As a family who keeps bees I’m often asked about using honey for allergies – mainly, does it work? The simple answer is “it depends.” There are a lot of variables to consider when deciding to use local raw honey as part of your seasonal allergy protocol.
The basic thought process of using honey for allergies is that since there are small amounts of pollen in raw honey, you’re body will get used to them as you eat your daily honey. This is the same basis we have for allergy shots.
The Scientific Evidence
With the risk of irritating other beekeepers, honey enthusiasts and natural remedy proponents, I will say that I cannot find any solid scientific evidence that “proves” honey helps with seasonal allergies.
That doesn’t mean I don’t think it can help, because I do. But I do think it’s prudent to look at the research that has already been done and acknowledge this fact.
I would love to see much more research done in this area because I don’t believe we have learned everything there is to know about the benefits of honey.
Probably the most common study that is cited for “proof” that honey helps with allergies is the Birch Pollen Study. Here’s part of the conclusion…
Patients who preseasonally used BPH (Birch Pollen Honey) had significantly better control of their symptoms than did those on conventional medication only, and they had marginally better control compared to those on RH. (regular honey)”
What’s important to note is that the birch pollen honey wasn’t just honey harvested from a hive after birch season. The birch pollen honey was regular honey that had birch pollen ADDED to it. The study doesn’t mention how much pollen was added, but it’s important to note that it was added.
Both groups did better than the group that was using their regular allergy medications, which is great and is what lead the researches to recommend that more studies be done.
Another thing to note is that the participants took incremental amounts of honey daily for 4 months – from Nov 2008 to Mar 2009. This tells me that we can’t wait until spring to start using honey for seasonal allergies. We have to start months ahead. Unfortunately the amounts are listed in the study.
The Anecdotal Evidence
While science hasn’t proven that honey can help with allergies I run into people all the time who say their allergies are helped by using unfiltered local honey. I believe them.
There is a case to be made that just because science can’t prove it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Scientific studies on natural remedies are sorely lacking because there’s not a big company who can foot the bill or trademark something.
Every study I looked at recommended either more studies because the results of their study were promising or recommended honey as a complementary therapy. So while there aren’t any studies that come right out and recommend using honey for allergies there are plenty that recommend adding raw local honey to your seasonal allergy protocol.
Using Raw Honey for Allergy Relief
Expectations are so important. If you think you can just take a spoonful of honey a few days in the spring and your allergy symptoms will disappear, you’re going to be very disappointed.
However, if you know that raw honey is just one part of the allergy puzzle you’re probably going to have good results.
When you buy honey, especially if you’re going to use it for allergies, you need to honey that is local to you and is “raw” which means the pollen hasn’t been filtered out – it’s sometimes called “unfiltered” or “unprocessed” honey.
Depending on the nectar flow, a beekeeper might harvest honey two or three times during the honey season. If you have spring allergies you would probably want to get hone from that first harvest to ensure that the possibility that the pollen you’re allergic to is in the honey. If you get the third harvest honey, there will probably not be any measurable amounts of spring pollen in it.
See how this is can sometimes be a puzzle? In order for the pollen in raw honey to help with allergies it has to have the pollen that you’re allergic to in it. So timing is something you’ll want to talk about with the beekeeper.
Which leads to another puzzle piece about pollen in honey, most of the pollen in honey is flower pollen that’s collected when the bees are gathering nectar. But most people are allergic to grass and tree pollen, not flower pollen. For sure, there will be some grass and tree pollen that gets into the hives while the bees are coming and going but it will be a small amount.
But the pollen in honey isn’t the only thing that helps with allergy symptoms. Honey is often used as a cough suppressant and throat soother which is a benefit during allergy season when sinus drainage affects the throat and lungs.
Honey also has anti-inflammatory properties. There is a lot of inflammation in the body when you’re suffering from allergy symptoms, eating a low inflammation diet can help. Unlike other sweeteners, honey does not cause inflammation but can help reduce it.
When using honey for allergies it’s important to start taking it months before allergy season. It’s also important to that you start taking a small daily amount (1/4 tsp) and every few days increase the amount (by 1/4 tsp) until you’re taking 1 tbsp per 50 pounds of body weight.
This is only a rough guideline, you’ll need to pay attention to your body and how you’re feeling. If the symptoms subside with half that amount, then only use half. More is not always better. This amount is a daily amount and can be broken up throughout the day.
Although it’s rare, it is possible to have an allergic reaction to honey, so don’t take large amounts right away.
Where to Find Raw Local Honey?
Sometimes it can be hard to find raw local honey, but since most states now have cottage food laws for selling edible products it’s gotten much easier.
The first place I would look is your local farmer’s market. If you don’t know if you’re county has a farmer’s market, call your county health department and they will be able to tell you.
The next place I would ask is your county agriculture extension office. In the US, every county has an agriculture support office that supports the farmers in your area. They also run the 4-H and Master’s Gardener’s programs.
If you can’t find local raw honey from those two resources, then ask on social media. Lastly, if your area as a local health food store, they will probably have some or know where to get some. This is last because in order to sell wholesale the honey will probably have to be pasteurized which will destroy most of the beneficial enzymes.
A Word about Organic Honey
With most livestock, you know exactly what they are eating and where they are roaming, not so with bees. Bees usually forage within a 3 mile radius of their hive but can forage up to 5 miles away.
In order for you to know what the bees are foraging, the beekeeper would have know, at minimum, that all the plant for 28 -78 square miles around the hive were free of fungicides, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and not be genetically modified. There’s no place in the US that can do that.
What about organic honey you can buy in the store with a USDA Organic label? If you look closely at the label, you’ll see that this honey is imported from countries such as Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and Uruguay. Basically, the USDA accepts the organic certification of these other countries. Fox Hound Bee Company has a fantastic article on this.
While you won’t find organic local honey, you can talk to the beekeeper and make sure that he is using organic practices in his apiary. The USDA does have guidelines for that because the apiary (bee yard) is an area that the beekeeper can control.
Other Help for Allergy Season
As mentioned before, honey should be just one part of the allergy protocol. An anti-inflammatory diet is another part – a huge part. Basically, limit processed food and eat more vegetables and fish. If you need more help, the University of Wisconsin has a thorough article on it.
There are also herbs you can use to help with allergies. Nettle is a natural antihistamine and is very affordable, in fact you might be able to forage it in your area.
Nasal washing with a neti pot or other nasal washing system will help remove the pollen from your nose. This is especially helpful if you’ve spent time outside.
Lastly, if you keep your windows open during the spring, you might want to close them and run the air conditioner. This is hard for those of us who enjoy spring with our windows open but it helps keep the pollen out of our house.