Abstract: Honey is a natural resource for sugar. It is
prepared by honeybees from the nectar of various
flowers with the help of the enzymes in its body.
Honey, apart from being a high quality nutrient,
serves as a functional food and has a wide range of
medicinal properties attributed to it. Honey is the
best catalyst and adjunct with medicine. It should
not be heated or consumed with hot substances and
drinks. However, it can be heated in conditions
where it won’t be digested but be thrown out of the
body after consumption as in emesis. Honey should
be consumed in less quantity as when consumed in
excess, may cause indigestion which is difficult to
Keywords: Honey, functional food, madhu,
fructose, wound healing, emesis, Ayurveda.
“Honey”, a word we use in day-to-day
conversation, is a name used to call someone we
love or like very much ; a term signifying
something sweet, delightful or delicious. The actual
meaning is a sweet, viscid fluid made by bees from
the nectar collected from flowers, and stored in
their nests or hives as food. The Indo-European
word for honey might best be sought in the more
fully-attested root medhu,
normally assigned the value
of “mead”, a wine made
from fermented honey of
In ancient Indian
language, Sanskrit, honey
means madhu, which also
means sweet, delightful,
charming, juice of nectar of
flowers and a sweet intoxicating
The term “functional food” indicates that
the food provides health benefits beyond those
supplied by the traditional nutrients it contains.
Though this seems to be a new concept for the food
industry and the field of nutrition, honey has,
especially in Ayurveda, been commonly known as
pathya, which means wholesome or beneficial. This
concept is in line with the tenet “Let food be thy
medicine and medicine be thy food,” espoused by
Hippocrates. A functional food is, essentially, a
natural food in which the component(s) are
naturally enhanced. Claire M. Hasler opines, in
particular, there has been an explosion of consumer
interest in the health-enhancing role of specific
foods or physiologically active food components,
so-called functional foods.
Honey has long been consumed as both a natural
sweetening agent and food. The main nutritional
andhealth relevant components are carbohydrates,
mainly fructose and glucose, with the addition of
about 25 different oligosaccharides. Although
16 Light on Ayurveda Journal, Vol. IX, Issue 4, Summer 2011
An Ancient Functional Food
honey is a high carbohydrate food, its glycemic
index varies within a wide range from 32 to 85,
depending on the botanicalsource. It contains small
amounts of proteins, enzymes, amino acids,
minerals, trace elements, vitamins, aroma
Varieties of Honey
The nutritional and medicinal uses of honey are
explained in detail in most of the classics of
Ayurveda. There are eight varieties of honey of
which four have medicinal properties. The
commonly used varieties are mÀkÈika and kÈaudra,
which are prepared by two types of honeybees,
makÈikÀ and kÈudra. According to the description of
makÈikÀ, it is tawny or reddish brown in color and
bigger in size. The kÈudra is also tawny in color but
is smaller; both usually nest in the cavities of tree or
with camouflage if in the open. Based on this
description, they could perhaps be compared with
Apis dorsata and Apis florae respectively.
Honey is sweet with a last tinge of astringent
flavor. It has few of its basic properties like cool
on touch or on application; has capacity to dry up
the body fluid; mixes with the medicine to which
it is added and acts according to the quality of drug
leaving its own nature; it can enter the minute
channels of the body and is pellucid all of
which gives it the medicinal value.
Actions in the Body
Honey increases appetite, increases
complexion, good for voice, brings
softness, has scraping out effect, is good for
the heart, seizes the urine and feces, good for
vision, soothing and tranquilizing, gives
strength, and enhances memory.
Honey is beneficial in diarrhea. A clinical study
was undertaken using honey in oral rehydration
solution in infants and children with
gastroenteritis. The results showed that honey
shortens the duration of bacterial diarrhea and may
safely be used as a substitute for glucose in a oral
rehydration solution containing electrolytes.
Antioxidants in honey have even been implicated
in reducing the damage done to the colon in colitis.
Honey is the best sweetener in diabetes. In a
clinical study, a high degree of tolerance to honey
was recorded in subjects with diabetes, indicating a
lower glycemic index of honey. Thus, it is evident
that honey may prove to be a valuable sugar
substitute for subjects with impaired glucose
tolerance or mild diabetes. Honey is slowly taken
up into the bloodstream thus reducing blood
glucose levels; it also has a high level of bioavailable
antioxidants making it less harmful when
compared to table sugar.
