All honeys have properties that help them heal wounds. But how do they do this, and what’s so unique about Mānuka honey?

The problem with wounds

In normal situations, like a cut finger or a grazed knee, the wound will heal on its own. But sometimes wounds can become infected with bacteria and they don’t heal.

Bacteria feed on the injured tissue, multiplying in the wound and causing more tissue damage. The wound starts to smell and pus collects. This pus is made up of dead white blood cells, part of the body’s effort to kill the bacteria and heal the infection.

Honey the bacterminator!

Honey helps wounds to heal by killing the infecting bacteria. Honey has four main properties that help it to exterminate bacteria:

Honey contains lots of sugar
There is a lot of sugar in honey. In fact, it is a supersaturated solution of sugar, which means that it contains as much sugar as can possibly be dissolved in it. This makes it taste great, but it also means that there is very little water in the honey.

When the honey is on a wound, the honey acts like a dry sponge and soaks up any spare water. This is called osmosis. Because of osmosis, the honey draws fluid away from the infected wound. This helps to kill bacteria, which need liquid to be able to grow.

Honey is very acidic
Honey is very acidic. Its pH is between 3 and 4 - about the same as orange juice or a can of coke. Bacteria are killed in acidic environments like this. But if the honey is diluted (for example by the release of body fluids from a wound), it may be less acidic, allowing bacteria to grow again.

Honey produces hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is an antibacterial substance that is sold in pharmacies. It is made naturally in honey by an enzyme called glucose oxidase, which is added to the plant nectar by bees.

Glucose oxidase is not active in full strength honey because of the honey’s high acidity. However, when the honey is diluted (for example by the release of body fluids from a wound) the honey becomes less acid, the enzyme becomes active, and hydrogen peroxide is produced.

Honey contains plant-derived factors
Some honeys have antibacterial action that appears to be caused by phytochemicals that are found naturally in the nectar that the bees collect. For example, honey made from the flowers of New Zealand’s Mānuka trees seems to be particularly powerful at killing bacteria.

Because the exact molecule responsible for this activity has not yet been identified, it is called the Unique Mānuka Factor.

See news story: Comvita products target different wound types

    Published 1 June 2007, Updated 16 January 2013