9 health benefits of using honey

9 health benefits of honeyI’ll be the first to admit that I’m a honey convert.

I wasn’t raised on it, and to tell the truth–before I got into beekeeping the last jar of honey I bought came from the grocery store (I shudder to think of it now!) and sat in the cupboard largely untouched for years.

I got bees for the pollination of my garden, which was rapidly expanding (and still is!), the honey was just a perk–but once I extracted and tasted my first crop of honey I was instantly converted.  The sweet taste of that liquid liquid gold treacle is like tasting the warm golden sunshine on a spring wildflower meadow–a little taste of heaven right here on Earth.

The more I learn about the goodness of honey and all of the benefits and uses it has to offer, the more I am convinced it really is a gift from nature.

A little history

Honey has long been recognized as one of the most natural of home remedies.  Since pre-ancient times honey has been used to treat wounds and imbalances within the body.

Prescriptions for treating wounds using honey in remedies have been found on the oldest of human scriptures, which date back to about 2000BC.  And in the first compendium of ancient Chinese Medicine that Shen Nang compiled many years BC, and again mentioned in a written form about 500 years AD, it states that honey can be used against many diseases–for example-the healing and cleaning of wounds, and against many different internal and external infections.

Ancient Greeks considered honey to be good medicine, and believed that if bee honey was taken regularly it could prolong the human life.  While in the old Roman pharmacopoeia, honey was the most useful substance they possessed, and it was used to treat afflictions of the mouth, pneumonia, pleurisy and snake bites.

Even our revered early thinkers–Homer, Pythagoras, Ovid, Democritus, Hippocrates, and Aristotle mentioned that people should eat honey to preserve their health and vigor.

Today knowledge on the healing virtues of bee honey and bee bi-products is known as apitherapy, and modern science is validating these historical claims for the medicinal uses of honey.

Health benefits of honey

So for thousands of years we’ve known that honey is good for you both inside and outside the body, but now we have science to validate it and tell us why honey works so well.  I don’t know about you–but in our house, we abide by concepts grounded in scientific fact, which is yet another reason why I like working with our county’s cooperative extension as a master gardener–but I digress.  😉

 

1. Cholesterol fighter:  Honey is free of cholesterol; what’s more, adding small amounts of honey to your daily diet can help to keep your cholesterol in check.  This is due to the fact that antioxidants in the honey prevent cholesterol from being moved out of the blood and into the lining of the blood vessels.  So daily consumption of honey could raise the levels of protective antioxidant compounds in your body.

honey is good for you
Photo courtesy Flickr.com, Creative Commons License

2. Natural energy booster:  Studies today have shown that honey is far superior at maintaining glycogen levels, and improving recovery time of athletes compared to that of other sweeteners.  Well known for it’s effectiveness in instantly boosting performance, endurance and reducing muscle fatigue, a spoonful of honey can be taken before a workout, or as an alternative to caffeinated energy drinks–even honey spread on toast, or replacing sugar in tea can offer an all natural boost of energy when you are feeling low or lethargic.

3. Immune system builder:  Raw honey contains 5000 live enzymes, along with a full range of vitamins, 22 amino acids and 27 minerals.  Eating honey can stimulate the immune system because it contains powerful antioxidants, antiviral properties, abd contains natural antibiotics.  When combined with apple cider vinegar, honey can help fight respiratory conditions.

4. Anti-cancer:  Scientists have found floral flavinoids in honey–generally known as antioxidants–immediately increase the antioxidant levels within the body’s cells when ingested.  These flavinoids decrease capillary permeability and fragility, scavenging oxidants and inhibiting the destruction of collagen in the body.  Honey is not a cure–but definitely a great preventative not to be overlooked.

5. Humectant:  As a natural humectant, honey pulls moisture from the air and binds it, which makes it a good addition to hand and face creams.

