The theory is this: Honeybees gather pollen from the very plants that cause your itchy eyes, so consuming a small daily dose of the local honey—and subsequently these pollens—may stimulate your immune system and reduce allergies, explains Miguel P. Wolbert, an allergist and immunologist at the Allergy & Asthma Care Center in Evansville, Indiana. But the pollens that cause sneezing and congestion—such as ragweed—are windborne, while the pollens bees collect are too heavy to fly in the breeze. Windborne pollens can fall onto flowers, get picked up by bees and end up in honey, says Wolbert, “but it’s likely to be a very, very small amount.” Not enough to make a difference. And, so far, no clinical evidence shows that honey alleviates allergy symptoms.
But don’t nix honey quite yet. It may help soothe your cough. Researchers at Penn State University tested honey against dextromethorphan—the active ingredient in most cough medicines—as a cough suppressant for children and found honey to be more effective. Sweetness may be honey’s “active ingredient.” The brain part that registers sweet tastes and the part that causes coughing are located near each other so sensing sweetness may affect coughing, says researcher Ian M. Paul, M.D. One (major) disclaimer: Don’t give honey to a baby younger than 1 year old: honey may contain spores of a bacteria that causes botulism, which an infant’s immature immune system can’t handle.