TIME Diet/Nutrition

4 Things You Didn’t Know About Honey

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Most people love honey for its tasty goodness. The natural sweetener helps balance flavors, thicken sauces, and add moisture to your dish, according to the National Honey Board. Although it is a versatile cooking ingredient, honey also offers some health benefits. Here are four more reasons to thank the bees for this sweet nectar:

It can help coughs

Honey may prove to be a lifesaver this cold season. According to a study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, researchers tested a single nighttime dose of buckwheat honey against honey-flavored dextromethorphan, a common cough suppressant, and no treatment at all in more than 100 children with colds. Overall, parents found that the honey was better than the other two approaches for relieving cough symptoms and improving sleep. No wonder the World Health Organization lists honey as a potential demulcent, a sugary liquid that coats the throat and soothes irritation.

It could help treat wounds

Honey has quite a long reputation as a healer. Its first written reference dates back to 2100-2000 BC on a Sumerian tablet that mentions the use of honey as a drug and ointment, according to the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine. There’s a medical-grade solution called Medihoney that is derived from manuka honey, which comes from New Zealand bees that pollinate the native manuka bush. “The patches of Medihoney work fantastic on patients that come in with cuts and wounds,” says Robin Miller, MD, a board-certified internist and co-author of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife and Beyond. “They’re antibacterial and soothing.”

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Any type of honey might be helpful. In a study in the British Journal of Surgery, Nigerian researchers used honey to treat 59 patients with hard-to-heal ulcers. All but one of the cases improved, and infected wounds and ulcers became sterile within one week of applying the honey.

It may boost your locks

Got a flaky scalp? Honey might solve that problem. A study in the European Journal of Medical Research used a solution of diluted crude honey (90% honey diluted in warm water) on 30 people with seborrheic dermatitis, a scalp condition typically associated with some serious dandruff and itchy skin. The patients in this case also had lesions. Researchers had half of the participants apply the honey mixture to the lesions every other day for four weeks. Itching was relieved and scaling disappeared within one week for those who tried the honey treatment, and skin lesions went away completely within two weeks.

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It might increase energy

There’s a misconception that carbohydrates aren’t good for you. Thing is, they’re present in such a wide variety of healthy foods, including fruits, veggies, and nuts. Plus, your digestive system needs carbs to make glucose, which sends energy to your cells, tissues, and organs, according to the National Institutes of Health. At 17 grams of carbs per tablespoon, honey happens to be just one food source you can count on to help relieve a sluggish day. It also makes the ultimate snack before or after a workout. “In addition to being an antioxidant-rich source of carbohydrates, honey acts as a ‘time released’ fuel to provide athletes with more steady blood sugar and insulin levels over a longer duration,” says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, Health‘s contributing nutrition editor.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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You're in luck. Relief is a trip to the kitchen away

You already know that consuming the right foods can boost your intake of minerals, vitamins, and nutrients. But there are a few out there that could also alleviate some of your most pesky daily problems, like hiccups or even rashes like eczema. Though it’s important to keep in mind that serious conditions need the attention of a doctor, it might not hurt to reach for one of these 10 items the next time you have a minor health problem.

Ginger for menstrual cramps

Traditional Chinese medicine has relied on ginger for more than 2,000 years. “Ginger can improve blood flow and reduce inflammation in your muscles, including those in the uterus where cramps originate,” says Mary Rosser, MD, PhD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, New York. A study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine even found that ginger was as effective as ibuprofen for relieving period pain. To make your time of the month a little more bearable, try brewing up a cup of warm ginger tea.

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Cranberries for urinary tract health

Cranberries contain proanthocyanidins, a compound that fends off the bacteria that cause urinary tract infections (UTI). “E. coli is one of the top offenders in triggering a UTI,” Dr. Rosser says. “This substance has been shown to prevent infection by keeping the bacteria from attaching to the bladder walls.” If you already have a UTI, cranberries probably won’t cure it, but consuming cranberries daily may help protect against future infections. About 20% of women who get a UTI will contract another one, so drinking one to two glasses a day of 20% pure cranberry juice will help prevent recurrence, Dr. Rosser says.

