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