Honey is often touted as a natural way to treat hay fever symptoms. The theory, explains Anna Almeter, co-owner of Wee Bee Honey in Cowlesville, New York, is that by eating raw, unfiltered, unstrained honey that has been collected locally during the allergy season, you’ll be exposed to the culprit pollens in small doses and build immunity.

But there’s no documented medical study that verifies the claim, says Dr. Neil Kao, an allergist and immunologist in South Carolina. “I tell patients it’s OK to try, because honey is safe and won’t harm them, but I have to tell [them] I don’t know of any objective evidence that honey can help.”

The only study we could locate that tested honey’s effectiveness in treating allergy symptoms was conducted in 2002 by researchers at the University of Connecticut. In the study, 36 allergy sufferers ate a tablespoon a day of either raw, locally collected, unfiltered honey; nationally collected, filtered, and pasteurized honey; or corn syrup with honey flavoring. At the end of the study, the results of the honey-eaters were no different than those of the placebo group.

Still, there’s an awful lot of anecdotal evidence. “Some people say they don’t have to have shots anymore; some say they don’t have to take pills anymore,” says Helene Marshall of Marshall’s Farm Honey in American Canyon, California.

If you’re going to try to self-medicate, Almeter says to keep the following in mind:

  • • Know what you’re allergic to and get the honey from that floral source: “If you are going to buy clover honey and you aren’t allergic to clover, that’s not going to do you any good.”
  • • Look for honey that has never been heated, strained, or filtered.
  • • Make sure the honey is from the correct season. “If you are allergic to fall plants [don’t] buy spring honey.”
  • • Start small! “If you start out too high, you can have a reaction. Start with something like a 1/4 teaspoon two times a day and see how you do; monitor yourself. All year you need to do it to keep building yourself up.”

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