A number of years ago we ran an apple farm in Northfield, Massachusetts. To prepare and enrich the soil for future plantings we would grow a cover crop of buckwheat, a tall plant with a beautiful white flower. As apple growers we had several hives of bees for effective fruit pollination and the bees loved the buckwheat flower transforming its nectar into a beautifully dark and rich honey. Our children loved the buckwheat flower season because they came to love delicious taste of the buckwheat honey. What we as parents discovered was that a teaspoon of buckwheat honey seemed to greatly help whenever the children had sore throats or coughs. This proved to be especially true if they took the honey at bedtime for they always seemed to sleep a little better. Throughout their childhood we always made sure to put away enough buckwheat honey from the hives to get through a winter of respiratory ailments.
This was a long time ago and I had forgotten about this aspect of buckwheat honey until I recently read about a study that had been done in 2007 and published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. This study found that children who received a small dose of buckwheat honey before bedtime slept better and coughed less than those who received either a common over-the-counter suppressant or nothing at all. Dr. Ian Paul, a researcher at Penn State College of Medicine indicated This is the first time honey has been actually proven as a treatment.
The research study involved 105 children between ages 2 and 18 in their randomized, partially double-blind study. Parents would answer questions about their childs sleep and symptoms after the first night during which there was no treatment. On the second night the children were given honey flavored cough syrup, honey, or nothing at all. It was clear that the children who received the honey slept better with fewer symptoms. Dr. Paul also noted that honey is generally less expensive than over-the-counter medications with none of the side effects like dizziness or sleepiness. Dr. Paul indicated that the type of honey plays a role in the treatment. Darker honeys have more antioxidants that lighter honeys and we wanted the best chance to see improvements.
Intrigued by this information I searched further and found that The Journal of Pediatrics in May of 2008 gave their assessment of this study. In this well-designed and valid study, Paul et al were able to show that honey was significantly superior to no treatment for improvement in cough severity (47.3% reduction vs 24.7%) and an overall symptom score (53.7% reduction vs 33.4%). The findings of this study suggest that honey is better than no treatment for reducing cough frequency and improving combined symptom scores. Paul Doering, co-director of the Drug Information and Pharmacy Resource Center at the University of Florida has weighed in on the subject. I believe recommending honey as a cough medicine has merits. It provides a safe option to using chemical based options, he said, adding that honey is part of a trend of recommending more commonplace traditional remedies for ailments.
It should be noted that the Dr. Paul study gave no honey to children under 2 yrs. of age and the newest research seems to support that practice.