6. Antibacterial and anti-fungal:  All honey is antibacterial because the bees add an enzyme that makes hydrogen peroxide, according to Peter Molan, director of the Honey Research Unit at the University of Waikato in New Zealand.  It is that enzyme that gives honey the antiseptic properties that inhibit the growth of certain bacteria and help to keep external wounds clean and free from infection.  Honey’s antibacterial properties not only prevent infection, but function as an anti-inflammatory agent–reducing swelling and pain, even scarring.

7. Reduces ulcer and gastrointestinal disorders:  Modern science is proving that the antibacterial properties of honey make it incredibly effective against bacteria.  Studies have shown that honey can be used for prevention and treatment of numerous gastrointestinal disorders, including peptic ulcers, gastritis, and gastroenteritis.  Even disorders resulting from more resistant strains of bacteria–such as the bacteria Heliobacter pylori–or H. pylori.  Prescription antibiotics typically prescribed for H. pylori are expensive and have harmful side effects, while the use of honey also inhibits the bacteria while posing no side effects.

8. Reduces coughs and throat irritation:  Research published in the British Medical Journal determined honey to be highly effective in preventing acid reflux.  Because honey is 125.9 time more viscous than distilled water, it forms a better coating on the esophagus and can reduce heart burn.  What’s more, honey has been proven to be just as effective as dextromethorphan (key ingredient in commercial cough syrup) in relieving coughs and allowing children to sleep through the night.

9. Blood sugar regulation:  Though honey contains simple sugars, they are not the same as white sugar or artificial sweeteners.  It’s exact combination of fructose and glucose actually help the body regular blood sugar levels.  Some honeys even have a low hypoglycemic index so they don’t jolt your blood sugar.

For best results

To achieve the full effects of the benefits of honey, be sure to use pure, raw honey.  More than three-quarters of the honey found in our US grocery stores is not actually honey.  The Food and Drug Administration states that any product that no longer contains pollen is not honey; what’s more–the food safety divisions of the World Health Organization, the European Commission, and dozens or other organizations around the world have all ruled that without pollen, there is no way to determine whether the honey came from a legitimate and safe source.

Yet the FDA does not check the honey being sold in America to see if it contains pollen.

The process of ultra-filtering is a technique refined by the Chinese (who have been illegally dumping tons of their honey on the US market for years–some of which contain illegal antibiotics).  It is a high-tech process which heats the honey, sometimes watering it down and then forcing it at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove the pollen.

Once honey has been heated and filtered in this manner it has lost most of it’s healthful benefits, which is why it is so important to buy raw honey from a local source you can trust.  Traditional filtering still catches the bee parts, wax, and debris from the hives that might be in the honey, but leaves the pollen–along with all of the vitamins, minerals and enzymes in place.

A note of caution:  Please do not feed honey to infants less than 1 year, as spored of Clostridium botulinum have been found in a small percentage of the honeys in North America.  While these spores are not dangerous to adults and older children, they can pose a serious threat to infants.

Also–keep in mind that darker honeys have stronger concentrations of antioxidants and so is much more powerful medicine–as I pointed out in this previous article about the Power of Dark Honey.

I am converted

benefits of honeyNow that I have had the privilege of tasting and using my own all-natural, raw honey, there’s no going back.  I cook with it, I use it in my soaps, I make herbal salves with my honey, drink it in my tea, eat it on pancakes and drizzle it on vanilla ice cream.  Occasionally I’ll even take a spoonful and eat it straight from the jar, marveling in the taste and wonder of this sticky sweet nectar that my own bees have produced.

I aspire to travel the world some day, a round-the-world journey that will take me to apiaries all over the world–learning the different methods and techniques that beekeepers have adapted, and of course–sampling the myriad of different honeys as a wine connoisseur might do with various wines.  What a thrill that would be!

So what about you–are you using honey on a regular basis?  Do you have a health reason for using honey?  And what’s your favorite way to eat it?  Feel free to share below!

