Health nuts are high on the healing potential of a special honey from New Zealand’s manuka bush. But is it really so sweet?
By HAILEY EBER
Last Updated: 10:55 AM, August 14, 2013
Posted: 11:12 PM, August 13, 2013
When daughter Lucia gets a scrape, Laurel Carroll opts for honey, not Neosporin.
Earlier this year, Laurel Carroll was diagnosed with H. pylori, a type of bacteria that infects the stomach. Her doctor broke out his prescription pad, but Carroll had her own remedy in mind: honey, specifically manuka honey.
“The doctor said I could do a really hard-core course of antibiotics. I was like, ‘There’s no way,’ ” recalls the 39-year-old acupuncturist, who lives in Windsor Terrace. “I was determined to cure it naturally.”
Carroll is one of a growing number of people, in New York and elsewhere, looking to manuka honey to treat everything from acne to ulcers. Imported from New Zealand and long popular there and in Great Britain, manuka honey is thought to have unique healing properties thanks to a high concentration of methylglyoxal, an antibacterial agent, in the nectar of manuka bush flowers.
Whole Foods stores in the Northeast began stocking manuka honey products about half a dozen years ago, and now offer as many as 15 varieties. “It’s consistently grown in popularity each year,” says Whole Foods public relations manager Michael Sinatra.
At Perelandra Natural Food Center in Brooklyn Heights, co-owner Roland Auer has seen manuka honey fly off his shelves — almost literally. After his shop kept running out of the pricey bee food — which the store sells for $33.59 to $39.99 for a 17.6-ounce jar — he realized that customers were stealing it.
Now he stocks it behind the vitamin counter, where it’s safe from sticky fingers, but it’s still a hot commodity. Given its high price, “it’s a very popular item,” Auer says.
Carroll buys her manuka honey online and estimates that with herself, her husband and their two daughters, the family goes through a $50 8-ounce tub every month. She ingests a spoonful each day for general health, as does her husband, Stewart Carroll, 41.
Stewart, a black belt in Brazilian jujitsu — the couple owns a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu school in Rockaway Beach called Rock-Jitsu — is especially interested in manuka honey’s potential anti-inflammatory properties. (He’s not the only athlete buzzing for the honey. In his upcoming book, “Serve To Win: The 14-Day Gluten-Free Plan for Physical and Mental Excellence,” out next week, tennis star Novak Djokovic reveals that he takes at least two spoonfuls of the honey every day.)
With their daughters, Lucia, 7, and Saachi, 5, Laurel uses manuka regularly to treat their cuts, scrapes and warts. “Clearly, with any kind of scab or abrasion, the first line of defense is honey,” she says.
The whole family uses a special toothpaste made from manuka honey and propolis, another bee product, and Carroll tries to get her girls to ingest a spoonful of honey as often as possible, though the kids don’t like the taste. “It smells like hydrogen peroxide,” she admits.
Still, some caution that the honey might not be a magical cure-all for everything.
“I don’t ingest manuka honey and I don’t recommend it,” says Nathaniel Altman, author of “The Honey Prescription” and a Park Slope resident.
He believes the honey is best used topically to treat scratches, fungal infections and the like. “They have found that sometimes when you eat manuka honey, it can cause problems for people who have diabetes or are prone to it.”
Cymone Speed, 33, loves eating manuka honey, not for the alleged health benefits but because she enjoys the unique taste.
“It’s soft and creamy,” enthuses Speed, a catering director and chef who lives on the Upper West Side. “I eat it by the spoonful.”
Speed has also used the honey as an acne wash for the past two years and says it’s made her skin soft and dewy.
“I have really good skin for my age. I get a lot of compliments,” she says. Plus, if a little gets in her mouth while she’s washing her face, “it tastes delicious.”
The traditional medical establishment is even taking note of manuka honey’s potential healing powers. Dr. Michael Lanigan, medical director of the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, says that while he hasn’t seen any of his patients helped by the honey, the research on it is intriguing, especially for treating burns.
He notes that a comprehensive analysis of studies on honey has been performed by the Cochrane Collaboration, an international group of scientists based in England who conduct extensive reviews of medical research. “That usually means you’ve piqued the medical community’s interest,” he explains. “The fact that Cochrane has even bothered to look at this is interesting.”
While he says the studies don’t appear to be conclusive at this point, he also notes that many popular, common medications have never been fully proven to help people.
“Cold medicines have never been shown to conclusively make a patient better, but a lot of people take them. Nobody’s ever shown, to my knowledge, that multivitamins are really conclusively helpful,” he says. “Manuka honey at this point would fit into the same realm. If it’s making a patient feel like they’re in a better place, more power to them.”
That’s how Laurel Carroll seems to feel. The stomach infection she originally started taking manuka honey for turned out to be a false positive. When her older daughter had a nasty sore throat in the spring, she had her take spoonfuls of honey every few hours, and believes she recovered more quickly because of it.
But for the most part, she says, she can’t pinpoint feeling noticeably healthier since she started using the honey.
“I feel like it’s one of those things that measures over time,” she says. “If it makes our minds feel like we’re healthy, it can only help the physical.”