Martha Stewart keeps bees to make honey, and so apparently did Henry Fonda, who reportedly used to give his friends Henry’s Honey as gifts. If you like honey, especially when it’s made locally near your home, you might be happy to know there could be a sweet bonus for allergy sufferers.
Many say honey slowly vaccinates the body, building up immunity against pollen that makes your eyes water and makes you sneeze since local honey contains local pollen. There’s no hard fast evidence that’s proven honey is the cure-all for allergies, but many believe if it’s local, it will do the trick.
Especially beekeeper Mary Woltz, who owns and operates Bees Needs in Sag Harbor, New York. She extracts from her hives constantly, instead of just once a year, to provide variety in her honey, both in flavor and type. The artisanal approach also creates an allergy advantage. “There’s a higher likelihood the honey from a certain season will have the pollen from a certain season to fight seasonal allergies,” she says.
John Kennedy is the beekeeper at Flying Point Honey in Southampton, New York. “Honey can help your allergies because of the antiseptic properties in the honey,” he says, “Not necessarily from the honey being local.” Kennedy says to get the most out of your honey, buy honey that’s not heat-treated, that’s minimally filtered (or else the pollen and other properties are removed), and that’s harvested correctly. Handmade, small batch local honey producers will usually make their honey that way.
The honey theory seems logical to allergist Elizabeth Jacobson, MD, at New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center even though she hasn’t done research on it herself. She says there’s been recent research into what’s called immunotherapy to fight seasonal allergies in Europe and in the United States. The FDA has approved the use of oral medication for ragweed allergy sufferers, for example. Instead of allergy shots, with immunotherapy, the patient puts the medicine under his or her tongue to dissolve. The idea is to build up resistance against ragweed. The patient has to start to build the immunity a few months in advance. That’s why to concept of taking honey, says Jacobson, might just work.
“It would make sense to me that honey that was very local contained the actual pollens would do pretty much the same thing,” says Jacobson. “Start with small quantities,” she says. And get started ahead of your allergy season by taking honey a few months in advance. “You really want to build up the immunity before the season starts so that when the pollen hits you’re already protected,” she says. “Once you get the exposure, the pollens aren’t going to do anything for you. Once the season has already started it might be too late,” she says. “I can’t imagine honey will cure symptoms.”
The only warning in all of this? Children under one year should not eat honey. According to the FDA’s website, “It can contain the Clostridium botulinum organism that could cause serious illness or death.” But for the rest of us, instead of sneezing, let’s put a little honey on your toast this winter to get a jump on spring suffering season.