Natural Living: The origins and medicinal benefits of honey
Honey is a delicious viscous sweetener made naturally by bees for their own nourishment. The fascinating process of making honey begins when the bees feast on flowers, collecting the flower nectar in their mouths. This nectar then mixes with special enzymes in the bees’ saliva, a process that turns it into honey. The bees carry the honey back to the hive, where they deposit it into the cells of the hive’s walls. The fluttering of their wings provides the necessary ventilation to reduce the honey’s moisture content, making it ready for consumption.
For thousands of years, honey has been used all over the world and in just about every culture both as a food and as a medicine. Physicians of ancient times, such as Aristotle (384-322 BC), Aristoxenus (320 BC) Hippocrates, Porphyry, Cornelius Celsus (early first century AD) and Dioscorides (c. 50 AD), and Arab physicians have referred to the healing qualities of honey.
Ancient Egyptian physicians used honey in medicinal compounds 5,000 years ago to treat a variety of ailments through topical application. Ancient Greeks believed that honey could promote virility and longevity. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, honey is known as Feng Mi and has been used for thousands of years and is still important today for its ability to nourish yin energy and strengthen the spleen. Ancient Russian Manuscripts attributed great importance to honey as a medicine.
There are at least 40 types of honey, each one has its own distinctive taste and unique properties. Darker honey tends to have higher antioxidant levels. Monofloral honey (honey from a single plant species) usually has the lowest glycemic index (GI). For example, locust honey from the Black Locust tree has a GI of 32. Clover honey, which is used commercially, has the highest glycemic index at 69. The most popular types of honey include; Alfalfa, Blueberry, Buckwheat, Clover, Manuka, Orange Blossom and Wildflower.
The health benefits of honey, like all foods depend on the quality of the honey. The processing of honey often removes many of the phytonutrients found in raw honey as it exists in the hive. Many phytonutrients found in raw honey have been shown to possess cancer preventing and anti-tumor properties. These substances include caffeic acid methyl caffeate, phenylethyl caffeate, and phenylethyl dimethylcaffeate. Researchers have discovered that these substances prevent colon cancer in animals by shutting down activity of two enzymes, phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase C and lipoxygenase. When raw honey is extensively processed and heated, the benefits of these phytonutrients are largely eliminated.
When honey is eaten in its raw form it is 18 to 20 percent water and is comprised of the monosaccharides glucose and fructose and vitamins A, B-complex, C, D, E K and beta-carotene, as well as plenty of mineral and enzymes.
The following uses for honey depict the most powerful health benefits found.
1. Wounds – Research has shown that the use of raw wildflower honey on wounds forms a flexible protective barrier which prevents infection, absorbs pus, and reduces pain, irritation and odor. It has shown to be more effective than silver sulfadiazine (the conventional treatment) for first-degree burns. Topical honey has been used successfully in treatment of diabetic ulcers as well as the drug resistant strains of bacteria MRSA.
2. Allergies- Consuming local honey has shown to reduce seasonal allergies as bees feed on pollen from local plants which eventually finds its way to form honey. Buckwheat honey has been shown to be a more effective cough suppressant for children ages 2-18 than dextromethorphan. Research shows that consuming honey can boost one’s immunity.
3. Ulcers and other gastrointestinal disorders- Recent research shows that honey treatment may help disorders such as ulcers and bacterial gastroenteritis due to it anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
4. Blood sugar regulation- Raw honey has a low hypoglycemic index, so they don’t jolt your blood sugar like white sugar or artificial sweeteners. Its exact combination of fructose and glucose actually helps the body regulate blood sugar levels.
5. Probiotic- Some varieties of honey possess large amounts of friendly bacteria. This includes up to 6 species of lactobacilli and 4 species of bifidobacteria. These bacteria will help the balance of bacteria in your gut.
Raw honey has also been said to be useful in improving eyesight, moisturizing skin, weight loss, curing impotence and premature ejaculation, urinary tract disorders, bronchial asthma, diarrhea, and nausea.
Do not feed raw honey to infants, as spores of Clostridium botulinum have been found in a small percentage of honey in North America. This is not dangerous to adults and older children, but infants can have a serious reaction of illness in the first year. Make sure you purchase 100 percent pure raw honey, usually found at your local health food store or farmers market.