Turmeric honey isn’t the “most powerful” antibiotic

7 November 2023
What was claimed

Combining honey and turmeric, with or without garlic, makes the most powerful antibiotic.

Our verdict

Honey has some established antibiotic effects, as does garlic. The evidence on turmeric is less clear. But these products can’t be used like clinical antibiotics to treat serious infections.

Claims on Facebook and Instagram, which have been very widely shared, describe a mixture of honey and turmeric (with or without garlic) as “The Most Powerful” or “Most Potent” antibiotic. This is misleading.

After Full Fact contacted a number of accounts who had shared the claims, several posts were deleted. One of the now deleted posts was from Instagram account Best Folk Medicine, which has over a million followers on Facebook where it has posted the claim several times. Some other images posted with the claim are watermarked as being from this account. A post was also deleted from account yoursecretremedies, which has 89,000 followers but another with the same claim remains.

While the foods in question—especially honey—seem to have some antibacterial actions, at least in the lab, to say that they are the most powerful when we have many effective clinical antibiotics is very misleading. If people were to use these recipes instead of prescribed antibiotics, they may risk infecting other people, a more prolonged recovery and serious complications such as more severe or deep-seated infections.

We have written about false and misleading claims about honey and foods curing diseases before.

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Antibiotics are medications used to treat or prevent bacterial infections. They can kill bacteria directly or prevent them from spreading, allowing the immune system to better deal with them.

Comparing antibiotics to decide which one is the “most powerful” isn’t straightforward—they all work on different bacteria. Some are “broad-spectrum”, meaning they work well against a wide range of bacteria. An example would be co-amoxiclav that can be given for a wide range of infections, including in the chest, urine, gut, bones and joints. Another would be vancomycin, a powerful antibiotic used for severe infections like C. Diff and infections of the heart.

Some are “narrow-spectrum”, like fidaxomicin, which specifically targets C. Diff. Undoubtedly it’s a ‘powerful’ antibiotic which can work when other wide-spectrum drugs have failed. But used on another bacteria it may have no effect.

Often these antibiotics are given in settings where the infection could be lethal without them. There is insufficient evidence to suggest that honey, turmeric or ginger—either alone or in combination—are as strong as these antibiotics used clinically. 

Full Fact spoke to Dr Jonathan Cox, senior lecturer in microbiology at Aston University, who told us that “there is no evidence whatsoever that this [honey] is a suitable replacement for antibiotics at this current time”. 

He explained that: “The claim revolves around the fact that both [turmeric and honey] have antimicrobial activity. That's true.” But he added that: “Calling honey and turmeric, as a combination, the most powerful antibiotic, is incorrect because antibiotic refers to a drug that has been tried, tested and approved for a particular treatment indication. And this has not.” 

Dr Cox told us that honey, in particular Manuka honey, is an area of ongoing research in his lab, citing increasing antimicrobial resistance as a reason for scientific interest in this area. However, “whilst we have seen that Manuka honey clearly demonstrates very powerful anti microbial activity [against] a whole host of bugs, the ability to replace antibiotics that are tried and tested [...] is yet to be proven.” He added that “potentially in the future, we may be able to explore new routes of delivery for antimicrobial honeys beyond just wound and surface dressings that currently exist. But we are most certainly not there yet”.


Substantial evidence exists for using honey to prevent or even treat wound infections and other infections on the outside of the body, and it certainly has some antibacterial action.

Honey is licensed for use in the UK in dressings and topical (applied to the outside of the body) preparations. It is important to note that these are medical-grade honey products, rather than those purchased in supermarkets.

A 2015 Cochrane review (often considered the best quality evidence for medical interventions) found that: “Honey healed infected post‐operative wounds more quickly than antiseptic washes”. It also found some low quality evidence that honey may heal Fournier’s gangrene (a severe infection of the genitals) quicker than Eusol antiseptic wash, but that it was unclear whether honey helped in cases of Leishmaniasis (a parasitic infection found in warmer climes). 

A 2019 review in the International Journal of Microbiology looking at honey’s antibacterial effects in general found it to be pretty effective when used in the lab setting. This was largely on plates of bacteria as well as in two small animal studies looking at topical applications (to wounds and eyes) in mice and feeding honey to rats. 

Another review looking at clinical trials in human patients with kidney disease found promising results for topical use to prevent (not treat) infections in some (but not all) patient groups. It found honey may have harmful effects on diabetic wound infections.


Turmeric has significantly less established antibacterial action. For example, there is no Cochrane review on the substance looking at infections.

The spice is often promoted for its supposed health benefits, potentially driven by curcumin, one of the chemicals it contains.

We were unable to find any reliable evidence in humans or animals of any antibiotic effect. It may even protect some bacteria against antibiotic actions.

Neither turmeric or curcumin are licensed for medical use in the UK.

The US National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) says: “no clear conclusions have been reached about whether [turmeric and curcumin] have benefits for health conditions.”


Garlic, and compounds within it, have been shown to have effects against various bacteria.

But again, we were unable to find any reliable evidence in humans or animals of any antibiotic effect.

A Cochrane review found “there is insufficient clinical trial evidence regarding the effects of garlic in preventing or treating the common cold” (which is viral rather than bacterial), with another finding no evidence garlic was useful as an adjuvant (something given alongside a medication to help it work better) for antibiotics in lung infections in patients with cystic fibrosis.

The NCCIH says: “There’s not enough evidence to show whether garlic is helpful for the common cold.”

The information included in this article contains the latest evidence and official guidance available at the time it was written. This is not a substitute for medical advice. If you require specific medical advice please consult your GP.

Featured image courtesy of Dino Giordano

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