugar

5 health benefits of honey

Speaking of honey and gut health, isn’t all that sugar bad for us? While some ancient texts specify that the health benefits of honey are optimized when it makes up a relatively small part of the diet, there is evidence that tribal peoples have relied on honey as a significant source of food. During honey season, Mbuti pygmies of the Congo get up to 80% of their caloric intake from honey. And for the Hadza of Tanzania, meat and honey combined make up 20% of the diet by weight, to no apparent ill effect (Boukraâ. 2014). It is important to remember, however, that the vast majority of indigenous peoples have a significantly different lifestyle and diet than the vast majority of us today, which is probably, in part, why they’re able to consume honey in such quantities with no ill effect. 


Per gram, honey has a more moderate effect on blood sugar levels than refined sugar (Shambaugh, Worthington, & Herbert). This also holds true with type I and type II diabetes, for which honey has been shown to have a significantly lower glycemic index than glucose or sucrose. Other studies have found that honey stimulates the secretion of insulin, decreases blood glucose levels, and elevates the concentration of hemoglobin in the blood (Eteraf-Oskouei & Najafi, 2013). That being said, it is still wise for most type 2 diabetics to significantly reduce or restrict sugars, even honey, and to consult with a qualified nutritionist or health care provider if they want to make honey a regular part of their diet.

4. The Antimicrobial Health Benefits of Honey

Ancient cultures would not have called honey antimicrobial. Still, honey’s ability to stop or slow pathogens is likely the reason it was used to treat such a wide variety of ailments. In Egypt, for instance, the substance was named 500 times in 900 remedies, (Zumla & Lulat, 1989). 

In Western medicine, the antibacterial activity of honey has been recognized since 1892. Subsequent research has shown that honey inhibits some 60 species of bacteria, from aerobes to anaerobes, gram-positives to gram-negatives (Eteraf-Oskouei & Najafi, 2013). 


And here we find one unexpected benefit of honey: where modern antibiotics destroy the bacterial cell wall or inhibit a cell’s metabolic pathways (Eteraf-Oskouei & Najafi, 2013), the antibacterial properties of honey are the result of low water activity, the presence of bactericidal substances, and high acidity (Sampath-Kumar et al., 2010). Because honey works differently than synthetic antibiotics, it has a possible advantage over antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains.

And while honey’s antibacterial actions have attracted more attention than its other antimicrobial effects, research has shown that honey can slow the growth of fungi including Candida, ringworm, and athlete’s foot. Honey has also shown promise as an antiviral, with uses in treating herpes lesions and inhibiting the activity of the rubella virus (Eteraf-Oskouei & Najafi, 2013).

5 health benefits of honey

5. Healing Wounds with Honey

On papyrus dating between 2,600 and 2,200 BC, Egyptians used hieroglyphics to document a treatment for a wound salve: a mixture of fat, honey, and lint or fiber (Zumla & Lulat, 1989).


This is one example of how honey’s antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties make it a stellar treatment for wounds. As the high sugar content keeps pathogens from growing, its low water content pulls unneeded water from the damaged tissue, effectively drying the wound (Sampath-Kumar et al., 2010).


A moist environment for a wound does have some advantages. Top among them is promoting epithelialization, a process in which epithelial cells migrate to the wound and repair it (Tan & Dosan, 2019).

Honey, however, seems to possess the benefits of both dry and moist wound dressings. Clinical observations have recorded that honey helps clear infection, inflammation, swelling, and pain. In addition, epithelialization is hastened, as is the generation of new connective tissue. Here, the health benefits of honey are that healing occurs quickly and with minimal scarring (Sampath-Kumar et al., 2010).

Harvesting Vitality

In closing, honey’s healing, revitalizing, and medicinal properties have been observed by humans across cultures for thousands of years. Today, the health benefits of honey are confirmed by medical research. Harvesting Vitality’s herbal honeys not only harness these benefits but elevate them by mixing locally-sourced Vermont honey with beneficial powdered organic herbs.


 Find herbal honeys for digestive health, whole system and body health, and more in Harvesting Vitality’s online store


Or make an appointment with owner Catie Winters, a clinical herbalist who can help you address specific health concerns. 




Ajibola, A., Chamunorwa, J.P., & Erlwanger, K.H. (2012). Nutraceutical values of natural honey and its contribution to human health and wealth. Nutrition & Metabolism, 9, 61. https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-9-61


Boukraâ, L. (2014). Honey in traditional and modern medicine. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.


Eteraf-Oskouei, T., & Najafi, M. (2013). Traditional and modern uses of natural honey in human diseases: A review. Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences, 16(6): 731–742.


Mohan, A., Quek, S.Y., Gutierrez-Maddox, N., Gao, Y., & Shu, Q. (2017). Effect of honey in improving the gut microbial balance. Food Quality and Safety, 1(2), 107–115, https://doi.org/10.1093/fqsafe/fyx015


Sampath-Kumar, K. P., Bhowmik, D., Chiranjib, Biswajit & Chandira, M.R. (2010). Medicinal uses and health benefits of honey: An overview. Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research, 2(1): 385-395.


Shambaugh, P., Worthington, V., Herbert, J.H. (1990). Differential effects of honey, sucrose, and fructose on blood sugar levels. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 13(6): 322-325.


Tan, S.T., Dosan, R. (2019). Lessons From Epithelialization: The Reason Behind Moist Wound Environment. The Open Dermatology Journal, 13: 34-40. http://dx.doi.org/10.2174/1874372201913010034


Zumla, A. & Lulat, A. (1989), Honey — A remedy rediscovered. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 82: 384-385.


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