Honey is much more than just a sweetener. It has been used for centuries for healing and rejuvenation. Most of the honey sold in stores has been heated and pasturized. This processing destroys many of the enzymes and beneficial compounds that make raw honey so nutritious. Regular honey often looks clear and syrupy. Raw honey has not been treated with heat; it is often more buttery, solid and opaque than pasteurized honey and often contains "cappings," or small pieces of beeswax. It is completely left in its natural state and therefore contains pollen, enzymes, antioxidants and many other beneficial compounds that researchers are just beginning to learn about. Be sure not to give any honey, either raw or treated, to a child under the age of 12 months.
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Some research supports the theory that local honey-- obtained as close as possible to where you live--may help build an immunity to some seasonal allergies. There is not much research to support this idea, yet many people claim that using honey in this way provides allergy relief. Allergies are triggered by continuous exposure to the same allergen over time. Even if a particular plant is not allergenic initally, it can potentially become very allergenic if you spend much time in the same environment as the plant. Honey made by bees in the vicinity of the allergenic plant will contain tiny amounts of pollen from that plant. This honey will act as a sort of vaccine if taken in small amounts--a few teaspoons per day--for several months, and can provide relief from seasonal pollen-related allergies.
Note, however, that MedlinePlus, a service of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, warns against the consumption of raw honey because, like other raw foods, it may be a potential source of food poisoning.
Antioxidants and Phytonutrients
Honey is also rich in powerful antioxidants and cancer-fighting phytonutrients, which can be found in the propolis, or "honey glue" that the bees use to sterilize the beehive. Raw honey contains some of these compounds while pasteurized honey does not.
In its natural, raw state, honey contains many enzymes that can help some people digest food more easily so it may also help treat ulcers and diarrhea.
Vitamins and Minerals
The nutrient content of raw honey varies, but a 1-ounce serving contains very small amounts of folate as well as vitamins B2, C, B6, B5 and B3. Minerals including calcium, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, sodium and zinc can also be found in raw honey in small amounts.
Honey can be used as medicine. It has anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and antiseptic properties. For this reason it can be applied topically to treat burns, as researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand describe in a 2008 study.
Honey has also been found to be especially useful in treating upper respiratory infections. A study at Penn State College of Medicine in 2007 found that a small dose of buckwheat honey was more effective than an over-the-counter cough treatment for children.