Does Honey Really Help A Sore Throat?

Honey is a long-standing folk remedy. So long, in fact, that in August of 2020, Bee Culture, America's number one beekeeping magazine, published a short piece on the history of honey as medicine. It's a detailed overview since the actual history is long enough to fill a book. Or several.

But modern medicine needs more than a long tradition of use before it endorses natural remedies. And that's why a group of Spanish researchers conducted a 2016 review of studies about honey. They found substantial evidence that honey is both antibacterial and antiviral, which means it could be incredibly helpful for sore throats, either viral or bacterial, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Viruses such as the common cold can set one off, as can bacteria such as group A strep.

Honey won't kill a cold or heal strep throat, but it can soothe the pain caused by either and potentially shorten healing times because of its anti-inflammatory properties, as confirmed by the Mayo Clinic. The pain and swallowing difficulty associated with a sore throat is most often due to inflammation that can be reduced by dissolving honey into warm tea or water then drinking it to coat the throat.

You can try honey for coughs, too

While honey is most often used to soothe sore throats, some studies have found that it may be even more effective as a cough treatment. A 2007 study out of Penn State compared the impact of honey, dextromethorphan (a common over-the-counter cough remedy), and no treatment for cough. Researchers found that it was honey, not dextromethorphan, that left participants feeling their best.

The study was conducted on 105 children all of whom had upper respiratory infections lasting up to seven days and had disturbed sleep because of it. Parents would administer either honey, over-the-counter medicine, or nothing at all depending on which group they were in. Parents overwhelmingly rated honey as the most effective treatment, soothing coughs more effectively, allowing the children to rest.

Honey is not a miracle cure, of course. Children under the age of one year should not have honey because they are more susceptible to botulism, a rare and very serious illness caused by toxins found in honey and other foods (via the CDC). And, on rare occasions, honey may cause an allergic reaction in those allergic to bees. But for most people, honey can be an effective, affordable, and delicious relief from a sore throat, so why not try it?