Is Honey Antibacterial? The Science Behind the Magic


12 minutes

Essential Takeaways

Most pure, raw honeys are antibacterial. How antibacterial they are depends on their chemistry, and that’s dictated by numerous things from the bees to the flowers, and even the time of year that nectar was collected.

Hydrogen peroxide was the first compound attributed to the antibacterial activity in honey, but some honeys like manuka honey also have non-peroxide activity. This means that they are powerful antimicrobial agents, even when hydrogen peroxide is blocked.

Manuka honey has the highest levels of non-peroxide antibacterial activity, and has a grading system (UMF) to protect its integrity. So it’s often used in medicine and research to explore the potential of using honey instead of traditional antibacterial treatments.

Honey was used to heal long before humans knew anything about bacteria.

Its legacy as a powerful natural medicine has been passed down since ancient times until we finally had the technology to prove the science.

Honey for healing: is there any evidence?

Is honey antibacterial?

And if so, how?

That’s what we’ll discover in this guide.

Plus, which honey is the most antibacterial and how to get the best effects using antibacterial honey.

In this guide to antibacterial honey:

  • Is honey antibacterial?

  • Types of antibacterial honey

  • Antibacterial activity in manuka honey

  • Manuka honey and the antibiotic resistance crisis

  • How to use honey for antibacterial benefits

  • Where to find the best antibacterial honey

  • Antibacterial honey FAQs

Is Honey Antibacterial?

Yes, honey is antibacterial. And we’ve known about that in some capacity for a while.

“The antibacterial effects of honey have been known in practical terms for over a hundred years in the absence of a proper understanding of their specific mechanisms of action.”

People used honey for healing long before they knew how it worked or why.

What did they have to go on?

They had legacies passed on for generations, with honey powering up immunity and bringing vitality.

“[Honey] has been used for several centuries in many countries as a treatment of disease, even before knowledge existed on the causes of infection. It has been known to be very effective in almost all cases of infection and for the promotion of healing.”

Antibacterial activity in honey was first reported by van Ketel in 1892¹, and scientists have continued to study it ever since.

In the early days, it was thought that honey’s antibacterial qualities came from its high sugar content and its osmotic effect on bacteria².

In other words, the sugar would exert a pressure on the bacterial cells that forces out water, dehydrates them, and causes them to break down³.

It was expected that diluting the honey would dilute its antibacterial activity. But in 1919, this was shown not to be the case⁴.

And that didn’t make much sense to scientists.

On closer inspection they found that honey produced a compound called hydrogen peroxide¹. And it was a disinfectant⁵ and microbial agent in its own right.

So, in the early twentieth century, scientists used hydrogen peroxide levels as a metric for the antibacterial activity in honey.

As they continued to dig deeper, however, they discovered more and more factors that played a role in just how antibacterial honey could be.

“Honey is a powerful antimicrobial agent with a wide range of effects. Various components contribute to the antibacterial efficacy of honey: the sugar content; polyphenol compounds; hydrogen peroxide; 1,2-dicarbonyl compounds; and bee defensin-1.

All of these elements are present at different concentrations depending on the source of nectar, bee type, and storage.”

And they couldn’t fake it.

“...studies have shown that often no effective bacterial inhibition occurs in the presence of “artificial” honey which can be prepared using a mixture of mono-and disaccharides at the same concentrations as those present in honey.”

We now know that a number of things make honey antibacterial, and that one particular type of honey has the highest potency.

Even when its hydrogen peroxide is blocked, it still offers powerful antimicrobial effects².

Not all antibacterial honeys are created equal.

But we’ll get to that.

Is supermarket honey antibacterial?

Unfortunately, the colossal demand and limited supply of honey has made it one of the most faked foods on the planet.

As a result, many of the honey jars you find on grocery store shelves are not 100% pure, even if the labels say so.

They have often been overly processed or diluted, or both. And this can compromise the health benefits of this super nature food.

If honey is heated above the temperature of the hive (around 35℃, 95℉), its beneficial antibacterial enzymes begin to break down.

So, unless you are sure that your supermarket honey is raw and pure, it’s unlikely to have significant (if any) antibacterial properties.

Fortunately, there are ways to tell if you’re getting the real deal.

And it all starts with the type of honey.


Types of Antibacterial Honey

Most, if not all types of pure, raw honey will have some level of antibacterial activity².

Studies into the health properties of different types of honey happen all over the world, and the results are influenced by a few factors.

“The effectiveness and potency of honey against microorganisms depends on the type of honey produced, which is contingent on its botanical origin, the health of the bee, its origin, and processing method.”

Bees can travel miles to collect nectar and pollen, so many honeys are multifloral. In other words, they’re made using more than one floral source.

Understandably, this can cause quite a bit of variation in the chemical makeup of the honey.

