Honey: Medicine and Nectar of the Gods


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Did 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.

h6Earliest 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.

h2Hippocrates, 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.

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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. Recently, 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!

Beeswax 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.

h9Raw 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. 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.

What’s your favorite source of sweetener? Did your mom or grandmother use honey in any form to soothe any of your ailments? Have you ever tasted mead?

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37 thoughts on “Honey: Medicine and Nectar of the Gods”

  1. When I was a baby and toddler (I was born in 1968) I was given honey on my pacifier constantly. With botulism (sp?) as a possible side effect (LOL), it’s a wonder I’m still here. I am not much of a honey lover now.

  2. When I have a sore throat, I mix honey and eucalyptus sweets to my tea, unless I have honey that has been laced with eucalyptus oil.

  3. I see the earlybirds have been here already! 🙂

    Hi bluecat–that’s interesting! Funny how doctors discover these things over time. Glad you’re still here, LOL!

    Minna, that sounds like a great combination. I’ve never tried eucalyptus sweets but it sounds like it would open up the breathing passages.

  4. Morning, Kate. We have bees on our property so we have honey all the time. Too much honey. Some bee-guy takes the bee houses away every winter, then brings them back in the spring.

    I had two brothers who worked for a bee guy in the summer. They’d get stung a LOT. Talk about building up a Pavlovian response to hate work….

  5. Interesting post, Kate. My husband swears by honey and lemon in tea when he’s starting to get a scratchy throat. And my daughter believes in the healing power of honey. I just like it’s taste. LOL It is the only way I sweeten my tea.

    I’ll have to tell my brother about using honey from his area to help with his hay fever.

  6. My son’s girlfriend is a big honey advocate. She swears that if you place it on acne, it’ll cause it to heal faster. I don’t know if it’s accurate or not. Although my son, upon advice from said girlfriend, smeared it all over his poison ivy last summer and it did help it, better than the meds the docs gave him, too.

    I love fresh honey on fresh bread. And as a kid, we’d fight over who got to munch on the comb!

  7. Hi Mary! I envy you with all that fresh honey. And it never occurred to me about the bites–I just figured beekeepers knew how to prevent them, but of course they’d get bitten sometimes. I think smoke wards off the bees….interesting profession!

  8. Hi Paty! I like the taste, too. I often hear of mixing a spoonful of honey and cider vinegar with hot water, then drinking it as a remedy for sore throats, colds, stomach aches.

  9. Terry–Oh, wow, that’s interesting about using it on the skin like that. And that they got such good results. I remember chewing on the honeycomb, too! Boy, was that a treat!

  10. Now I’m trying to remember if I ever gave honey to my children when they were little, Kate. Didn’t know about the risk. In any case they survived.
    I have a 5-gallon bucket of honey stored in my basement. I’ve had for about 20 years and it’s still fine. Amazing stuff.
    Re. your question–I try to keep sweetners to a minimum in my diet. I use cinnamon instead of sugar in my coffee. But I give in to the old sugar craving far too often.
    Thanks for a very interesting blog!

  11. Interesting blog! I’m fascinated with bees and their honey. And wow, I didn’t know their lifespan was so short! Good grief. They sure give their all for their work. No wonder the queen bee has to stay busy laying so many eggs. She has to replace her workers. I didn’t know the shelf life of honey lasted that long. I’ve had some crystalize before and I threw it away. I didn’t know it was still good. I’ve learned lots of new things today.

    I use honey in my coffee sometimes and I really like it in hot tea. When I was young my mother used to give me honey when I had a cold and was coughing my head off. Worked wonders for that and for sore throat.

    I finally got to read WANTED IN ALASKA. It’s one of your best. Quinn really had his hands full with Autumn. So funny the way he was constantly having to bail her out of trouble. But then she saved the day at the end. This story oozes sexual tension. Oh man! Loved it!

  12. Kate,
    Thanks for a great blog today. It’s funny, but I associate honey with being sick. For as long as I could remember, my momma would mix honey and lemon and feed it to me by the tablespoon when I was sick or had a sore throat. The only time I use honey really, is when I make biscuits. I make honey butter .. yummy!
    And my elderly, dear neighbor’s name is Bea. She refers to her hubby as Honey, signing everything Bea and Honey … which I think is adorable!

  13. My family never believes me when I say it lasts forever (I tend to keep things past the so called expiration dates lol). I’ve recently read about it’s healing properties but never tried it (yet). I’ve also read that the way our environment is now, beens are in danger. There are a lot less of them (not so sure about those killer bees though). The world’s in a lot of trouble if we let the bees die out or we better come up with as fantastic a way to pollinate as the bees!

  14. My mom used to make me tea sweetened with honey when I was sick. Haven’t thought of it in years. I too have heard about an epidemic killing off bees and how badly a lack of them will harm agriculture. Yikes.

    Dunno about you all but fermented honey sounds barfy LOL.

    Great post, Kate.

  15. Hi Elizabeth–that’s a great trick to use cinnamon instead of a sweetener. I’ll have to try it! LOL about the bucket of honey that’s lasted so long–just keep moisture away from it. Apparently any extra water content is what makes it start fermenting. But you’ve done all right with it so far without that advice!

  16. Hi Linda, I learned a lot about bees, too. I could’ve gone on and on about them, but had to stop somewhere. And about that crystallized stuff–whatever you do, don’t add water when you reheat it. Water starts the fermenting process (honey naturally has yeast in it) which turns it to alcohol. See how much I learned?

