Manuka Honey: The Sweet Treatment for Wounds
I was introduced to manuka honey over twenty years ago by my brother who lives in New Zealand. He sent me a tiny jar for Christmas with a note saying that it was the most powerful honey in the world.
That definitely got my attention. Historically, honey as a remedy fell out of favor with the advent of antibiotics, but it has been used as a topical to treat wounds for thousands of years.
It was several months before I actually tried the manuka my brother sent me. A friend was visiting and cut his hand working on my lawnmower. I thought it needed stitches, but he didn’t want to go to the hospital. So I cleaned the wound, put a little colloidal silver on it, then the manuka, threw on a nonstick pad and covered it in vet wrap. Each day, I added more honey, and was amazed to see the healthy tissues — the wound was healing from the inside out, with no sign of infection. To this day there isn’t even a scar on his hand from that deep cut.
A natural antibacterial
Manuka honey is made by bees that collect nectar from the manuka tree in New Zealand. This honey is unique in that it contains non-hydrogen peroxide, which gives it greater antibacterial power. Research conducted twenty years ago showed that manuka was able to inhibit around 60 species of bacteria, included E. coli and Salmonella strains.
In 2008, a key active component in manuka honey was identified as methylglyoxal (MGO), a compound with antimicrobial activity. Studies have shown that manuka honey can disperse and kill bacteria living in biofilms — communities of microbes notoriously resistant to antibiotics — including Streptococcus and Staphylococcus. There are no reported cases of bacteria developing resistance to manuka, and resistance to this honey cannot be generated in the laboratory.
In 2017, at the American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention in San Antonio, Texas, a presentation was made by Albert Tsang, BVSc, a research student at the University of Sydney School of Veterinary Science in New South Wales, Australia. Tsang reported on a study he and his colleagues conducted on the efficacy of manuka honey on wound healing in the equine distal limb.
In the study they created full-thickness skin wounds (2.5 cm) on eight horses’ canon bones. Horses were treated with manuka honey, multi-floral honey, or a saline control.
“The team found that wounds treated with manuka honey healed faster than those treated with either generic honey or saline. Specifically, healing times were 90.78, 100.3, and 101.35 days, respectively.”
A grading system developed in New Zealand is called the UMF system. It measures specific markers such as: MGO (methlglyoxal), which is a compound with antibacterial properties. The UMF grading system also measures NPA (non-peroxide activity), compared with the industry standard phenol disinfectant. This particular marker is directly related to the overall UMF rating. For example if a batch of manuka honey has a NPA of 18, then it will be labeled as UMF 18+.
There are other grading systems used by other companies, but not all of them measure NPA. The MGO grading system does measure NPA, as does UMF. When you want to treat wounds, the NPA content of the honey is critical.
I generally purchase manuka from companies using the UMF system. The highest UMF grades (meaning NPA) under this system are 18+ and 20+. I keep 20+ on hand always. This is what I use to treat wounds and scrapes on dogs, horses, and humans.
Treating a dog wound with manuka
Two weeks ago my Aussie, Thunderbear, cut his paw just below the ankle while swimming in the pond. I suspect he cut it on a rock. It was deep enough for stitches, but I elected to treat it at home. After a Betadine wash, I put some colloidal silver in the wound, packed it with manuka honey, added a nonstick pad, and then vet wrap. I changed the bandages twice a day for five days, so that I could stay on top of any possible infection. There was none. As the deep part of the wound healed, I began treating just once a day, and added BioStar’s Traumera Artisan poultice on top of the honey and around the ankle. The poultice helped reduce the soreness around the outside of the wound. In ten days the wound had healed from the inside out — and no scar.
A few days ago, Thunderbear went to the vet for his yearly check up, and I told the vet about the wound. He lifted Thunderbear’s paw and examined it.
“What antibiotic did you use?” he asked me. “It’s healed beautifully.”
“Manuka honey,” I replied.
The look on his face was a mixture of horror and a kind of wonder. I was all set to give him a rousing explanation of the great wound healing benefits of manuka honey, but he just set Thunderbear’s paw down and took out his stethoscope to listen to the dog’s heart.
Some people aren’t ready to hear about alternatives.
Medicine cabinet essentials
The wound-treating essentials in my medicine cabinet include:
- manuka honey
- colloidal silver
- Betadine (povidone-iodine)
- Traumera poultice
- bovine colostrum (EQ or K9)
- calendula oil
- homeopathic Arnica 30C and Hypericum 30C
- plenty of nonstick pads and rolls of Vetwrap
Also included is a bottle of Bach Flower Rescue Remedy to help with the animal or human’s stress. I do keep on hand the standard wound medicines — Fura-Zone ointment, triple antibiotic ointment, Vetericyn — but I honestly don’t use them very often.
Wounds can be more challenging to treat in the summer, as the moist, hot conditions are especially favorable for bacteria. That’s why manuka honey, effective against so many different bacteria, is an important medicine to have on hand, and to use whenever needed.