We also know that the seasons can dictate phenolic acid content, another component of honey’s antibacterial activity³.

For these reasons, it’s difficult to make broad generalisations about antibacterial levels in every type of honey because it depends on too many factors.

Not all honeydew honeys will have the same antibacterial activity, for example⁶.

The one type of antibacterial honey that we can draw firm conclusions about is manuka honey.

That’s the case for two reasons;

  1. It’s been heavily studied in its monofloral form (where the nectar comes from a single floral source) so we have more evidence to work with, and;

  1. It’s the most regulated honey in the world with a grading system that verifies its antibacterial activity.

Manuka honey has up to 100 times more of a particular compound (methylglyoxal) than regular honeys.

And that’s what gives it the high antibacterial activity.

Antibacterial Activity in Manuka Honey

Hydrogen peroxide gives most honeys their antibacterial properties⁷.

But the special antibacterial properties of manuka honey come from a different compound.

We know this because when you remove or block the hydrogen peroxide, manuka honey still has its uniquely high antibacterial qualities².

This is referred to as non-peroxide activity (or NPA for short).

It comes from a compound called methylglyoxal (MGO) and manuka honey is particularly potent in MGO.

It’s so potent, in fact, that it’s used by medical professionals throughout the world for serious conditions, and has its own grading system to protect its integrity and authenticity.

It is directly linked to the mānuka plant floral source; Leptospermum scoparium, and the UMF™ (Unique Manuka Factor) grading system only accepts honey made exclusively from this plant in New Zealand.

For this reason, it’s easier to verify the uniquely high antibacterial activity in manuka honey than any other antibacterial honey in the world.

That’s how manuka honey has earned its reputation as a premium antibacterial honey.

Nutrient rich, New Zealand rare.

Manuka Honey and the Antibiotic Crisis

“Decades after the first patients were treated with antibiotics, bacterial infections have again become a threat because of the rapid emergence of resistant bacteria—a crisis attributed to abuse of these medications and a lack of new drug development.”

The antibacterial qualities of manuka honey have excited scientists and physicians for a few reasons:

  1. They’re very potent and effective,

  1. When used for medical issues there are few, if any, side effects (unlike traditional medical treatments)⁸, and,  

  1. Unlike traditional antibiotics, bacteria have yet to develop a resistance to manuka honey⁹.

That last point is particularly important today, and scientists have reason to believe that manuka honey treatments may be a long-term solution to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. 

“Honey is a natural substance with a complex composition, which turns out to be one of the main advantages for its use as an antimicrobial agent.

The presence of hundreds of compounds, which might act additively or synergistically in multiple bacterial targets, makes it difficult for bacteria to adapt to them, and therefore, make the development of resistance more complicated.”

The theory has been tested specifically with methylgyoxal (MGO), too.

One study tried to provoke two bacteria to develop resistance to MGO by repeatedly exposing them to extreme concentrations of manuka honey.

It failed.

Another study a year later tried something else. Researchers slowly increased the MGO concentrations applied to bacteria over a longer time period.

They concluded that the overall risk of bacteria becoming resistant to manuka honey is low.

Adopting manuka honey as an official, regulated medical treatment would be a long-term process, but that doesn’t stop you from owning a jar of nature’s superpowers in your own home.

With that in mind, how can you get the most out of your manuka honey at home?

How to Use Manuka Honey for Antibacterial Benefits

You can benefit from the antibacterial quality of manuka honey in a huge variety of ways.

In fact, we’ve listed over 170 ideas for using manuka honey.

Here are some of the most common health and wellness uses for antibacterial manuka honey.

Antibacterial manuka honey for wounds

Manuka honey contains a range of compounds that help our bodies to heal from wounds.

By applying the honey topically, it can clear the affected area, help cell tissue to regenerate, and protect the wound from bacteria.

Learn more about manuka honey for wound care.

Antibacterial manuka honey for burns and scars

As well as antibacterial properties, manuka honey also has anti-inflammatory properties.

So it’s perfect for topical use on burns and for helping scars to heal.

Learn more about using manuka honey for burns.

Learn how to use manuka honey for scars.

Antibacterial manuka honey for skincare

From maintaining healthy skin and elasticity to helping clear eczema and acne, the anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties in manuka honey make it a powerful agent in skincare.

Learn 3 natural ways to use manuka honey for managing acne.

Find out more about manuka honey for eczema.

Antibacterial manuka honey for oral care and ulcers

Manuka honey can be used to keep the mouth fresh and inflammation-free. Studies have shown its effectiveness against canker sores and mouth ulcers when used topically.

Learn more about manuka honey for the mouth.

Antibacterial manuka honey for fungal infections

Manuka honey’s anti-inflammatory effects make it a great natural solution to fungal infections. For the best results, apply topically and make sure you use generously where bodily fluids are present.

