I Took Manuka Honey Every Day—Here’s What Happened

Updated: Jul. 19, 2024

With viruses circulating, a New York City mom pursued a proactive experiment to stay healthy. Here she reports out the "amazing" results.

I recently learned that I regularly visit five of the 10 places you’re most likely to catch the flu: My gym where I take yoga, public transport (nearly unavoidable for this New Yorker), my children’s school, restaurants, and airplanes to visit family who all live in other states.

With the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting that severe flu cases range between three and five million, with 290,000 to 650,000 respiratory deaths per year, it almost goes without saying that I want to do everything I can to avoid the flu and limit my exposure when I can, while still enjoying life. I wear a mask on the subway, I got my flu shot this past fall, and I am a frequent hand-washer (hand sanitizer is a must after a subway ride!).

But to give my immune system a boost from the inside, this virus season I decided to try a new experiment: Instead of waiting until I got sick to turn to my usual remedies—like Manuka honey, tea, ginger, zinc and elderberry—I decided to be proactive this year. Starting in early November, I consumed a scoop of Manuka honey every day.

honeyFascinadora/Getty Images

“Honey has long been used in traditional medicine for a multitude of purposes, including treating respiratory, gastrointestinal, and infectious conditions,” explained registered dietitian nutritionist Whitney English Tabaie MS, RDN, CPT. “Its main claim to fame is its antibacterial properties. In recent years, research has looked at its antimicrobial activity, which may help to accelerate wound healing and prevent infection. Honey is also helpful in relieving cough symptoms.” This nutrition expert highlights an important point: That research suggests Manuka honey “won’t cure or prevent the common cold.”

Still, the result of taking Manuka honey every day has been amazing. Even with people all around me getting sick, including my young children, so far I’ve breezed by with a few sniffles and no major illness. Put simply, my immune system has never felt stronger.

The benefits of Manuka honey

Manuka honey is thought of as a super-powered honey that’s grown in New Zealand. Researchers have discovered that Manuka honey contains higher levels of wound-healing and anti-bacterial properties—one organization cites 2,300 components of Manuka honey that make it so powerful.

Traditionally used by New Zealand’s Maori people, an indigenous people who have been in New Zeland since around the 1300s, Manuka honey has been demonstrated in more recent scientific research to treat gingivitis, improve digestion, soothe acid reflux, heal burns and acne and prevent illness—all thanks to its antifungal, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities.

English explains: “Honey’s antimicrobial properties stem from its low pH and high sugar content that halt bacterial growth,” she says. “It is an acidic substance with a pH between about 3-4. For reference, a lemon has a pH of about 2-3, and a neutral pH is 7. Additionally, some types of honey produce hydrogen peroxide, a bacteriocide, through enzymatic reactions. For wound healing, honey is likely beneficial due to its antibacterial activity, the fact that it helps to maintain a moist wound condition, and its high viscosity which provides a protective barrier to prevent infection.”

After recently trying a face mask made with Manuka honey that nourished my winter-dry skin, this time I was interested in its immune-boosting properties. The Journal of Leukocyte Biology reported that a “component of Manuka honey stimulates immune cells,” which is what I wanted to fight off bacteria and viruses during the winter months.

There’s also an important distinction to note when you’re shopping for Manuka honey: A New Zealand-based incorporated society, the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association, rates Manuka honey quality based on four factors:

  • potency, measured by the amount of methoglyoxal, which is said to give Manuka honey its antibacterial properties
  • authenticity, indicated by the amount of leptosperin, which only comes from Manuka flower nectar
  • freshness, measured by hydroxymethylfurfural, which is said to assure Manuka honey has not been stored too long nor overheated
  • purity, which is certified by the honey’s traceability to licensed and independent suppliers and producers.

Also, the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association says that “the best manuka honey must have more than 70 [milligrams per kilogram] of DHA,” or dihydroxyacetone, which converts to a compound that ensures high Manuka honey potency.

To be honest, I didn’t get too caught up in the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) rating because those products can get very pricey—running around $50 or more. I typically select a product in the medium-priced range, which can still feel a little decadent—but still more affordable than a trip to urgent care or my family’s co-pay at the doctor’s office. Near the start of what’s lived up to early projections for a tough virus season, this seemed like a worthy splurge!

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How I used Manuka honey

I decided to add a scoop to my daily matcha instead of other sweeteners I enjoy, like agave. To make my matcha, I used a small scoop of honey (about a teaspoon) with water and added my favorite matcha (lately I’ve loved both Matchaful and Make matcha). Then I blended my drink with a frother, and added almond milk. Matcha benefits are impressive on their own, so I felt like I was getting a double boost of health!

There were also days when I took a small spoonful of Manuka by itself. As it went down, I let it coat my throat.

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Who shouldn’t use manuka honey

As a registered dietitian who wrote a book called The Plant-Based Baby and Toddler, English advises Manuka honey isn’t for everyone—especially young kids. “Honey of any type is not safe for children under the age of one due to the potential presence of bacterial spores that can cause serious illness,” she explains.

She adds: “People with diabetes should be aware that honey has a similar glycemic index to table sugar. And, despite its potential benefits for specific health conditions, any type of honey is still a simple sugar. It is metabolized in the body the same way as table sugar and possesses the same potential for weight gain.” In conclusion, English suggests, “As with any isolated source of sugar, [honey] should be consumed in moderation.”

Also be aware that some medications containing honey can face increased food safety risks. In January 2024, Robitussin recalled three of its liquid syrup products that include honey as an ingredients after possible microbial contamination had been identified.

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The result

To be fair, I’ll never know whether Manuka honey has been entirely to thank for my strong immune system that fought off the illnesses my children have passed to each other multiple times this winter. I also meditate to manage stress and try to get as much sleep as I can (granted, small kiddos can make that a challenge). I’ve also taken ginger shots daily—all practices that I believe have contributed to immune strength this year. In previous winters, my kids’ viruses used to take me down with them.

But I can safely assume that the healthy hit of honey each day definitely didn’t hurt! After taking it for almost three months, this is one spoonful of wellness I’ll pick back up next virus season.