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Oxymel: A Not-So-New Natural Treatment for Infection

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When you think of honey and vinegar, is salad dressing the first thing that comes to mind? How about fighting infection? This ancient combination is so much more than a tasty topping for veggies. Known as oxymel, a blend of honey and vinegar was prescribed centuries ago by Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, for every ailment under the sun: asthma, cough, sore throat—even bad breath.

New research published in Microbiology1Harrison F, Blower A, de Wolf C, Connelly E. Sweet and sour synergy: exploring the antibacterial and antibiofilm activity of acetic acid and vinegar combined with medical-grade honeys. Microbiology (Reading). 2023;169(7):001351. https://doi.org/10.1099/mic.0.001351 has sparked scientific interest in oxymel’s antibacterial properties and wound-healing potential. The study couldn’t come at a better time, as antibiotic resistance has morphed into a global crisis. There is a growing demand for more effective natural antibiotics.2Aslam B, Wang W, Arshad MI, et al. Antibiotic resistance: a rundown of a global crisis. Infect Drug Resist. 2018;11:1645-1658. https://doi.org/10.2147/IDR.S173867

Why Some Infections Elude Antibiotics

There’s no question that antibiotics save lives. However, antibiotic-resistant infections are a critical concern. In 2021, the World Health Organization declared antimicrobial resistance one of humanity’s top global public health threats.

High levels of drug-resistant bacteria can cause serious bloodstream infections in hospital patients. Some common bacterial infections are also showing resistance to antibiotics.3World Health Organization. Report signals increasing resistance to antibiotics in bacterial infections in humans and need for better data. 2022;Dec 9. https://www.who.int/news/item/09-12-2022-report-signals-increasing-resistance-to-antibiotics-in-bacterial-infections-in-humans-and-need-for-better-data Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are among the most frequent bacterial infections, with about 50% to 60% of women having at least one in their lifetime.4Al-Badr A, Al-Shaikh G. Recurrent urinary tract infections management in women: a review. Sultan Qaboos Univ Med J. 2013;13(3):359-367. https://doi.org/10.12816/0003256

Previously, most UTIs cleared up with a short course of antibiotics. Infections have become increasingly severe, however, and more resistant.

Some UTIs are difficult to treat because a biofilm protects the offending bacteria, allowing them to become further embedded in the body. Biofilms are a collection of microorganisms, such as bacteria, that grow easily in moist environments. In the oxymel study, scientists found antibiofilm activity with vinegar and honey.5Harrison F, Blower A, de Wolf C, Connelly E. Sweet and sour synergy: exploring the antibacterial and antibiofilm activity of acetic acid and vinegar combined with medical-grade honeys. Microbiology (Reading). 2023;169(7):001351. https://doi.org/10.1099/mic.0.001351

Alexander Arrington, ND, founder of Moon Ridge Medicine in Washington, D.C., says the mixture has potential. “I feel oxymels can play a role in combating antibiotic resistance because the combination of honey and vinegar can reduce the microbial load in an infection.”

Oxymels: Breaking Down the Science

Honey drips off spoon into bowl

Vinegar contains acetic acid, which has antibacterial and antiseptic properties. Certain vinegars, combined with the antimicrobial activity in medical-grade honey, can fight human pathogenic bacteria and fungal infections.

The latest study looked at oxymel’s ability to treat wounds. Researchers evaluated the use of vinegar and honey individually and then combined the two. Separately, the ingredients were not particularly effective for healing, but they destroyed many bacteria together.6Harrison F, Blower A, de Wolf C, Connelly E. Sweet and sour synergy: exploring the antibacterial and antibiofilm activity of acetic acid and vinegar combined with medical-grade honeys. Microbiology (Reading). 2023;169(7):001351. https://doi.org/10.1099/mic.0.001351

In addition to treating wounds, oxymels may alleviate common symptoms of respiratory tract infections, such as cough, excess mucus, and sore throat. Oxymels may also help relieve digestive distress (gas and bloating) and enhance the immune system.

“Oxymels are a part of traditional herbalism,” says naturopathic oncologist Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, associate director of the Fellowship in Integrative Medicine and professor of clinical medicine at the University of Arizona. “Vinegar provides digestive benefits; honey has antimicrobial properties and soothing actions.”

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DIY Anti-Infection Elixirs

Oxymel starts with medical-grade honey (like manuka) and vinegar. For extra antibacterial action and immune system support, consider adding plant extracts.

“Typically, herbs are added to the vinegar and honey to provide additional medicinal actions,” says Dr. Alschuler. “For example, adding elder flowers, dried or fresh thyme, or dried or fresh oregano can create an elixir for upper respiratory tract infection.”

A basic oxymel is easy to concoct. Mix one part apple cider vinegar with one part high-quality manuka honey in a sterilized glass jar. Stir well until the two ingredients are thoroughly combined. Label and store in a cool, dry place for up to six months. To keep your fusion fresher longer, try these tips:

  • Choose a plastic lid as opposed to metal, which vinegar can corrode. If you must use a metal lid, place a piece of waxed or parchment paper between the lid and jar.
  • Stir in an herbal tincture or dried herbs to enhance the traditional version. Oregano is a good option because it’s shown to protect against drug-resistant bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.7Lu M, Dai T, Murray CK, Wu MX. Bactericidal property of oregano oil against multidrug-resistant clinical isolates [published correction appears in Front Microbiol. 2021 Jul 12;12:713573]. Front Microbiol. 2018;9:2329. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2018.02329
  • To turn your oxymel into a tasty dressing, add a carrier oil, such as olive or coconut, along with garlic, which has anti-inflammatory properties.

Making Fire Cider

Clear glass bowl of liquid next to yellow flowers

Pioneering herbalist Rosemary Gladstar created Fire Cider, one of the most well-known oxymels for immune health. To make Fire Cider, you’ll need fresh horseradish, onion, garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper, honey, and raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar. Chop equal parts of the horseradish, garlic, onion, and half the fresh ginger. Place the chopped ingredients in a glass jar. Add vinegar, completely covering the spices, and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper (less if you use anything smaller than a quart jar).

After four weeks, Gladstar recommends straining the cider and adding honey. Use more if you prefer a sweeter taste.

One to two tablespoons of Fire Cider daily may provide general immune support or help with a cough, cold, or sour stomach. If the mixture is too strong, stir in a glass of water. The formula will still maintain its healing properties.

Consult Your ND for the Best Results

“As with any natural treatment, it is beneficial to work with a trained naturopathic physician before embarking on a new regimen, such as an oxymel,” suggests Dr. Alschuler. “This is especially true if there is an active infection present. Naturopathic physicians are trained to treat infections with a comprehensive approach.”

Footnotes

This article is provided by

The Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of natural medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing healthcare systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following initiatives:

  • Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of evidence-based natural medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine

About The Author(s)

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Institute for Natural Medicine Staff

Our dedicated content team of professional staff writers represents decades of experience covering essential natural health topics in an accessible, evidence-based, and engaging way. Guided by a shared passion for holistic well-being, each and every one of our writers strives to empower our readers to take charge of their health.

Supported by a rigorous fact-checking and medical editing process from licensed naturopathic doctors that examines the latest in peer-reviewed research, our team brings their in-depth knowledge of natural health practices into every piece of content we produce. We strive to be the gold standard for evidence-based natural medicine, providing trustworthy information and inspiring narratives to help you live your best health, naturally.

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