There's stuff kicking around your house that does more than you expect it to—kind of like a roommate who vacuums, but less foul-mouthed. This stuff, in kitchen cabinets, bathroom drawers and the like, contains hidden powers that were established by trial and error, passed down through time as folk wisdom, and finally, verified with modern research. These are the remedies you'll find in our series, Home Lab.
There's a lot of sketchy information floating around about "all natural" remedies, and for a food that earns nearly all its calories from sugar, honey has been the recipient of a shocking amount of health praise. But as it turns out, the home-remedy crackpots may be on to something with this one. There's some promising preliminary research to support the gold nectar's health halo.
Centuries ago, Greeks and Egyptians took advantage of honey's health benefits, according to Joseph Feuerstein, the director of integrative medicine at Stamford Hospital. It was used to treat everything from cuts to eye infections. You may have used it yourself to soothe a sore throat (definitely a solid strategy, Feuerstein says). But more recently, research has confirmed even more ways you've been short-selling honey by using it as a mere sweetener. Here are some of its best qualifications:
It works like an all-natural Neosporin
"The number one clinical use for honey is to help treat wounds," Feuerstein says. "There's even a pharmaceutical grade honey-based product, called Medihoney, that's used for wound healing." This is for a number of reasons: The viscous material creates a barrier that protects against infection-causing pathogens, and its antimicrobial properties help snuff out bacteria and speed up the growth of new tissue, according to a review published in The Scientific World Journal. Give it a shot by applying it to a bandage and completely covering the entire wound.
It's weirdly like mouthwash but swallowable
A small study published in the International Academy of Periodontology found that honey may help get your dentist off your back. Thirty participants were randomly given either sugar-free gum or a chewable form of manuka honey—a type of honey from Australia and New Zealand known for its antibacterial properties—after each meal. After 21 days of treatment, the honey group had a significant reduction in plaque and gum bleeding related to gingivitis. A follow-up study in 2010 found similar results in a group of 60 male dental students: Those who applied manuka honey to their gums twice a day (letting it set for 5 minutes, and then repeating twice each time) had plaque reduction on par with those who used a traditional plaque-reducing mouthwash. Researchers believe that credit belongs to the nectar's ability to battle bacteria, as well as its ability to neutralize some of the mouth's post-meal acidity, which allows bacteria to produce compounds necessary for plaque formation.
It gives you energy
You probably shouldn't chug your honey bear, but a spoonful can give you the stamina boost you need to crush a serious workout or endurance run, says Laura Cipullo, a nutritionist in New York City. "The sugars in honey are the most easily absorbed," she says. The reason: Honey's sweetness comes from a mix of fructose and glucose, the same sugars in refined white sugar. But unlike with the granular stuff, honey's fructose and glucose aren't bound together, so your body can access them more easily. Plus, thanks to the other compounds in honey, it has a slightly more subtle effect on your blood sugar.
It soothes your itchy scalp
Before you give another medicated shampoo a shot, try some honey mixed with water. A study published in the European Journal of Medical Research found that raw honey (the unheated, unfiltered kind) could treat even severe scalp problems. Thirty subjects with scaly, itchy scalps applied honey diluted with 10 percent warm water every other day, leaving it in for 3 hours each time. After a week, symptoms improved in all patients. After two weeks, their skin lesions had healed, and those patients who'd been experiencing hair loss started seeing regrowth. Credit belongs, once again, to honey's antimicrobial properties, which block the bacteria that causes dandruff.