 References:

Why honey is effective as medicine; the scientific explanation of its effects – from the University of Waikato, research commons

Health Benefits of Honey

Effects of dietary honey on intstinal microflora and toxicity of mycotoxins in mice – from Biomed Central

6 Health Benefits of Honey – Health Central

Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey – from Food Safety News

Attracting Native Pollinators book giveaway

native pollinator book giveaway

native pollinator book giveawayWe’ve had such a growth of support, and we are so grateful for it that I’ve decided it’s high time we hosted our first online giveaway to thank all of our readers for following along with Runamuk. 

I’m excited to announce that we have a copy of the Xerces Society’s Guide to Attracting Native Pollinators to giveaway to one lucky reader.

Attracting Native Pollinators

I’ve owned my own copy of this book since 2011, and it has become a go-to resource for me.  This 371-page book is vibrant and colorful, filled with photographs of pollinators and pollinator plants.  It is easy to read, but packed full with information that will help home-owner, homesteader, or farmer create a pollinator space on their property.

Note: Here in Maine we have some 270 documented species of native bees (and no-the honeybee is NOT native), and throughout North America there are at least 4000 species; the problems facing the honeybee are not exclusive–the existence of pollinators across the board is threatened, and it benefits mankind to take action to support these creatures.  The Xerces Society is working to protect insects and other invertebrates and you can too!

More About the Book

attracting native pollinatorsThe book is broken up into 4 sections: “Pollinators and Pollination”, “Taking Action”, “Bees of North America”, and “Creating a Pollinator-Friendly Landscape”.

It goes into great detail about how the relationship between plants and pollinators evolved (this relationship still inspires me today!), describes various strategies for helping pollinators, how to provide foraging habitat, and pollinator conservation on farms and in natural areas.

The book also serves as a reference for bees–with a catalog of North American bees, each entry including a photograph as well as an “actual-size” depiction, and details regarding identification, foraging and nesting preferences of each species.

What’s more, the “Attracting Native Pollinators” guide even includes a catalog of some of the plants that pollinators prefer, with lists for every region, and details and growing preferences for individual species.

And finally–the Xerces Society has included information about how you can take action in your community to have a greater affect, and to better help your native pollinators.

Recommended for Those Interested in Promoting Native Pollinators

It’s a really beautiful and super useful book, especially if–like me–you’re interested in establishing habitat for pollinators in your yard, or on your homestead or farm.  And if you’re into taking that next step to make a difference in your local community–this book will help you figure out how to go about it.  It’s a book that I love and highly recommend, and that is why I am thrilled to be able to offer a copy to you today–FREE!

As part of our mission to promote pollinator conservation, Runamuk Acres Farm & Apiary is sponsoring this giveaway, and we will contact the randomly selected winner and mail the book to them free of charge following the conclusion of the giveaway on Saturday.

All you have to do is use the Giveaway Tools entry form below for your chance to win.

This Giveaway runs from Monday, March 17th til 11:59pm on Saturday, March 22nd.

Good luck!

Welcome Willow!

willow runamuk's new dog

This week we added the first of many new animals to our growing farm–Willow the livestock guardian dog!

willow the livestock guardianWillow is a great pyrenees/anatolian shepherd cross.

willow runamuk's new dogThe Great Pyrenees breed–or the Pyrenean Mountain Dog is an old breed that has been used by shepherds for hundreds of years.  Developed in southern France and northern Spain where the steep mountain slopes required agility, the pyrenees is naturally nocturnal and aggressive with predators who might harm its flock.  Typically the breed is confident, gentle and affectionate–particularly with kids–and patient.

The Anatolian, on the other hand, originated in Turkey, also as a livestock guardian dog.  They are a large, rugged breed, that is very independent and loyal.

