The smell of peanut butter in your pack can easily reach the nose of a bear that’s over a mile away, and if he’s in a hurry, the bear can cover that mile in about three minutes. You, on the other hand, won’t know what hit you until it does. With your gear scattered all over the forest floor, you’re left bleeding and wondering what to do. You’re days from a hospital, maybe weeks, and your first aid kit is nowhere to be seen. Luckily the pouch of sugar for your coffee is right at your feet. Remembering your ancient history, you stop the bleeding, pack your wounds with ample amounts of sugar before wrapping them with strips of your handkerchief.
Honey was found in King Tut’s tomb, and no doubt ancient man enjoyed eating it ever since it was discovered, but the first mention of honey and sugar being used to treat wounds was found in the “Edwin Smith Papyrus,” a 2500-year-old military medical textbook describing the treatment of 48 cases of injuries and battle wounds. Specifically, the text refers to the use of honey as a topical aide to vertebral compression fractures and spinal disc sprains.
Honey was used by the ancient Greek physician Dioscorides in 50 A.D. for sunburn and infected wounds and its healing properties are mentioned in the Bible, Koran, and Torah.
Avicenna (980–1037), an Arab doctor in ancient Islam, advised the use of honey and sugar to reduce the amount of wound seepage. From the early Middle Ages to the late 19th century, there were many descriptions of the use of honey and sugar to cleanse and heal traumatic wounds, in particular gunshot wounds and battle injuries where a loss of flesh led to infections.
Today, people around the world apply honey directly to the skin for wound healing, burns, sunburn, cataracts, and diabetic foot ulcers. While less people use sugar to treat open wounds — because of the widespread use of antibiotics — it is making a resurgence because of people’s continued resistance to modern medicines.WHAT IS SUGAR AND HONEY?
Sugar: Known by a wealth of names, such as glucose, dextrose, fructose, and galactose (monosaccharides) and sucrose, maltose, and lactose (disaccharide), simple sugar is a shortchain, soluble carbohydrate composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. It is commonly derived from sugarcane and sugar beets, which are cultivated in tropical climates around the world. It can then be converted into a variety of products from simple granulated table sugar to syrups and other powders.
Honey: Honey is a viscous, hypersaturated sugar solution coming from nectar which has been collected and modified by the honey bee. Honey primarily contains sugar (75–79 percent) and water (20 percent), according to Alexander Heyneman at the Department of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, Burn Centre at the Ghent University Hospital in Belgium.HOW DOES SUGAR HEAL?
The use of sugar in treating an open wound is based on its high osmolality, its ability to draw fluid out of the wound. Reducing water in the wound inhibits the growth of bacteria. The use of sugar also aids in the removal of dead tissue while preserving tissue that is still alive. According to Dr. Richard A. Knutson, who first published his research on the healing effects of honey and sugar: “Honey kills staphylococci, including the fearsome community-acquired methicillin- resistant Staphylococcus aureus, within a few hours; it has anti-inflammatory activity; and its hypertonicity [ability to absorb water] provides antiseptic activity.”
“TODAY, PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD APPLY HONEY DIRECTLY TO THE SKIN FOR WOUND HEALING, BURNS, SUNBURN, CATARACTS, AND DIABETIC FOOT ULCERS.”
It is thought that honey’s healing is derived from its ability to produce hydrogen peroxide from the glucose oxidase enzyme found in honey.HOW TO USE IT
For starters, the wound has to stop bleeding. All forms of sugar (including honey) react and easily bind with calcium. If calcium is not available because it is in constant bleeding, no clot can form and the sugar will merely wash away. Also, the wound needs to be clean of all foreign debris such as dirt. The Egyptians washed their injuries with beer, while the Greeks used wine, and the Romans, vinegar. Clean water or a saline solution will suffice today.
Dr. Knutson recommends combining three parts powdered sugar and one part cooking oil until the mixture is uniformly smooth. A thick layer (1⁄4 to 1⁄2 inch) is then applied directly to a wound.
Why powdered sugar and cooking oil? Dr. Knutson explains: “While antibiotics chemically interfere with bacterial chemistry and function, sugar and oil depend upon physics for their antibacterial power. Sugar is hygroscopic and functions to dehydrate all bacteria. Bacteria requires water to survive and multiply. The lack of water results in bacterial death. When bacteria die, they cannot reproduce. No infection can occur if all bacteria die.
“Oil also functions in a physical way. Oil coats the outer bacterial membrane or cell wall, interfering with the normal capacity of the cell to transport foodstuffs and water into and eliminate the cell’s capacity to transport waste materials out of the cell. The oil therefore prevents water and foodstuffs from entering the cell; it also prevents egress of cellular waste products. As a result, the bacterial cell withers and dies. No infection occurs secondary to a dead crop of bacteria.”
However, using just table sugar and honey is always a quick and effective option when other medications aren’t available. Although science and technology are making huge strides in wound treatment, always consider natural products, especially those that were tried and proven thousands of years ago.Practical Application of Honey
According to a study conducted by Peter Molan, Professor in Biological Sciences and Director of the Honey Research Unit at the University of Waikato in New Zealand: “In total in this review, positive findings for honey in wound care were found to have been reported in all of the 17 trials involving a total of 1,965 participants, and in the five clinical trials of other forms involving 97 participants treated with honey. The benefit of honey in assisting wound healing was also found to have been demonstrated in four case studies where there were multiple wounds, allowing comparison of honey with other treatment.”
For example, 25 patients with superficial and partial thickness burns were given silver sulfadiazine cream and 25 similarly burned patients were treated with honey alone. The findings reported: “Wounds giving positive swabs took three weeks to all become sterile with honey; took five weeks with the control.” Within two weeks, 52 percent of those treated with honey were healed, while only 20 percent of those given the silver sulfadiazine cream were healed.
Editors Note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.