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A Taste of Honey

Honeybees have been revered by humans throughout time. A 15,000 year old rock painting in a cave in Valencia, Spain tells the story of a hunter collecting honey from a wild nest.

As far back as 7000 BC, societies celebrated by drinking mead fermented from honey. The ancient beverage was consumed during the month-long celebrations following weddings -- the honey moon. Prenuptial agreements required bridegrooms to supply their bride with honey throughout their marriage. Egyptians used honey 4,000 years ago to promote longevity in the afterlife by wrapping their dead in it.

Napoleon Bonaparte used the bee as a symbol of his immortality and Cleopatra bathed in milk and honey to enhance her beauty. Ancient sacred texts like the Bible’s Old Testament references honey 54 times, the King James Version 73 times, and the Koran uses holy terms to describe the attributes of both bees and honey. Honey is used in the Jewish tradition to celebrate the New Year and Buddhists pay homage to it during the festival of Madhu Purnima. Beehives have been kept on the rooftops of the Bank of England, the Opera House in Paris, France and the renowned Royal York Hotel in Toronto, Canada. Honey is so firmly established in our popular culture, today it is spoken as an endearment all over the world.

HONEY GOES WELL BEYOND its ability to sweeten. As a natural curative, honey has been used by healing practitioners for eons. Honeybees convert collected nectar to honey by using a glucose oxidase enzyme which changes the composition of the natural sucrose. Because they use honey both as a food supplement and as a powerful preserving agent, they add elements of minerals, vitamins and biologically active hydrogen peroxide. This important protein-digesting enzyme dissolves dead tissue while stimulating the growth of blood vessels that are essential to the creation of new connective tissue. Natural honey is as important to a honeybee’s longevity as it is to ours.

When applied to human wounds, high grade honey has healing properties which reduce infection and scarring. Honey abates damage in the colon caused by colitis, an inflammation of the colon. When parasites attack human digestive tracks -- and they do so with alarming regularity -- honey can be used as an antiparatic. When mixed with water and vinegar honey’s medicinal properties attack parasites and worms in our intestinal tract . This can be particularly important as over 80% of our immune system resides in our stomach. When our immune system is invaded by foreign microscopic organism, our bodies weaken and we no longer effectively fight off disease.

When corporate pharmaceuticals turned medicinals into commodities, the healing powers of honey fell out of favor. As profit-driven drug companies stoked marketing strategies to sell their latest blockbuster drugs, natural treatments for many ailments took a back seat to designer drugs and prescribed lifestyle choices. Ray Moynihan and Alan Cassels book “Selling Sickness” makes a very convincing argument that many of these corporations do not serve the public interest. Rather, when science is part of a business plan, the bottom line always wins out over the trials and tribulations of humanity. Fortunately for us, honeybees and Nature maintained their competitive edge over corporate sponsored science.

New studies are shedding light on how natural honey can be used as a source of medicine when dealing with some of the most powerful, antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. The nutraceutical properties of honey are directly dependent upon the kind of nectar honeybees collect fostering the belief that some types of honey have substantial curative powers. In the quiet, pollution-free countryside of New Zealand, hardworking honeybees gather nectar from a flower that blooms on a native bush. Called the Manuka Tea Tree (Leptospermum scoparium) Manuka honey is believed to possess healing properties far beyond that of regular commercial-grade honey. Its identification label specifies the strength of its antibacterial component. Combined with the honeybees’ glucose oxidase enzymes, this natural restorative has been gaining worldwide recognition as an effective weapon in the fight against antibiotic resistant bacteria including hospital superbugs like methicillin-resistant staphylococcus (MRSA).

High quality, freshly collected honey can be as fine and diverse as a great wine or a handmade artisanal cheese. Delicate pearly-white honey is harvested as nectar from the volcanic islands of Hawaii. Himalayan honey comes from the pristine regions of Kashmir. Forest honey comes from Africa and the Bavarian Black Forest in Germany. Corsica, a mountainous island off the west coast of Italy produces six official varietals of honey. All are certified as to origin (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) by the French National Institute of Origin and Quality (INAO). Close to 95% of the carbohydrates found in honey are fermentable -- a characteristic important to the manufacture of honey beers, wines and bakery items. It has the ability to hold moisture and extend shelf-life. It can be incorporated into dry cereals, snack foods and frozen desserts.

Honey is as natural as sunshine and as unique as the enlightened creatures that produce it. But more importantly whether ingested by humans or bees, when high quality honey is absorbed into the body through the digestive track, it becomes a healthy source of balanced nutrition and energy for both honeybees and humans.