At 5 months old Willow is already the size of a golden retriever or a lab, she is super sweet and eager to please, loving and affectionate, and gentle with the two Burns brothers.  Willow and Ava (our rescue dog–a jack russle/beagle mix we brought home from the animal shelter 2 years ago) are becoming fast friends, and she likes the kitties too (we have 3).  Though we don’t make it a point of indulging the habit–he has a thing for chips that is rather endearing.  It doesn’t seem to matter the type–tortilla, ruffles, etc. though I was told by her former owner that Willow particularly likes Doritos, lol.  I think it’s the crispy crunch that she enjoys most. 😉

We are thrilled to have her here with us.  I know she is going to be a good addition to the family–and the farm.

Companion planting made easy

plant companions in the garden

companion plantingIt was my father in-law who first introduced me to the concept of companion planting, as we discussed gardening, and he sagely shared the secret of planting marigolds with tomatoes in order to repel nematodes.  I remember wondering what other plants could be grown among my crops to aid in the health of the garden, and then I wondered why more people don’t use this age-old method of pest protection?

If you’re interested in organic gardening, and gardening without the use of pesticides or herbicides, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ve entertained the notion of companion planting.  Chances are you’ve Googled companion planting and discovered the 1,410,000 results that come up, clicked through the first few links, and quickly became overwhelmed by the vast number of recommendations for pairing combinations of plants–I know I certainly did!  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the suggestions, which are sometimes confusing, unscientific, and even contradictory.

garden companions
My copy of “Great Garden Companions” is beat up and well-worn from years of heavy use.

About 10 years ago, I was lucky enough to stumble upon Sally Jean Cunningham’s book: “Great Garden Companions“, in which she lays out her companion-planting system–a system that takes the confusion out of companion planting and makes it easy to employ this method to aid in your pursuit of a chemical-free garden.  Even on a larger scale, as in our market gardens, companion planting can be utilized to reduce the need for pesticides, and to improve the efficiency of the garden.

Sally Jean is a Master Gardener with the Cornell Cooperative Extension, and she’s done the hard work of sorting through hundreds of companion planting recommendations, looking for those recommended by several sources and backed by scientific research.  And, as a Master Gardener myself, I prefer to use information supported by the cooperative extension and grounded in science, so Sally Jean’s book was a godsend.

Some may call the companion-planting method merely an “old wives tale”, but just because something is folklore doesn’t mean it’s fiction.  Afterall, companion planting is one of the oldest of gardening traditions–even the ancient Roman historians wrote about companion planting–and practically everyone has heard of the “three sisters”, a Native American method of planting corn, beans, and squash together.

Note:  This is not an affiliate link, though I do highly recommend “Great Garden Companions” to anyone interested in this method of growing and raising crops.

What is companion planting?

Simply put, companion planting is combination of gardening fact and folk-lore that advocates growing certain plants together for their mutual benefit–a symbiotic relationship of sorts.

Humanity’s modern gardening methods disregard and destroy the natural systems in effect on Earth because we often feel the need to interfere with the links of the living chain, which causes the system to begin to collapse.  However if we set up our gardens to take advantage of the natural processes that make nature so successful, we can create a self-sustaining system that is a benefit not only to ourselves, but to the ecosystem that we are a part of.

What are the benefits of companion planting?

Creates biodiversity:  Planting flowers and herbs among your vegetables in the garden creates biodiversity, which means having many different plants and animals in the area, and supports the natural systems at work, creating a healthier, stronger ecosystem.  When your ecosystem is strong, the plants and animals therein are stronger and healthier too.  And if your vegetable plants are strong and healthy, they can ward of pests and diseases more easily, which means you’ll have a better harvest than you might otherwise reap.

Helps prevent pest problems: Mixing plants together makes it more difficult for pests to find those they like to eat.  Inter-planting flowers and herbs among your crops confuses the insects in some cases.  In other instances, your companion plants may camouflage your vegetables.  Some odoriferous plants repel pests, and still others attract natural predators such as birds and beneficial insects.

A helping hand: Some companion pairings help each other grow, such as corn that’s planted beside lettuce, shading the lower growing crop from the hot summer sun.  And even sunflowers that are planted between your cucumbers, creating a natural trellis for your vining crops.