The topical application of honey on a wound
removes the pus, slough and promotes its
healing. A small number of clinical case studies
have shown that application of honey to severely
infected cutaneous wounds is capable of clearing
infection from the wound and improving tissue
healing. The physico-chemical properties such as
osmotic effects and the pH of honey, also aid in its
antibacterial actions. Research has also indicated
that honey may possess anti-inflammatory activity
and stimulate immune responses within a
wound. Hydrogen peroxide is formed in a slow-
release manner by the enzyme glucose oxidase
present in honey. When honey is used topically,
hydrogen peroxide is produced by dilution of the
honey with body fluids. As a result, hydrogen
peroxide is released slowly and acts as an
antiseptic. Honey has a very effective broad-
spectrum antibacterial agent with no adverse
effects on wound tissues. The potent anti-
inflammatory action of honey, by its antioxidants;
promotion of tissue regeneration through
stimulation of angiogenesis; the growth of
Light on Ayurveda Journal, Vol. IX, Issue 4, Summer 2011
fibroblasts and epithelial cells and its insulin-
mimetic effect; all stimulate the healing of diabetic
Honey has a cardio-protective action and hence
is beneficial in heart diseases. Animal
experiments showed that honey reduces blood
cholesterol level. Hence it can be administered in
cardiac diseases. Again animal experiments
exhibited consumption of honey significantly
lowers weight gains, meaning honey may also be
beneficial in treating overweight and obesity.
Honey can also be consumed when suffering from
constipation as it may have a laxative effect on
normal subjects because of incomplete fructose
absorption. The Ayurvedic classical texts mention
that it is highly useful in skin diseases,
10,12,13,15,16 10,12-15 14
worms, vomiting, rhinitis, respiratory
10,12-15 10,12-15 10,12-16 14
diseases, cough, hiccup, giddiness,
14 10,12-16 14
emaciation, thirst, pain in flanks, and
Heating of Honey
Honey should not be heated. The bees collect honey
from flowers with different qualities which may
contradict each other, or include some poisonous
flowers. Hence consuming heated honey acts as
poison. Honey should not be consumed
immediately after working in the hot sun or high
temperatures, or with substances like hot water or
hot foods; nor in temperate areas and in hot
summer. However, it can be consumed with food
and medicine that are hot in potency. Honey can be
heated only while administering emesis as it won’t
undergo digestion. Honey should not be given to
old people, even during emesis as there is a fear that
it may take the lower root. As per Ross Conrad,
heating of honey causes destruction of enzymes
diluting a lot of the medicinal value of honey.
Amount to Consume
Honey, if consumed in lesser quantity, can be
considered as good for health. However, if
consumed in excess, it causes Àma (a toxin-like
substance caused due to improper digestion of
food), leading to mÀdhvÀjÁrõa (indigestion due to
honey) — this is due to qualities like astringent
flavor, ability to dry body fluids and coolness
which may cause various severe diseases.
Honey is nature’s boon to human beings as a
natural food. Though a sugar, it does not have the
ill-effect of sugar and only the benefits of it. Along
with being a nutrient, it also has many medicinal
effects, thus, honey can be considered as an ancient
1. Patrick Gillard, Elizabeth Walter (eds.). Cambridge
Dictionary: A Mini Dictionary of English Language.
Cambridge University Press; 2010.
2. Edward G. Finnegan, Thomas Vadakekalam
(eds.). New Webster’s Dictionary: Dictionary of the
English Language — College Edition, Delhi: Surjeet
3. Phoenix 2010, March 4, “My sweet honeybee”.
Retrieved from http://paleoglot.blogspot.com/
Accessed on 26.9.2010.
4. E. Leumann, C. Cappeller (eds.). Monier Monier-
Williams. A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: A Sanskrit to
English Dictionary, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
18 Light on Ayurveda Journal, Vol. IX, Issue 4, Summer 2011
5. Gordon M. Wardlaw, Contemporary Nutrition:
Issues and Insight, 5 edn. New York: McGraw Hill,
2003, p. 34.
6. Catherine A Geissler & Hilary J Powers, Human
Nutrition, 1 edn. Elsevier Churchill Livingstone,
2005, p. 21.
7. C.M. Hasler (1998), “A New Look at an Ancient
Concept”, Chem. Industry Feb. 2: pp. 84-89.
8. Stefan Bogdanov, Tomislav Jurendic, Robert
Sieber and Peter Gallmann, “Honey for Nutrition
and Health: A Review”, Journal of the American
College of Nutrition 2008; vol. 27, no. 6, 677-89;
6/677. Accessed on 28.9.2010.
