Using honey to ease seasonal allergies
When 5-year-old Ruby Richardson was recommended prescription-strength antihistamines for her severe seasonal allergies, mum Alisha Richardson knew she needed to find another option.
"I didn't like giving it to her because it's like a drug," the New Plymouth woman said.
"Parents would give it to their kids at night to help them sleep. So it wasn't ideal in my eyes."
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Born with severe allergies and seasonal asthma, Richardson said her daughter was "in and out of the doctors" and the prescribed medicine was "quite potent" and would make Ruby drowsy.
Richardson set out to research other options and soon read that honey could be an alternative "medicine".
And three months ago she began feeding it by the spoonfuls to her sniffling child.
"At first it wasn't working but that's because I was getting the brand honey you put on toast," Richardson said.
But then she swapped to UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) 16+ Manuka honey, which is regarded as a "superior high grade", and claims she saw immediate effects.
"I'd give her one teaspoon in the morning and one teaspoon before bed and within three days, she came right."
The theory behind the unscientifically proven method is that honey pulled from local hives will include pollens in the air that cause some people to get hay fever or other allergy symptoms.
By consuming raw honey or high grade honey, more of these pollens are present and, when consumed, allows the body to produce antibodies to help fight off the sinus-blocking pathogens.
Dr Shaun Holt, who holds pharmacy and medicine degrees and lectures at Victoria University of Wellington, has long believed in the power of honey.
He co-founded Wellington's HoneyLab, which performs extensive research on bees and develops medical products from the insect. He has taken on the principal investigator role in more than 50 clinical trials.
While Holt has yet to explore honey's potential affect on seasonal allergies and asthma, he said it's a subject he's had a keen eye on for "a while now".
"It makes sense. In theory it should help," he says.
"It's similar to immunisation therapy. Allergy experts will give you a pollen injection but it's just expensive."
Holt said by consuming the bee byproduct, people were "basically building an immunity" by exposing the body to pollens without inhaling it and suffering symptoms.
And if patients were to visit him in regards to seasonal allergies, Holt said he would tell them to "give it a go".
"If it helps you, great. If not, then you just had a spoonful of honey a day."
Taranaki honey producer Fiona Black said hordes of customers visit her Bees R Us shop on Devon St West in New Plymouth asking for honey specifically for allergy relief.
"Raw honey is the best because it doesn't get heated and you don't lose all the good stuff," she said.
Black said beekeepers know where their bees were collecting and therefore help point people in the right direction when they come in with itchy eyes and a stuffed nose.
"If you tell me where you live, I know which batch comes from where," she explained.
Someone living along the coast might get a clover honey versus someone else who may need a bush honey, Black said.
"I know people who say it works."
Nicola Swanson, who tutors at the Naturopathic College of New Zealand in New Plymouth, and is a practising naturopath and medical herbalist, sees honey as a potential alternative to ease hay fever and seasonal asthma symptoms.
She suggests placing one teaspoon in the mouth and "treat it like a lolly", which allows the soothing liquid gold to trickle down to alleviate a scratchy throat.
"Or you can stir some in chamomile tea with a little lemon, which gives you a bit of vitamin C and is great for digestive health."
However, Swanson said some symptoms could be mistaken for seasonal allergies when in fact an underlying intolerance of food could be the culprit.
Thus, she suggested assessment before self-treating.