Use nutrients efficiently: Make the most of what your garden’s soil has to offer by pairing plants according to their nutrient needs.  Some crops need well fertilized, rich soil, while others do just as well in average, or even fairly poor soil.  A good example is pairing potatoes with beans, potatoes are heavy nitrogen feeders, and since beans effectively fix nitrogen into the soil this is a great companion pairing.  In other instances, following a group of heavy feeders such as tomatoes or cucumbers with a planting of light feeders such as beets or carrots, can help you utilize your soil most efficiently.

Reduces need for pesticides: Companion planting allows you to grow vegetables, flowers, and herbs in a chemical free, environmentally friendly way.  Growing strong, healthy plants that are less susceptible to pests and disease, and growing them with beneficial friends and allies to help ward off pests, reduces, and potentially eliminates, the need for pesticides in the garden.

Companion planting the easy way

companion planting made easyI’ve adopted Sally Jean’s gardening method, which takes the confusion out of companion planting, and I’ve had great success with it.  By sorting your plants into basic groups companion planting suddenly becomes a much simpler endeavor.

Step 1:  Sort your crops into plant families

There are 4 ways to group your vegetable crops into families, by botanical family, feeding needs, performance benefits, and pairings that benefits each other by deterring or warding off harmful pests.  Depending on your circumstances you may choose to employ just one of these groupings, or all of them.

Botanical families

Genetically related plants can be grouped together, since they typically have similar needs for light, moisture, and fertility.  Plants of the same family are often plagued by the same pest and disease issues, so grouping them together can make treating these problems much easier.  For example, group brassicas together in one family, tomatoes and peppers together in another.  Organizing your plants this way also helps you to choose the appropriate friends for each crop family.

Feeding families

feeding family companion planting
Some crops require much more fertilizer than others.

Group plants according to their nutrient needs, as some are heavy feeders, while others are moderate to light feeders.  Corn, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes and squash are all crops who need a rich, well fertilized soil to produce well, while beets, carrots, onions, and turnips all do well in average or even poor soil conditions.  Grouping your crops into feeding families can help you to make the most of your soil fertility, and this can be a good strategy for those with smaller gardens, or if you have poor soil that you’re working to improve.

Performance families

Some plants can help another by simply being in close proximity, such as lettuces planted in the shade of pole bean tee-pees.  This kind of grouping can help you make the best of limited garden space, with the added benefit that insects may become confused by the close placement of the two unrelated crops, and they may not be able to find their target crop.

Pest-fighting families

In this grouping, one family member may help repel pests that attack another family member.  Or one crop might lure pests away from another crop.  Research studies have indicated that bush beans planted in alternating rows with potatoes can significantly reduce the numbers of Colorado potato beetles afflicting your potato crop.  Radishes, too, are a great trap crop used to lure flea beetles away from your greens–just pull up the infested radishes and destroy them to get rid of the flea beetles.

Step 2:  Choose your friends carefully

Once you’ve created your “plant family” it’s time to add some “friends and allies”.

companion planting for pest-control
I’ve learned to recognize Evening Primrose seedlings, and I allow these “weeds” to grow up in strategic locations throughout the garden because they attract Japanese beetles away from my beans.

Plant friends attract beneficial insects to the garden–beneficials are those who either prey upon garden pests, or those who pollinate, thus increasing the yield of your garden.  But in order to attract these “good bugs” we need to offer them food and shelter, because when beneficials aren’t eating pests, they eat pollen–another protein source, and they like a place to hide when threatened or resting.

Plant allies are protector plants, or trap crops, which deter, or lure pests away from your vegetable crops.  Typically these include common annuals (ie-marigolds, etc.) and culinary herbs, and even some perennials in adjacent beds can offer a benefit to your vegetable garden.

