Could honey be the next wonder drug?
RMIT University research, funded by an ARC Linkage grant, is investigating the biological and chemical properties of honey produced from plants used in traditional herbal medicine. If successful, this “bioactive honey” could be used to treat cuts, burns and ulcers and fight a growing number of “superbugs”.
Dr Nitin Mantri, from the Health Innovations Research Institute at RMIT University, believes the study will show an increase in antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in honey produced from medicinal plants versus “wild” honey.
“Honey has long been used for its medicinal value and research has shown that its properties are influenced by the plants the nectar was sourced from,” said Dr Mantri.
Professor Eddie Pang from the School of Applied Sciences at RMIT University believes a targeted approach will allow a better understanding of bioactive honeys.
“Our study will target specific plants used in traditional Indian and Chinese herbal medicine to find exactly how the properties differ from honey produced from other native and introduced species,” said Professor Pang.
Honey’s antimicrobial properties also work differently to synthetic drugs, allowing it to work on bacteria that have evolved a resistance to conventional medications, known as “superbugs”.
“Early studies suggest that honey is effective against antimicrobial-resistant bacteria because it may target the cells using multiple pathways instead of just one,” said Dr Mantri.
“This means that bacteria that have developed a resistance to one pathway may still be susceptible to antimicrobial medications that use other pathways. Bioactive honey could potentially be a good candidate to do the job.”
While some bioactive honeys, like Manuka honey, are already sold around the world for their enhanced properties, the business is not profitable or efficient as Manuka crops are wild-grown and have no other commercial use. Traditional herbal medicine crops, however, are sown and harvested under profitable business models, so using the flowers to produce honey could provide farmers and bee keepers with an additional revenue stream.