One of the most wonderful gifts bees give us is honey. Our love affair with the golden goo goes back to the world’s oldest cave paintings in Spain, dated 7000 B.C. — where beekeeping is depicted.
Honey from wild bees has been around since bees themselves, presumably. The oldest honey bee fossils are 150 million years old!
Honey is the sweet liquid by-product of flower nectar and the upper aerodigestive tract of the honey bee, which is concentrated through a dehydration process inside the beehive. It has been used as both a food and a curative for thousands of years around the world.
Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics use a bee to symbolize royalty. The bee was the sign of the king of Lower Egypt during the First Dynasty – 3,200 B.C.
The Egyptians used honey as a sweetener, and also as an ingredient in embalming fluid. Baked honey cakes were offered to the gods to please them. The Greeks later followed this religious custom, finding the qualities of golden honey to be absolutely divine.
Lighter, amber-shaded honey is generally regarded as higher quality and costs more than darker types. The taste of honey depends on the different flower nectars collected by the busy bees.
Honey can be purchased raw from the hive with bits of yeast, pollen, and wax — some people like it with some honeycomb inside the container. It also comes pasteurized, heated to remove impurities.
Honey is fairly rare in nature and there’s a good reason for it: the sweet stuff is made up of roughly 70-80 percent SUGAR. One tablespoon of honey has 17 grams of carbohydrates and 64 calories. The rest is water (18 percent) and vitamins, minerals, and amino acids (2 percent).
Good news, everybody! Honey has no fat, cholesterol, or sodium (salt).
The carbs in honey’s natural, unprocessed sugar (fructose and glucose) feed working muscles. Athletes use honey for energetic activities because it maintains the stored carbohydrates (glycogens) in the muscles that are the body’s main fuel source. The short-term elevation in blood sugar levels produces a short-term burst of energy for sprints.
A recent scientific review looked into “Traditional and Modern Uses of Natural Honey in Human Diseases” and concluded that honey is best known medicinally for its ability to fight disease-causing bacteria. Honey also slows down yeast, fungi, Leishmania (a parasitic disease that is spread by the bite of infected sand flies), and certain viruses.
The study found that, when applied directly to the skin, honey is an effective treatment for genital lesions, superficial skin burns, chronic wounds, and infection.
Honey has antiseptic and antifungal properties. A spoonful of honey can quell an irritating cough. Add a pinch of black pepper to treat a common cold.
Purchase honey made by local bees to get the most benefit to your body’s immune system. The Rocky Mountain Wellness Center (RMWC) in Fort Collins, Colorado, explained that one common theory about honey is that it “acts like a natural vaccine.”
Ingesting the small amounts of pollen in honey exposes the body to potential allergens. An immune response may be triggered that creates antibodies in response to the pollen. “After repeated exposure, you should build up these antibodies and the body should become accustomed to their presence so that less histamine is released, resulting in a lesser allergic response,” wrote Dr. Matthew Brennecke, a board-certified naturopathic doctor with RMWC.
The antioxidants in honey have been linked to protecting brain cells and improving memory. Honey helps the body absorb calcium which, in turn, improves brain health. Calcium is critical for decision-making and thought-processing.
Medicinally, darker varieties of honey (such as those made from buckwheat nectar) are thought to contain more antioxidants. Different types of honey can vary up to 20 times in their antioxidant content.
If you have trouble sleeping, honey might be a good solution. When insulin production increases after eating any carbohydrate, serotonin is released. This neurotransmitter elevates mood and makes you feel happy. The body converts serotonin into melatonin, the chemical compound that regulates the length and the quality of sleep, as well as the sleep/wake cycles.
One of the amino acids in honey is also present in large amounts in turkey: tryptophan. Once it gets to the brain, it is converted into serotonin and then into melatonin, the sleep hormone.
Believe it or not, honey has been used to banish dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis – at least temporarily. If you can stand to leave a solution of honey diluted with 10 percent warm water on your scalp for three hours before rinsing, relief from itching with no scaling could be yours within a week, according to a 2001 study that appeared in the European Journal of Medical Research.
Health experts advise not feeding honey to babies less than one-year-old.
Since honey is mostly sugar, people with diabetes need to limit their consumption to avoid spiking blood glucose levels.
As long as you stay active and fit, honey is a marvelous all-natural substitute for refined sugar or artificial sweeteners. So go ahead and enjoy a taste of honey.