9. Agriculture and Consumer Protection — 1987, “Bee
Keeping in Asia”, Retrieved from
tm Accessed on 29.9.2010.
10. Sushruta. Jadavji Trikamji Acharya, Narayan Ram
Acharya (eds.). Suœruta SaÚhitÀ with
Nibandhasangraha Commentary of Dalhana and
Nyayachandrica Panjika of Gayadasa on Nidanasthana,
1 edn., Varanasi: Chaukhamba Surbharati
Prakashan, 2003, Description of Liquid
11. Agnivesha. Gangasahaya Pandeya (ed.). The
Caraka Samhita Revised by Caraka and Dridhabala
with Ayurveda Deepika Commentary of
Cakrapanidatta and with Vidyotini Hindi Commentary
by Kasinatha Sastri, 1 edn. Varanasi:
Chaukhambha Sanskrit Sansthan, 2007, The Types
of Foods and Drinks/403-4.
12. Vahata or Vrddha Vagbhata. Shivprasad Sharma
(ed.). Astangasamgraha of Sasilekha with Sanskrit
Commentary by Indu, 1 edn. Varanasi:
Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 2006,
Knowledge of Liquid substances/43.
13. Vagbhata. Harisastri Paradkar Vaidya (ed.).
Astangahridaya with the Commentaries
Sarvangasundara of Arunadatta and Ayurveda
Rasayana of Hemadri. Varanasi: Krishnadas
Academy, 1995, Knowledge of Liquid
14. Hariprasada Tripaty (ed.). Harita Samhita, 2 edn.
Varanasi: Chowkhambha Krishnadasa Academy,
2009. pp. 103-4.
15. Bhava Misra, Brahmasankara Misra & Rupalalaji
Vaisya (eds.). Bhavaprakasha - Part I including
Nighantu Portion, 1 edn. Varanasi: Chaukhambha
Sanskrit Sansthan, 2004, Madhu Varga/788-91.
16. Priyavrata Sharma and Guru Prasada Sharma.
Kaiyadeva Nighantuh: Pathyapathya Vibodhakah, 1
edn., Varanasi: Chaukhambha Orientalia, 1979.
17. M.D. Zulkharnain. Medicinal Secrets of Your Food,
2 edn. Bangalore-Mysore: Indo-American
Hospital Trust, 1996, pp. 722-25.
18. I.E. Haffejee, A. Moosa. Honey in the Treatment of
Infantile Gastroenteritis. British Medical Journal
(Clin. Res. Ed.) 1985, 290:1866 doi:
10.1136/bmj.290.6485.1866. Retrieved from
www.bmj.com; Accessed on 29.9.2010.
19. Y. Bilsel, D. Bugra, S. Yamaner, T. Bulut, U.
Cevikbas, & U. Turkoglu. Could Honey Have a
Place in Colitis Therapy? Digestive Surgery 2002; 29:
306-12. doi:10.1159/000064580. Retrieved from
http://content.karger.com/ProdukteDB/p r o d u
k t e . a s p ? A k t i o n = S h o w P D F & P r o d u k t N r
= 2 2 3 9 9 6 & A u s g a b e = 2 2 8 5 5 7 & A r t i k e l N r
= 6 4 5 8 0 & filename=64580.pdf. Accessed on
20. Mamdouh Abdulmaksoud Abdulrahman,
Mohamed Amin Mekawy, Maha Mohamed
Awadalla, Ashraf Hassan Mohamed. Bee Honey
Added to the Oral Rehydration Solution in
Treatment of Gastroenteritis in Infants and
Children. Journal of Medicinal Food 2010, 13(3): 605-
9. doi:10.1089/jmf.2009.0075. Retrieved from
/jmf.2009.0075. Accessed on 29.9.2010
21. O.P. Agrawal, A. Pachauri, H. Yadav, J. Urmila,
H.M. Goswamy, A. Chapperwal, P.S. Bisen,
G.B.K.S. Prasad. Subjects with Impaired Glucose
Tolerance Exhibit a High Degree of Tolerance to
Honey. Journal of Medicinal Food 2007, 10(3): 473-78.
doi:10.1089/jmf.2006.070. Retrieved from
/jmf.2006.070 Accessed on 26.9.2010.
