Until recently I didn’t give honey much importance and I didn’t know much about it. I grew up and currently live in Spain, but when I was a kid my family and I would spend some time at my grandmother’s house in Ohio, where my father is from. When we were sick my grandmother used to give me and my brothers apple cider vinegar and honey as a remedy, so I was aware on some level of its health benefits.
About a year ago I was walking back home and I saw a man from outside Barcelona who was selling jars of honey on the street. I saw some kinds I had never tried, such as oak and heather honey, so I bought a couple. I was intrigued by the beautiful dark colors. One of them was crystallized, which I thought was strange at first, but later learned that it only happens to very good and natural honey. Natural raw honey will crystallize over time because the percentage of carbohydrates is much higher than that of water. It does not damage the honey in any way. When I tried them at home I absolutely loved them and I bought other kinds, such as thyme and rosemary honey. Now I use honey almost everyday, either in my oatmeal or a hot beverage.
What is honey?
Honey is a substance made by bees from the nectar of flowers and plants. Many kinds of bees make honey, but only one species, the Apis Mellifera, lives in big enough colonies that can make enough honey for humans to profit from.
The way this works is that plants require pollination to reproduce. To do this they need to exchange their pollen with other plants of the same species. Some plants rely on the wind for this purpose, but others use pollinators such as bees to carry their pollen around. To attract pollinators, plants offer nectar. Bees suck the nectar and put into a pouch they have in their bodies, separate from their stomach. And long story short, this nectar will be refined by the bees into honey.
Honey is one of the wonders of nature. Think about all the work that goes into a jar of honey. Even though the main two substances in honey are sugar and water, studies have found up to 180 different compounds in honey, such as amino acids, enzymes, vitamins and antioxidants. Scientists have also discovered that honeybees work as a kind of superorganism. Every single bee is always doing something for the hive, either collecting nectar, defending the hive or feeding their larvae. A honeybee will have a life of around 40 days, and 30 of those will be spent collecting nectar from hundreds of flowers, in addition to resinous sap and pollen.
Honey and its health properties
Honey has been used by humans for a very long time. There is an interesting cave painting in Spain dating back about 8000 years, which depicts a woman carrying a basket or gourd, climbing on to a tree with what seem to be ropes or maybe a ladder, and gathering honey from hive. Close to the middle east, in Georgia, archaeologists have found remains of honey on clay vessels in an ancient tomb dating back around 5000 years.
In ancient Egypt it was used for religious and medicinal practices, as well as in cooking to sweeten cakes and biscuits. In the Smith papyrus, one of the oldest Egyptian medical texts dating back around 2600 and 2200 BC, the recipe for a basic wound salve is made from a mixture of grease, honey and fiber. In ancient Greece honey was also held in high esteem for its medicinal uses. The Greek physician Hippocrates often used honey as part of his prescriptions for a variety of troubles. And in the Indian ayurvedic tradition, honey is seen to possess many therapeutic qualities as well. To sum up, honey has a long history of therapeutic use in many cultures around the world.
In the past decades researchers have been inquiring a bit into the healing qualities of this sticky substance. The most important quality of honey scientists have discovered is its antibacterial activity. In one of my favorite cook books, The longevity Kitchen by Rebecca Katz and Mat Edelson, they say “honey’s reputation for fighting infection is so robust that some hospitals use it to combat staph bacteria in their wards”. This is why grandmas have been giving honey as a cure for sore throats for centuries. Just recently in 2020, a study from the university of Oxford proved that honey is more effective in treating “upper respiratory tract infections”, like coughs and sore throats, than antibiotics or over-the- counter medicines. In addition to its antibacterial properties, there is evidence of its antiviral and anti-inflamatory properties.
Partly because of it’s antibacterial activity, honey is one of the oldest wound-healing substances known to man. Some researchers have been looking into this and have confirmed that honey can help heal acute wounds and mild skin burns. It not only helps clean the wound, but it also accelerates the regeneration of tissue. However, from what I’ve learned most doctors and researchers believe a larger body of evidence is needed. Further research into honey might take a while. Since it’s not something that can be patented by pharmaceutical companies, there isn’t a lot of incentive to investigate.
What is certain is that when you have a cough or a sore throat, honey will help your body recover. But you don’t need to wait until you get sick, including honey as part of your routine will strengthen your immune system. I like to have it almost everyday because I find it absolutely delicious. As with everything, don’t over do it, honey is still mostly made of sugar and water, even though it is much healthier than artificial sweeteners.
How to find great natural honey
Finding great honey is quite simple. You can do an online search for natural unprocessed honey in your area and see who is making it. Another way would be to go to your local farmer’s market and see if anybody is selling honey. Most likely someone will. The honey I’m using now is from a family run business north of Barcelona. I met them at one of the Sunday markets in my neighborhood.
When we buy everything from big supermarkets, we don’t really know how and where anything has been produced. Of course, there are certain standards and rules, so we see a product comes from such and such a place, or if it’s marked as organic we have some idea about how it has been produced. But we really don’t have any connection to the food itself. I would say it’s important to have a stronger emotional connection with some of the foods we eat. It adds extra sweetness and joy to our daily lives, and honey is great way to do it! Moreover, it gives you a sense of belonging to your own land and people.
You will notice unprocessed natural honey has a much thicker consistency than the processed one. The thickness of natural honey makes me think of Winnie-the-pooh, and how he would get his hands very sticky and messy or get his head stuck in honey jars all the time.
So make a connection with a local farmer or business and buy natural honey. When you open the jar in the morning, smell the honey and think of all the bees that put in hard work to produce it. A honeybee will produce about 1/12 of a teaspoon during its lifetime. So on average it takes the life of twelve bees to make a single teaspoon. Think of all the flowers they extracted the nectar from, how they had to fly hear and there collecting it. And now you can have it whatever way you like most!