2 Rules for choosing ally-attracting plant-friends

  • Provide a season-long bloom: beneficial insects need to be able to eat from the time they emerge in the early spring, through to the fall, when cold forces plants into dormancy and insects either die off or return to hibernation.
  • Include aster and carrot-family plants: there are many aster-relations to choose from–from sunflowers to coneflowers, daisies, chamomile, cosmos, zinnias, and many more–all of them offer nectar and pollen to beneficial insects.  The carrot-family, however, includes many odoriferous herbs–such as caraway, dill, fennel, parsley, and even Queen-Anne’s Lace–which serve as our protector plants.

 Step 3:  Survey your plant neighborhoods

Once you’ve grouped your crop families it’s fairly easy to pair them with beneficial allies to create neighborhoods that suit your specific preferences and gardening principles.  Decide which type of mulch best suits each neighborhood, determine optimal crop rotation, and make notes for future reference as you experiment and learn.  You can check out my own neighborhoods below to see what some possible groupings might look like.

create plant-family neighborhoodsCabbages, beets, and peas please!

Pairing cabbage-family crops with other cold-loving crops makes sense if you’re interested in season-extension.

I absolutely avoid using straw as a mulch because slugs and snails love to hide in it during the day, then lunch my tender brassicas during the cool nighttime.

The brassica neighborhood has a 2-3 year rotation period in my gardens, so they won’t be in the same plot again for at least 2 years, and we always remove spent plants at the end of the season because they can harbor pests and diseases over the winter.

why companion planting is beneficialCarrots & onions

When my garden was smaller, serving just our own family, I would plant my onions, and then scatter-sow carrots between them, using the thinnings in salads.

Now that we have a much larger market garden, I plant in wide beds, alternating carrots, onions, and beets.

These crops are generally not prone to disease, but do we employ a 2 year rotation period for carrots, since they can be affected by root maggots, while greens can be planted in the same bed repeatedly without a problem.

group plant families together in companion planting

Beans with potatoes

I always pair potatoes with beans–firstly because the beans act as a trap crop for my more valuable winter-storage crop of potatoes.  And secondly because legumes like beans fix nitrogen into the soil, and since potatoes are heavy nitrogen feeders this is a good plant-relationship to foster in the garden.

Because potatoes are susceptible to a number of diseases we give them a minimum of 3 years in our crop rotations.

how to make companion planting easyTomatoes & Co.

Generally, these heat-loving, nutrient-demanding crops will go in the garden around the same time.

how to companion plantWe employ a 4 year rotation with nightshade crops, which are known for spreading a number of viral diseases.

 

Vine City

Crops like cucumbers, squashes, and pumpkins need plenty of space to spread out, rich, fertile soil, and hot, humid weather to perform well.

Another companion planting strategy is to plant cucumber among your cabbage-family crops early in the season; you will have harvested the brassicas by the time your cucumber-crops need more space.

3 year rotation to avoid reintroducing pests, like the Cucumber beetle, which overwinter in the soil, mulch, and nearby logs or the debris of the forest floor.

how companion planting worksPermanent perennials

Keeping a permanent bed in the garden not only gives you a place to plant perennials like rhubarb and asparagus, but also offers a dependable habitat to beneficial insects.

Providing shelter and water entices the insects to remain close by, which will increase their foraging in your garden and further reduce the numbers of pests preying upon your crops.

Get growing!

Companion planting doesn’t have to be complicated or confusing.  Using this method of grouping plants based on one of the four categories, and pairing them with friends and allies that suit each plant family takes the guess work out of it all.  And by arranging your garden into “neighborhoods” you’ve created an easy rotational system.

I’ve printed my own neighborhoods onto index cards, with my notes and reminders, so that they are easy to refer to.  I can carry them with me in my back pocket when I go out to the gardens to plant, and I double check them constantly to make sure I’m putting the right seedlings together, and laying the correct form of mulch.

Now that you know how–go ahead and create your own garden neighborhoods and try companion planting for yourself!