A friend of mine insists that downing honey by the heaping tablespoon at the first sign of a cold will alleviate the symptoms, shorten the duration of the cold, or prevent it entirely - any and all of the above. I have found a few sites online (that are rinky-dinky to the point where they aren't worth linking to) that tout honey similarly as the magical cold cure. Is it really better than pharmaceutical remedies? If not, is it better than not using a remedy at all?

  • There is also the "propolis" variant. Somehow it has anti-septic properties (how would that help with cold, though, is never explained).
    – Sklivvz
    Sep 1, 2011 at 13:23
  • From the Mayo Clinic regarding sore throats: "Regardless of the cause of your sore throat, at-home care strategies usually provide temporary relief. Try these strategies: ... Comforting foods and beverage. Warm liquids — broth, caffeine-free tea or warm water with honey — and cold treats such as ice pops can soothe a sore throat."
    – Beofett
    Sep 1, 2011 at 13:28
  • Anecdotally, honey at the very least improves the symptoms. Too busy @work to look up research but it works for me and was officially recommended by every doctor I had in my life to relieve sore throat and cough.
    – user5341
    Sep 1, 2011 at 15:09
  • 4
    Listen to Penn Jillette - about 3m40s in - complain about how the phrase "at the first sign of a cold" makes the medical claim unfalsifiable. If you don't get a bad cold you ascribe the benefits to the treatment. If you do get a bad cold, you must have taken the treatment too late or for too short a time.
    – Oddthinking
    Sep 4, 2011 at 1:19
  • 1
    Honey has antibacterial properties (fasebj.org/content/24/7/2576.short). From there to conclude that it helps against common cold which is provoked by viruses... Mar 7, 2017 at 22:52

4 Answers 4



I found no evidence for honey helping colds. Cochrane found limited evidence for honey helping in acute coughs in children, and no evidence for honey helping chronic coughs in children.

Cochrane Meta-Analyses

The Cochrane Collaboration do meta-analyses of health studies - they gather all of the published scientific evidence on a topic, and use careful statistical techniques to try to work out which way the evidence points.

While they don't have a general purpose study on honey's affect on the common cold, there were two studies of honey's affect on children with coughs - one for acute and one for chronic.

Acute Coughs

In the first analysis, they could only find one small study with any good evidence:

A review of one small randomised controlled trial showed that honey was significantly better than no treatment for the relief of cough, reducing bothersome cough, improving child's sleep; but no better than 'no treatment' in reducing the severity of cough and parent's sleep.

Note the comparison here is to "no treatment" rather than placebo or regular cough medicine.

The effects of honey on symptom relief and sleep quality did not differ from those of dextromethorphan, which is a common ingredient in cough medications. Parents of five children assigned to honey and two assigned to dextromethorphan reported their children suffered from insomnia, hyperactivity and nervousness. However, as with other medications, its benefit should be considered alongside the adverse effects.

They emphasized:

This review has a limitation in that the results were obtained from a single study involving a relatively small number of children.

Chronic Cough

In the second analysis, they looked for the affect on chronic non-specific coughs, which were defined as:

a dry, non-productive cough with no known cause lasting longer than four consecutive weeks

Four weeks is a long time - this is beyond your typical common cold.

What they found was that there was no good evidence either way for chronic coughs.

No randomised controlled trials were found to be applicable to this review, primarily due to the participants in the studies not fulfilling the inclusion criteria.

