Nagged for a number of years by an aging associate into becoming the “custodian” of three beehives, Dr Lamorna Osborne overcame her initial reluctance for bee keeping and began to learn about the genetics, heredity and democracy of the hive, well before discovering any of the associated health benefits of Manuka honey.
“If someone had told me that there was medicinal qualities in honey I would have gone ‘yeah right’ and laughed because I am a western trained doctor and we had never heard of it. I was a healthy skeptic”.
Dr Osborne became aware of anecdotal evidence of the healing qualities of ‘Manuka’ honey but firmly dismissed it as ‘hocus-pocus’ until she attended a talk by microbiologist and doctoral honoree, Shona Blair. On hearing Dr Blair discussing her Phd thesis on ‘The Therapeutic Benefits of Honey’ Dr Osborne’s interest in the medicinal qualities of ‘Manuka’ honey became piqued.
After her initial incredulity Dr Osborne began applying the Manuka honey to patients’ leg ulcers and burns at her surgery and was ‘amazed’ at the results. She found that in the course of her treatments her patients’ wounds cleared up and it was particularly helpful if patients were suffering from ‘malodorous’ wounds, which have a pungent and unpleasant smell. Typically, patients with inoperable squamous cell skin cancers suffer from this condition. While the Manuka honey does not cure the cancer it does abate the smell.
Human skin has an acidic pH and bacteria prefer the alkaline environment that is common in its biofilm. Manuka honey is acidic and so helps restore the acidic pH level of the skin. This means the bacteria cannot prosper, thereby reducing the risk of bacterial infection.
Manuka honey also derives some of its special healing qualities from the process of “osmosis” or the exchange of substances through membranes. The energy that is produced by the “osmotic pressure” of honey draws fresh blood serum and naturally occurring antibodies from the body and enzymes migrate from the honey through the membranes of the skin. The “osmotic” quality of honey allows it to draw the moisture from bacteria that inhabit the wound, dehydrating them so they can’t grow.
Finally, naturally occurring enzymes from the bee’s stomachs known as peroxidases help to gently bleach the wound by acting as a disinfectant. In combination these naturally occurring processes are extremely effective in the healing cycle. But for Dr Osborne, now a much less reluctant keeper of bees, “it is the satisfaction of seeing people healing really difficult wounds much more cheaply and without scars” that makes her such a fan of Manuka honey.