It's practically common knowledge that eating honey cures allergies. The idea is that tiny grains of pollen trapped in the honey get processed by your body, desensitizing your immune system to the allergic histamine reaction and conditioning you against the watery eyes, itchy nose and sneezing that would otherwise plague you every allergy season.
How to cure allergies with local honey
Not just any honey will do. It has to be raw, so the pollen grains haven't been filtered out or pasteurized into oblivion. It also has to be local, so the pollens you're ingesting match the ones that irritate your nose. Some folks will tell you to make sure it's organic, because chemical fertilizers and pesticides never helped anyone with their allergies.
You might make your allergies disappear with just a teaspoon of raw local honey every day, but how could something so simple be so effective? Here's some of the reasoning behind this folk remedy.
Popular wisdom of "Honey Vaccination"
One explanation is that raw local honey works like a vaccine, immunizing you against the allergy response to area pollens. Another is that the grains of pollen in the honey help convince your body that pollen is nothing to worry about, preventing it from responding with allergy symptoms when it notices pollens in the air.
According to Discovery Health, an informal study at Xavier University of Louisiana in 2003 seemed to show results that matched popular thinking (health.howstuffworks.com). Subjects who took non-local honey saw marginal improvements, but local honey eaters reported significant relief from both year-round and seasonal allergies.
The Xavier study wasn't peer reviewed, though, and it turns out that science has a few things to say about the local honey cure that might shed some new light on things.
The science side of honey
In 2002, researchers at the University of Connecticut Health Center split a group of scratch-tested allergy sufferers into three parts. One group took a daily tablespoon of filtered commercial honey, one group ate the same amount of raw and unpasteurized local honey, and the third group took a honey-flavored placebo made from corn syrup. Members of each group kept a journal of their symptoms throughout the springtime allergy season.
Perhaps surprisingly, the three groups reported relief from their symptoms at approximately the same level. Researchers concluded that raw, unpasteurized local honey performed no better than a placebo in the clinical trial (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).
This makes botanical sense, say plant experts. Allergies are typically caused by small, light, windborne pollens, but plants from which nectar is collected to make honey rely on bees, and not wind, to spread their reproductive material. In short, honey pollen and allergy pollen are likely not the same thing.
Local honey allergy cure: fact or myth?
Even though the 2002 study purports to debunk the local honey allergy cure, people continue to report that eating the raw, unfiltered sweet stuff helps them get through the sneezing season. The University of Connecticut trial only surveyed a few dozen people, after all, and perhaps thousands report success in treating their allergies with raw local honey.
Allergies can make you miserable, and if you're looking for relief without using pills, taking injections or moving to a part of the country where pollen won't assault your system, there's no harm in giving raw local honey a shot. It may not be clinically proven to work, but the amount of anecdotal evidence in its favor makes it seem silly not to try.
Not to mention it's delicious on buttered toast. What other medicine can say that?
"Can Eating Local Honey Cure Allergies?"
"Effect of ingesting honey on symptoms of rhinoconjunctivitis" University of Connecticut Health Center, National Center for Biotechnology Information, February 2002 -
"How Honey Could Cure Your Allergies" Discovery Health, 2011