  • Cochrane has skipped and excluded better research papers from their "review" than the ones they cite, such as archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=571638. There have been several studies of hundreds of kids at a time and instead they cite a single study with a woefully insufficient sample size. I have to conclude that they found what they wanted to find, by design. That being said, the links above are dead so I can't do a more thorough assessment. Jun 20, 2012 at 11:21
  • @Russell: First things first: I have updated the broken links.
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 20, 2012 at 13:02
  • 1
    @Russell: The example you gave (Paul, 2007) was one of only two that made it through the inclusion criteria for the first (acute cough) study. So, no, they didn't skip or exclude that one. Now that the links are fixed, have a look at their method and see if you still think it is deliberately biased.
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 20, 2012 at 13:10
  • Aren't the Cochrane reviews supposed to exlude methodologically flawed studies?
    – Tjaart
    Jun 21, 2012 at 22:58

Cough is certainly a symptom of a cold, and honey has been found to help with that: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/honey/AN01799 and http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/pharyngitis-000129.htm both cite a 2007 (peer reviewed and published) study.

In fact, in the study, honey appeared to be as effective as the cough suppressant dextromethorphan in typical over-the-counter doses.

  • Is there any evidence for other symptoms, or general immune response?
    – hairboat
    Sep 2, 2011 at 18:45
  • Not that I can find Abby. I actually read an article for research showing it did not help against general allergies, but I've had trouble finding it again. There's a lot out there about possible antibacterial benefits of a specific honey for wound care, but that did not seem on topic for the question so I didn't include it. Sep 2, 2011 at 18:53
  • @RussellSteen Bee pollen is generally the one that I hear about with regards to allergies with the caveat that it needs to be from local bees as opposed to just general bee pollen. The same applies to honey, but it usually doesn't get recommended as often compared to bee pollen.
    – rjzii
    Jun 20, 2012 at 13:09
  • The first link is dead. The second does not link to any study. It just says "A 2007 study found that..." but doesn't link to any study, which prevents any analysis of quality and accuracy of the study.
    – Oleksiy
    Jun 6, 2015 at 18:13
  • Such is the nature of the internet. Those links are four years old. Jun 22, 2015 at 18:53

The idea behind eating honey is kind of like gradually vaccinating the body against allergens, a process called immunotherapy. Honey contains a variety of the same pollen spores that give allergy sufferers so much trouble when flowers and grasses are in bloom. Introducing these spores into the body in small amounts by eating honey should make the body accustomed to their presence and decrease the chance an immune system response like the release of histamine will occur [source: AAFP]. Since the concentration of pollen spores found in honey is low -- compared to, say, sniffing a flower directly -- then the production of antibodies shouldn't trigger symptoms similar to an allergic reaction. Ideally, the honey-eater won't have any reaction at all.


  • 1
    This is a step-up from your previous answer (which you might like to delete) as it has two references. However, they are not great references at all. The first isn't enough detail - I don't know where to read this in "AAFP". The second doesn't support your claim with empirical evidence. In fact, its opening line says it all: "There have been no peer-reviewed scientific studies that have conclusively proven whether honey actually reduces allergies. Almost all evidence regarding the immunizing effects of eating honey is anecdotal." I suggest you delete this answer too.
    – Oddthinking
    Sep 4, 2011 at 0:50
  • thanks for your help, i'm new at this as you can see haha. How do I delete my posts? I only see options to edit it
    – pmilb
    Sep 6, 2011 at 14:54

Yes it will definitely help with common cold and it can also reduce your allergy issues. The fact is that it contains many anti - inflammatory material material. So when you use honey regularly it gives hint to your body immune system of what your body is allergic to. Like it gives the hint to pollen your body is allergic to. This helps your body fight with cold and allergy. If you are thinking that you have got cold and you start eating honey and within 3-4 days it will help, then you are wrong. Honey needs time to get your immune strong. If you start consuming honey on a daily basis before the allergy season strike then I think it will help you better.You can get more details on benefits of honey here.

And one more thing I want to clarify. Only Raw honey will do the benefits not the one you buy from the grocery. So do use the Raw honey not the processed one.

  • 1
    Please provide some references to support your claims. Your reference (a) doesn't say it helps colds and (b) has no empirical evidence to support it. There is no reason provided to believe this isn't nonsense.
    – Oddthinking
    Aug 14, 2017 at 0:55

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