22. Lynne Merran Chepulis. An Investigation of the
Health Benefits of Honey as a Replacement for Sugar in
the Diet. Retrieved from http://researchcommons.
waikato.ac.nz/handle/10289/2612 . Accessed on
23. L. Chepulis & N.J. Starkey, The Long-term Effects
of Feeding Honey Compared with Sucrose and a
Sugar-free Diet on Weight Gain, Lipid Profiles, and
DEXA Measurements in Rats. Journal of Food
Science 2008, 73(1), H1-H7. Retrieved from
Light on Ayurveda Journal, Vol. IX, Issue 4, Summer 2011
ull+item+record. Accessed on 24.9.2010.
24. P.E. Lusby, A.B. Coombes, J. M. Wilkinson,
GradDip. Honey: A Potent Agent for Wound
Healing? Journal of Wound, Ostomy & Continence
Nursing Nov. 2002, 29(6):295-300. Retrieved from
und_Healing_.8.aspx. Accessed on 24.9.2010.
25. S.E. Efem. Clinical Observations on the Wound
Healing Properties of Honey. British Journal of
Surgery 1988 July, 75(7):679-81. Retrieved from
. Accessed on 24.9.2010.
26. A.K. Bangroo, Ramji Khatri, Smita Chauhan.
Honey Dressing in Pediatric Burns, 2005, 10(3):172-
75. www.jaips.com. doi:10.4103/0971-9261.
6 1 ; ye a r = 2 0 0 5 ; v o l u m e = 1 0 ;
pe=0 Accessed on 24.9.2010.
27. A.B. Jull, A. Rodgers, N. Walker. Honey as a
Topical Treatment for Wounds. Cochrane Database
of Systematic Reviews 2008. DOI:
srev/articles/CD005083/frame.html . Accessed
28. H. Wahdan. Causes of the Antimicrobial Activity
of Honey. Infection, 1998, 26 (1): 26–31.
doi:10.1007/BF02768748. PMID 9505176.
Retrieved from www.wikipedia.com. Accessed on
29. P.C. Molan, Re-introducing Honey in the
Management of Wounds and Ulcers Theory and
Practice. Ostomy/Wound Management, 2002, 4811:
28-40. Retrieved from http://researchcommons.
waikato.ac.nz/handle/10289/203. Accessed on
30. P.C. Molan & J.A. Betts. Using Honey to Heal
Diabetic Foot Ulcers. Advances in Skin & Wound
Care 2008, 21(7): 313-16. Retrieved from
w+simple+item+record. Accessed on 24.9.2010.
31. S. Noori Al-Waili. Natural Honey Lowers Plasma
Glucose, C - reactive Protein, Homocysteine, and
Blood Lipids in Healthy, Diabetic, and
Hyperlipidemic Subjects: Comparison with
Dextrose and Sucrose. Journal of Medicinal Food,
April 2004, 7(1): 100-107.
doi:10.1089/109662004322984789. Retrieved from
/109662004322984789. Accessed on 29.9.2010.
32. S.D. Ladas, D.N. Haritos and S.A. Raptis. Honey
may have a Laxative Effect on Normal Subjects
because of Incomplete Fructose absorption.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1995, 62:1212-
1215. Retrieved from http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/
content/abstract/62/6/1212 Accessed on
33. Lou Bendrick 2009, Oct 28. Heat Makes Honey Toxic,
and Other Myths of the Hive. Retrieved from
hive/. Accessed on 29.9.2010.
20 Light on Ayurveda Journal, Vol. IX, Issue 4, Summer 2011
Dr. M.B. Kavita is a lecturer in the Department
of Post-Graduation Studies in Swasthavritta at
Shri Dharmasthala Manjunatheshwara College
of Ayurveda and Hospital, Hassan, Karnataka,
India and has also worked in the Department of
Prasuti Tantra and Stree Roga. She is active in
adolescent reproductive health education for
school children and in women’s health. She has
delivered radio and TV talks on food and
lifestyle. She is involved in research titled “A
study on Hypolipidemic Action of Bhavita
Amalaki”, sponsored by Rajiv Gandhi
University of Health Sciences, Bengaluru,
India. She is currently pursuing her PhD on
research titled “A study on Effect of Amalaki as
Food Supplement in Dyslipidemia”. Dr. Kavita
graduated from S.D.M. College of Ayurveda
and Hospital, Udupi, Karnataka with a post-
graduation degree in Swasthavritta from
S.D.M. College of Ayurveda and Hospital,
Hassan. Contact at: email@example.com