Honey: Medicine and Nectar of the Gods

honey nectarDid you know that raw honey, properly stored, doesn’t spoil? Archeologists have uncovered ancient tombs from Egypt—some bearing honey in sealed containers that is still of good quality and edible.

Earliest caveman paintings – 13,000 B.C. – depict people getting stung by bees as they try to collect the gooey liquid.

Honey is the source of many traditional myths. In Greek mythology, honey was considered one of the foods of the Gods of Olympus, a drink or nectar they consumed to achieve immortality.

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, emphasized its nutritional and medicinal values. Several centuries later, the art of beekeeping (apiculture) passed down to the Romans and then the rest of the world. Beekeepers encourage an overproduction of honey in their hives so that the excess can be removed without leaving a dangerous food shortage for the bees. In cold weather and when food sources are scarce, the bees survive on their honey.

A healthy hive contains about 40-60,000 bees. Honeybees visit approximately two million flowers to make a pound of honey. To produce one ounce, a bee has to make about 1600 round trips from the flower source (one round trip can be as long as 6 miles). Average lifespan? 4-6 weeks. No one said it was easy to be a bee.

For 4,000 years, honey has been used as a remedy for health ailments. Here are a few:

  • Ancient Egyptians used it for burns, skin ulcers and wounds
  • Inflammation of the eyelids
  • Athlete’s foot and fungal infections
  • Stomach aches and diarrhea
  • Sore throat
  • Recently, a New Zealand scientist discovered one particular honey with high levels of antibacterial properties to treat antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Honey was also used for all kinds of ailments that it actually did not help to cure. There are still many inaccurate claims out there.

Not all honey is created equal. The quality depends on the source of the pollen—the types of plants used by the bees. Some experts have been suggesting that if you suffer from hay fever allergies, you might desensitize your allergies by eating local honey produced by bees that have used local plants. Amazing stuff!

homemade honeyBeeswax is used in cosmetics, such as lip balms. Other uses: candles, lubricants for doors, bow strings, furniture polish. Royal jelly, a pollen-and-honey combination used specifically to feed the larvae which develops into the Queen Bee, is used in skin creams to fight aging.

Raw honey may be pasteurized (heated) to kill any yeast that may be present. Yeast causes honey to ferment and crystallize, so pasteurizing slows this process. Crystallized honey can be brought back to liquid form by gently heating it—but not boiling.

The nutritional benefits of honey include vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants. Many doctors say never feed an infant or young child honey–including baked goods with honey—because it can cause botulism, a type of food poisoning that can be fatal. Pasteurizing honey does not make it any safer against botulism.

When honey is fermented with yeast and water, it develops into an alcoholic liquid called mead. Mead was a favorite beverage with the English and Europeans, and used around the world as far back as 8,000 years ago. It may have been the first type of alcohol ever invented, predating wine. It was flavored and brewed with spices and fruits. It’s still sold today.

In Classic Greek, the word ‘drunk’ means ‘honey-intoxicated’. Some say the English word ‘honeymoon’ is traceable to the father of the bride giving the couple enough alcoholic mead to celebrate for a month—but others dispute the origin of the word.

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