Calcium-rich foods for PMS

Prone to irritability and mood swings before your period? You’re not alone. About 85% of menstruating women experience at least one PMS symptom each month. The good news is tweaking your diet might help lessen your symptoms. “It’s been shown that people with PMS have lower blood calcium levels than those without PMS,” Dr. Rosser says. The National Institutes of Health recommends adults consume about 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. You probably already know that dairy products are rich in calcium, but so are almonds, broccoli, leafy greens, and sardines.

Oatmeal for eczema

Calm itchy, inflamed skin using this breakfast food. Oatmeal soothes rashes because it’s packed with phytochemicals that have anti-inflammatory properties. Create a soothing bath by grinding 1/3 cup of plain oatmeal (no flavors!) into a fine powder using your blender; pour the powder into lukewarm water and stir in evenly with your hands until the water is a milky color, suggests Kavita Mariwalla, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist. Another option: use 1/4 cup of oatmeal and enough water to make a paste that you can apply directly to the skin for 10 minutes, she says.

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Sea salt for dry skin

You don’t need an expensive skincare product to treat rough patches on your knees, elbows, and heels. A sea salt scrub made at home will work just as well. “Sea salt is a good exfoliator because it has thicker grains that do a good job of clearing away dry skin,” Dr. Mariwalla says. Just mix one cup of sea salt with 1/2 cup of a light massage oil. “Use a bowl to make sure the mixture stays moist, like wet sand, and not runny,” Dr. Mariwalla says. It’s best to keep this scrub away from your more sensitive areas like your face and the back of your arms, though. It can be harsh on skin that doesn’t require as much exfoliation.

Cucumbers for puffy eyes

Laying cold cucumber slices over your eyes may look a little silly, but the age-old beauty trick really does reduce puffiness. Cucumbers, which are 95% water, offer a nice cooling sensation and the cold temperature causes blood vessels to constrict and reduce inflammation. And there’s a reason why cucumbers in particular work even better than ice packs. “Cucumber slices perfectly fit to the contours of your eyes to help reduce swelling,” Dr. Mariwalla says. You’ll only need to leave them on for 10 minutes for fresher-looking eyes.

Prunes for constipation

Dried plums are rich in insoluble fiber, a key nutrient to help fight constipation. “Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water and creates more bulk so waste can push through the digestive system,” says Wayne Andersen, MD, medical director of Take Shape for Life, a weight loss program from Medifast. Prunes also contain two substances that act as natural laxatives, sorbitol and dihydrophenylisatin, which will work much better for your system over time than drugstore constipation aids. “The body can become desensitized over time to over-the-counter laxatives,” Dr. Andersen says. Start with just one prune a day first and bump up your intake to two if you don’t see a response.

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Sugar for hiccups

When you hiccup, the diaphragm undergoes a series of spasms, but you can fool your body into stopping that reaction by putting a teaspoon of sugar underneath your tongue. The sweet sensation is strong enough to stimulate the vagus nerve. That’s the longest cranial nerve in your body, starting at your brain stem and extending as far down as your diaphragm to control the stomach. “Keep the sugar under your tongue until you stop hiccupping, and then swallow to fill the back of your throat with even more sensation,” Dr. Andersen says.

Apples for heartburn

Avoiding trigger foods like soda, high-fat beef, and anything fried is the best way to deal with acid reflux. One food that should keep in your diet: apples. “Apples have pectin, a soluble fiber that’s really great at absorbing stomach acid,” says Dr. Andersen. Plus, the fruit contains two types of acid (malic and tartaric) that work to beat back any juices that flow up from your stomach. “Buy organic red or golden delicious apples that are sweeter than the tart granny smiths,” Dr. Andersen suggests. “Sweet apples are considered alkaline foods that work at a cellular level to restore pH balance and prevent GERD.”

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Turmeric for infections

Turmeric is revered in India as a “holy powder” that can be used to prevent infections and treat wounds. That’s thanks to a compound called curcumin. “Foods with curcumin have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties so they can help with cleansing and healing,” says Dr. Andersen. A study in the Biochemical Journal even found that curcumin has the ability to stop bacteria from multiplying. If your medicine cabinet is running low on antibiotic ointment, try dabbing a little turmeric on your cut or scrape instead, but only for minor or superficial wounds. Dr. Andersen suggests using half a teaspoon of turmeric powder with a drop or two of water to make a paste, or if the wound is still bleeding a bit, you can apply the powder without water. After the area is dry, cover with a dressing and let the healing begin.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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