Honey has been used for its anti-microbial and wound healing properties for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It is therefore not surprising that several groups of scientists have decided to investigate it as a potential herpes treatment.
Although there have been no large-scale double-blind clinical trials of honey as a herpes treatment there have been several smaller in vitro and in vivo studies that have sought to examine the efficacy of both honey and propolis, another bee product, for the treatment of herpes symptoms. These studies have, on the whole, been surprisingly successful.
The largest published human study randomized 90 patients with genital herpes to try one of three treatments during an outbreak - propolis ointment, topical acyclovir, or a placebo ointment - and found that individuals in the propolis group both experienced faster healing of their lesions and were significantly more likely to have fully healed their lesions by day 10 of treatment than either people using the placebo or people using the topical acyclovir.
A smaller human study looked at 8 patients with genital herpes and 8 patients with oral herpes and randomized each patient to treatment with either honey and then topical acyclovir or topical acyclovir and then honey over the course of two subsequent attacks. This study allowed the scientists to control for differences between how individuals experience herpes outbreaks, and it too found that the length of each attack, duration of pain, and healing time were shorter with honey than with acyclovir.
As for laboratory research, at least five studies have looked at how propolis effects herpes viruses in vitro and all have suggested that propolis exerts at least a moderate inhibitory effect. These studies suggest that even relatively low concentrations of propolis extracts can be effective at disrupting the replication of both HSV-1 and HSV-2.
Taken together, these studies suggest that the topical application of honey may well have a beneficial effect in the healing of herpes sores. Although complementary and alternative medicine trials can be difficult to fund and publish, further research is definitely indicated, and it will be interesting to see if results remain so positive in future studies. Personally, I think it would be particularly fascinating to see how honey fares either when compared to oral acyclovir or as an adjunct to suppressive treatment for individuals who are still experiencing outbreaks. Research project, anyone?
Al-Waili, N.S. (2004) "Topical honey application vs. acyclovir for the treatment of recurrent herpes simplex lesions" Med Sci Monit. 10(8): MT94-98
Nolkemper S, Reichling J, Sensch KH, Schnitzler P.(2009)"Mechanism of herpes simplex virus type 2 suppression by propolis extracts." Phytomedicine. Aug 12. EPub ahead of print.
Perfect MM, Bourne N, Ebel C, Rosenthal SL. (2005) "Use of complementary and alternative medicine for the treatment of genital herpes." Herpes. 12(2):38-41. Review.
Schnitzler P, Neuner A, Nolkemper S, Zundel C, Nowack H, Sensch KH, Reichling J. (2009) "Antiviral Activity and Mode of Action of Propolis Extracts and Selected Compounds." Phytother Res. May 27. EPub ahead of print.
Vynograd N, Vynograd I, Sosnowski Z. (2000) "A comparative multi-centre study of the efficacy of propolis, acyclovir and placebo in the treatment of genital herpes (HSV)." Phytomedicine. 7(1):1-6.