Find out how manuka honey is antifungal.

Is there anyone that shouldn’t use antibacterial honey?

Raw honey is not considered safe for infants and babies.

The natural spores sometimes found in honey can, in some rare cases, cause botulism¹⁰. This may also be the case for other sweeteners like molasses and corn syrup.

It’s also a good idea to avoid eating or using honey if you’re allergic to pollen.

Otherwise, honey is perfectly safe. It’s always best to consult a doctor before using anything for medical purposes.

Where to Find the Best Antibacterial Honey

If you want to trust that you’re getting the real deal, you’re in the right place.

We only deal with real, and we can prove it.

All our pure, raw monofloral manuka honeys are exclusively produced and packaged in New Zealand, and independently tested.  

Each batch is fully traceable with a UMF™ grade.

The higher the UMF™ grade, the more methylglyoxal (MGO) is present in the batch of honey.  

And you’ll be able to tell this from the jar.

For example, a batch of certified UMF™ 24+ | MGO 1122+ manuka honey contains at least 1122mg of methylglyoxal per kilogram of honey.

For medical purposes, we recommend opting for at least UMF™ 15+ | MGO 514+ or higher.

Here’s what a few of our verified customers have to say:

“Delicious and daily 1 tsp. seemed to heal lung infection better than antibiotics alone. I have COPD and take antibiotics often.”

“I purchased this to use in key of preventative antibiotics following a minor incision/stitches! It prevented infection and sped up wound healing dramatically! So thankful for this incredible and natural super food!!

“I suffer from chronic sinusitis and used to rinse my sinuses daily with a saline formula. I began mixing this UMF 24+ honey into the saline mix, and the difference was immediately noticeable.

What was once a tedious daily process is now only done rarely as needed, even at the height of allergy season. I almost forgot what it's like to breathe normally. This honey is fantastic and is also delicious and has a great texture.”

See more reviews.

Shop our range of raw manuka honey.

Unsure which grade is right for you?

Take the quiz.


FAQs: Antibacterial Honey

Rapid answers to your burning antibacterial honey questions. Remember to consult a doctor for anything related to medical use.

Can honey be used as an antibiotic?

Yes, there are some scenarios where honey has proven to be an effective antibacterial agent. Antibacterials are just one type of antibiotic, so it’s important to ensure you’re using the right product. Honey has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties and is often used to help heal wounds, burns, scars, and infections.

Is honey antifungal?

Yes, there is evidence to show that honey is antifungal and effective even when traditional antibiotics aren’t working. It’s best to use manuka honey topically as an antifungal treatment, and to opt for one of the higher UMF™ grades for maximum impact.

What’s the best antibacterial honey?

UMF™-graded manuka honey is the best antibacterial honey. This is due to its uniquely high levels of non-peroxide activity (from the compound, methylglyoxal), and its strict verification standards. It is the most regulated honey in the world, so you can be sure that you’re getting the best possible antibacterial honey.

What is the best honey for infections?

Medical grade manuka honey has potent antibacterial properties and many studies have shown its powerful effects when used on infections. Vets and doctors use it for severe medical conditions due to the fact that it’s effective, has few (if any) side effects, and many types of bacteria have become resistant to traditional antibiotics.

What is antibacterial honey used for?

Antibacterial honey is used on a wide range of medical complaints from the most severe wounds, burns, scars, and infections, through to maintaining everyday health and wellness. Regardless of use type, the best antibacterial honey is UMF™ graded manuka honey. UMF™ honey has been verified as fresh, uncontaminated, and containing particular levels of MGO.

Can you put honey on an infected wound?

Yes, however you should check with your doctor first. If you’re allergic to pollen, it’s best to avoid using honey. Honey is fantastic for healing wounds because it seals off the infected area to stop bacteria getting in, it cleans the wound, and it maintains a moist environment for healing.

Should I put honey on an open wound?

Yes, you can put honey on an open wound. It’s always best to check with a doctor before using anything for medical purposes. With its uniquely high antibacterial properties, manuka honey is best for an open wound because it locks in the area, keeping microbes and bacteria out, and it maintains a moist environment for cells to regenerate and heal fast.

How can I fight an infection without antibiotics?

It depends on the infection, but manuka honey can be a powerful antibacterial treatment. It keeps infected or wounded areas clean, free from bacteria, and moist, whilst helping cells to regenerate and repair tissue. Manuka honey has the most potent antibacterial effects, and UMF™ graded jars meet the strictest standards in the world for honey freshness and authenticity.

Where can I buy antibacterial honey?

We sell independently tested UMF™ manuka honey produced and packaged exclusively in New Zealand, so you can trust what’s in the jar. Always opt for UMF™-graded manuka honey for antibacterial use because it has been tested to the strictest honey standards in the world.

Your wellness journey starts with a spoonful a day.


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