    You are such a sweetheart about WANTED IN ALASKA. You think it’s one of my best? Oh, what a thrill. 🙂 Thank you, Linda!

  17. LuAnn, that sounds yummy! My husband loves honey, he’d love that recipe, he’s got such a sweet tooth.

    Charlene, isn’t that funny how we associate things from our childhood. Your neighbors sound cute.

    Jeanne, I’ve heard about the disappearance of bees, too. It’s very sad, I hope they can turn it around. Also, in my research, I discovered there are fewer and fewer beekeepers in North America. It’s probably like farming–tough work. Thanks for posting and yes, LOL, the stuff does last forever!

  18. Tanya, that fermented honey doesn’t sound appealing to me, either, LOL. But I bet it’s really well done and tastes nothing like the original. If I ever come across it, I think I’ll give it a try!

  19. Before we moved to town we had a bee hive. Now my sil has it, so we still have access to all the honey we want. I love honey on toast.
    I have tasted mead, and have to say I didn’t care for it.

  20. Growing up my Mother always gave us honey in out tea whenever we were sick. I’ve used honey and lemon in tea when I have a sore throat and for my kids too. I also love honey on hot biscuits or corn bread. I’s so good.
    A very interesting post today. Thanks .:)
    As for the honey on pacifiers. I’m guilty of that too because in the 60’s and 70’s when all 7 of my children were born they had honey almost everyday. It was later on we were told not to give it to the kids because of the botullism. But they survived too. lol 🙂

  21. Hi Estella–you’re the first one to say you’ve tried mead. Thanks for the taste test! That’s interesting that you can just move a bee hive like that. I didn’t know the bees would stay with it. I sound like a real city slicker!

    Hi Carol–Sounds like you’re another honey lover! Glad you all survived, LOL. Thanks for dropping by.

  22. Minna–your first post about the mead didn’t come thru till now (the url got blocked by our spam filter). Thanks for the tidbit about mead–I checked out the recipe and it’s fascinating how it’s made (sugar instead of honey).

  23. I try to keep honey around all the time but I notice that what you buy in the store turns to sugar quick. If you have a cough you can mix honey and wiskey together. Its great for a cough. There has been time I have bought honey off of a truck in parking lots in town. I just can’t remember what time of the year it was, because I would love to get more.

    I have heard that bees are not as plenty full as they use to be and I know last summer at my husbands work they had a lot of honey bees around their table and a man came and got them for his hives.

  24. Thanks for the interesting post! I do like honey and used that more than sugar for sweetening more when I was a kid. I have never had Mead but would like to try it sometime. One of the sweetest things I remember from growing up was a Pennsylvania Dutch treat: Shoo Fly Pie – full of molasses!
    I have a friend who keeps bees and he said this past year that the bee populations are dying. He said it could have widespread effects on crops too due to lack of cross pollinization.

  25. Honey and lemon were major ingredients in the “hot
    toddies” my grandmother would prepare for treatment
    of colds and sore throats. Of course, everyone also
    enjoyed another major ingredient in the concoction:
    the whiskey!!

    Pat Cochran

  26. I just came across something a friend sent to me
    earlier in the year: information on 18 different
    illnesses and conditions which can be “treated” with
    mixtures which include honey as an ingredient.

    Pat C.

  27. My uncle would mix equal parts honey, lemon, and whiskey together for a cough syrup or for sore throats. I always felt it helped or at least I no longer cared that I had a sore throat. Adding it to tea was the way I was allowed to have it as a child.
    I love honey but mostly use sugar as a sweetner but must admit I don’t add sweetner to many things.

  28. I can’t say I have ever drunk mead. My grandmother did believe in using honey to cure stomach ulcers, as long as they weren’t bleeding ulcers. I love honey on buttered biscuits. I mainly use sugar to sweeten my tea, baking, etc. Have a great day.

  29. Hey Kate, what a great post! We love honey at our place and go through 2 – 3 kilo buckets (about 6.5 lbs each) every year. We use it in our tea, in baking, on toast and in sandwiches (with peanut butter).

    ‘Raw honey may be pasteurized (heated) to kill any yeast that may be present.’ I might point out that honey loses it’s curative effect once it’s pasteurized.

    Bee Pollen (royal jelly) contains every single vitamin and nutrient known to man except calcium. It is rumored that regular ingestion of bee pollen will cure mutiple sclerosis. The higher the quality of bee pollen, the more niacin it contains and the faster it works on this debilitating disease.

    My 2 sons were diagnosed with asthma within their first year of birth and I used nebulizers every night (what a battle!). I started them on a high quality bee pollen and they threw away their inhalers by the time they were 2 yrs old.

    No wonder people speak of riches in a land as flowing with milk and honey.

  30. What an interesting post, Kate! Thanks for the super info!! Only thing I’d ever heard was a teaspoon of honey every day will alieve spring allergy symptoms 🙂

    Personally, I don’t care for honey–can’t get over that it’s bee spit *LOL* I love pure cane sugar–way too much 😉

  31. Love honey, especially on hot toast or biscuits. We’ve used honey in hot tea with lemon to sooth sore throats and colds for years. Of course I like honey in my tea even when I’m not sick. Way back before children’s pills were readily available, I can remember my mother crushing the pill then adding it to a spoon of honey to take it with. Orange blossom honey is our favorite.

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