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Chapter: Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry : Drugs Containing Carbohydrates and Derived Products

Honey is a viscid and sweet secretion stored in the honey comb by various species of bees, such as Apis mellifera, Apis dorsata, Apis florea, Apis indica and other species of Apis, belonging to family Apideae (Order: Hymenotera).






Madhu, Madh, Mel, Purified Honey.


Biological Source


Honey is a viscid and sweet secretion stored in the honey comb by various species of bees, such as Apis mellifera, Apis dorsata, Apis florea, Apis indica and other species of Apis, belonging to family Apideae (Order: Hymenotera).


Geographical Source


Honey is available in abundance in Africa, India, Jamaica, Australia, California, Chili, Great Britain and New Zealand.


Collection and Preparation


The nectar of the flowers is a watery solution containing 25% sucrose and 75% water. The worker bee sucks this nectar through its hollow tube of mouth (proboscis) and deposits in honey-sac located in abdomen. The enzyme invertase present in saliva of the bee converts nectar into invert sugar, which is partially utilized by the bee and the remaining is deposited into honey comb. Honey comb is smoked to remove the bees and honey is obtained by applyng the pressure to it or allowing it to drain naturally. The honey of commerce is heated to 80°C and allowed to stand. The impurities which float over the surface are skimmed off and the liquid is diluted with water to produce honey of 1.35 density. Natural honey has the density of 1.47. Many-a-time, honey is extracted from the comb by centrifugation. It must be free from foreign substances. Honey is liable to fermentation, unless it is suitably processed. Honey is heated to 80°C before it is sent to the market, so as to avoid fermentation. It should be cooled rapidly or else it darkens in colour on keeping. If necessary (and if not prepared by centrifugation method), honey is required to be filtered through wet cloth or funnel.







The honey used for flavouring medicinal was first known historically as a flavoured sweetening agent and was once the official honey of the National Formulary. Its use dates back to ancient times, with Egyptian medical texts (between 2600 and 2200 B.C.) mentioning honey in at least 900 remedies. Almost all early cultures universally hailed honey for its sweetening and nutritional qualities, as well as its topical healing properties for sores, wounds and skin ulcers. During war time it was used on wounds as an antiseptic by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and even by the Germans as late as World War I.


The 1811 edition of The Edinburgh New Dispensatory states, ‘From the earliest ages, honey has been employed as a medicine, it forms an excellent gargle and facilitates the expectoration of viscid phlegm; and is sometimes employed as an emollient application to abscesses, and as a detergent to ulcers’. It has consistently appeared in modern use for the same purposes by the laity and medical profession. Today, bees are commonly kept in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia; at least 300,000 tons of honey is produced annually.


Chemical Constituents


The average composition of honey is as follows: Moisture 14–24%, Dextrose 23–36%, Levulose (Fructose) 30–47%, Sucrose 0.4–6%, Dextrin and Gums 0–7% and Ash 0.1–0.8%. Besides, it is found to contain small amounts of essential oil, beeswax, pollen grains, formic acid, acetic acid, succinic acid, maltose, dextrin, colouring pigments, vitamins and an admixture of enzymes, for example, diastase, invertase and inulase. Interestingly, the sugar contents in honey varies widely from one country to another as it is exclusively governed by the source of the nectar (availability of frag-ment flowers in the region) and also the enzymatic activity solely controlling the conversion into honey.


Chemical Tests


Adulteration in honey is determined by the following tests:


1.     Fiehe’s Test for Artificial Invert Sugar: Honey (10 ml) is shaken with petroleum or solvent ether (5 ml) for 5–10 min. The upper ethereal layer is separated and evaporated in a china dish. On addition of 1% solution of resorcinol in hydrochloric acid (1 ml) a transient red colour is formed in natural honey while in artificial honey the colour persists for sometime.


2.     Reduction of Fehling’s Solution: To an aqueous solution of honey (2 ml) Fehling’s solutions A and B are added and the reaction mixture is heated on a steam bath for 5–10 min. A brick red colour is produced due to the presence of reducing sugars.


3.     Limit Tests: The limit tests of chloride, sulphate and ash (0.5%) are compared with the pharmacopoeial specifications.




Honey shows mild laxative, bactericidal, sedative, antiseptic and alkaline characters. It is used for cold, cough, fever, sore eye and throat, tongue and duodenal ulcers, liver disorders, constipation, diarrhoea, kidney and other urinary disorders, pulmonary tuberculosis, marasmus, rickets, scurvy and insomnia. It is applied as a remedy on open wounds after surgery. It prevents infection and promotes healing. Honey works quicker than many antibiotics because it is easily absorbed into the blood stream. It is also useful in healing of carbuncles, chaps, scalds, whitlows and skin inflammation; as vermicide; locally as an excipient, in the treatment of aphthae and other infection of the oral mucous membrane. It is recommended in the treatment of preoperative cancer. Honey, mixed with onion juice, is a good remedy for arteriosclerosis in brain. Diet rich in honey is recommended for infants, convalescents, diabetic patients and invalids.


Honey is an important ingredient of certain lotions, cosmetics, soaps, creams, balms, toilet waters and inhalations. It is used as a medium in preservation of cornea.


Today, as in earlier times, honey is used as an ingredient in various cough preparations. It is also used to induce sleep, cure diarrhoea, and treat asthma. A review of literature found at least 25 scientific articles verifying honey’s wound and topical ulcer healing powers.


Interestingly, potent antibacterial peptides (apidaecins and abaecin) have been isolated and characterized in the honeybee (Apis mellifera) itself and a new potent antibacterial protein named royalisin has been found in the royal jelly of the honeybee.


Adulterant and Substitutes


Due to the relatively high price of pure honey, it is invari-ably adulterated ether with artificial invert sugar or simply with cane-sugar syrup. These adulterants or cheaper sub-stituents not only alter the optical property of honey but also its natural aroma and fragrance.




Generally, honey is considered safe as a sweet food product, a gargle and cough-soothing agent, and a topical product for minor sores and wounds. However, medical reports indicate that honey can be harmful when fed to infants because some batches contain spores of Clostridium botu-linum, which can multiply in the intestines and result in botulism poisoning. Infant botulism is seen most commonly in 2- to 3-month-old infants after ingestion of botulinal spores that colonize in the GIT as well as toxin produc-tion in vivo. Infant botulism is not produced by ingestion of preformed toxin, as is the case in food borne botulism. Clinical symptoms include constipation fallowed by neuro-muscular paralysis (starting with the cranial nerves and then proceeding to the peripheral and respiratory musculature). Cases are frequently related to ingestion of honey, house dust and soil contaminated with Clostridium botulinum. Intense management under hospital emergency conditions and trivalent antitoxin are recommended, although use of the latter in infant botulism has not been adequately investigated.


Marketed Product


OLBAS Cough Syrup manufactured by Olbas Herbal Remedies, Philadelphia is mainly used for the treatment of cough and sore throat.


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