Even though I’m not a fan of sugar, and don’t recommend eating much of it, honey has some pretty amazing health benefits.
Archaeological evidence indicates that beekeepers have been keeping bees and harvesting honey since about 700 B.C. The chemical composition of honey allows it to keep indefinitely without spoiling—as evidenced in pots of honey found in Egyptian tombs that are thousands of years old, yet still perfectly preserved.
The ancient Greeks ate honey daily, infusing it with a variety of different herbs known for their medicinal properties—a la Mary Poppins: just a spoonful of honey helps the medicine go down—while the ancient Egyptians used honey in the treatment of skin and eye problems. Honey is very high in antimicrobial properties, and contains many enzymes that our bodies need to function. So what exactly is honey, and what are some of the health benefits of honey?
What exactly is honey, and why do bees make honey?
The simplified answer is that bees collect pollen and turn that pollen into honey, through a series of processes within their hive. The bees subsist on their honey, a high-energy food source full of nutrients, during the cold winter months when it’s too cold to forage, and there aren’t many flowers blooming.
6 Health Benefits of Honey for Humans
- Honey is more nutritious than other sugars, it contains protein, is easier to digest than refined sugar, and doesn’t tend to spike blood sugar as much as refined sugars do.
- Honey is a demulcent, meaning it forms a soothing film over mucous membranes, relieving minor pain and inflammation of the membrane. Putting some honey in your tea when you have a cold or flu can help to sooth a sore throat. It can also be used to help sooth ulcers and an inflamed digestive tract.
- Honey is a natural humectant, meaning it has the ability to attract and hold water molecules from the surrounding environment. It is useful in skin and hair treatments, where it traps and seals in moisture leaving skin soft and supple, and hair glossy and healthy. Try one of these do-it-yourself honey face masks.
- Honey is antimicrobial, having strong antiseptic and antibacterial properties that can help to boost the immune system.
- Honey can be used topically to cover open wounds and scratches. The antibiotic properties of honey help wounds to heal faster, while the viscosity of honey covers wounds to keep out pathogens. The humectant properties of honey draw fluids out of wounds and keep the skin moist which reduces scaring.
- Honey can help fight seasonal allergies. This works best if the honey is from your local environment so it contains the same types of pollens that you may have allergies to. The theory is that by exposing the body to minute amounts of pollens found in honey, over time the body builds up a resistance to those pollens, similar to the way that homeopathy works.
Sadly, many honeys on the market today are mass produced, and may even be a mixture of honey and corn syrup. Several brands of honey made in China were found to contain almost no “honey” at all.
To ensure your body is getting the nutrients you need from your local environment, your best choice is to buy locally sourced honey, preferably raw, and organic. Heating honey (pasteurizing) kills off all of the beneficial enzymes in the honey. You can find raw, organic honey at farmers markets, and natural food stores. Buying locally also helps to keep your local beekeepers in business and keep more bees in your neighborhood.
Why are Honey Bees Dying?
As you are probably aware, honey bees are disappearing off the planet in rapid numbers. North America has lost almost 40% of our honey bees in the past 5 years. Though scientists are still trying to figure out exactly what’s happening to the bees, they have been able to point to a variety of things ranging from bacteria and viruses to environmental pollutants, GMO crops and cell phone radio waves. Here is more info on why bees are dying. And a TedTalk, Why Bees are Disappearing. One study indicates that without any bees on the planet, humans would only survive for 3 years, a scary thought!
If you are in the Pacific Northwest, there are two Honey CSAs that offer the opportunity to keep a live hive in your urban yard. They will tend the bees and harvest the honey, giving you honey in return. As an added benefit, the bees in the hive will pollinate your yard. Check out the following websites:
Urban Bee Company
Ballard Bee Company
*Note: Honey should not be fed to children under 1-year in age. There is potential for some honeys to contain botulism spores, which more developed immune systems can easily handle, but which could make a young child very sick.