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Honey: A Key to Health

It's a cure. It's an energy boost. It's a treasure!

From the title alone, it shouldn’t be too difficult to assume what this article is about. I am talking about honey – a bit of its history, how we obtain it, and a few of its wonderful medicinal uses. Natural honey is produced by bees. These fuzzy, buzzing insects collect nectar as they pollinate flowers. They return to their hive where the nectar is secreted into the hexagonal cells of the honeycomb.

Over time the nectar in the honeycomb will dry, and the result is honey. The honeybees will then feed on their stores of honey over the winter period. But predators like bears and honey badgers often wreck the nests to get to the sweet honey. However, these are not the only creatures that find this liquid gold very desirable.

Human beings have enjoyed eating honey for millennia. According to National Geographic, archaeologists have found 3000-year-old honey in one of the tombs of a pyramid. Drawings have been found depicting Egyptian beekeepers. In ancient Egypt, honey was used as a sweetener for pastries and other food. It was frequently gifted to their idols, and it was one of the ingredients in the sticky fluid used in embalming bodies for mummification. There’s evidence that Stone Age farmers used beeswax. We now know humans have been using bee products, like honey and wax, for at least 9,000 years.

I’m going to shift gears and move on to beekeeping of more recent times. In her book The Masai: Herders of East Africa, Dr. Sonia Bleeker described the Masai collecting honey. She informs us that Masai elders drink honey wine, which is plain fermented honey. Some modern Masai farmers keep their own honeybees. Previously, however, they had to follow the birds of the Saharan grasslands to the beehives.

“To get honey,” says Dr. Bleeker, “it [the bird] flies near a person, or an animal that also likes honey, and chatters to attract attention. Once the bird sees it is being followed, it flies to a beehive. It starts picking at the hive, then perches on a nearby branch, and waits for the person or animal to do the work. That is, dig up the nest, scatter the bees, and remove the honey. Then the bird goes and feasts on the honeycomb itself.”

As you might imagine, acquiring honey nowadays is quite different. The following describes one of the most efficient processes employed in the US today: Of the three boxes in the man-made hive, only the excess honey from the topmost box is taken. Once the bees are all removed from this top box, called the shallow, the shallow is put in a plastic, airtight container, to protect it from ants and mice that love fresh honey. When the beekeeper is ready to extract the honey, he might just cut the comb with, say a warm knife, into pieces and use it in that form. Or, if the beekeeper wants to extract liquid honey from the comb, some more advanced instruments are used.

Many bee products have been used for medicinal purposes. In fact, there’s an entire branch of science which covers just that: Apitherapy – the use of products derived from bees as medicine, including venom, pollen, honey, and royal jelly.

Honey studies conducted within the past decade have provided sizeable evidence that honey is a natural immune booster, anti-inflammatory agent, antimicrobial agent, cancer “vaccine,” and promoter for healing chronic ulcers and wounds. When a certain honey mixture is applied to the scalp and left for a period, it can actually cause hair growth. Honey is a natural antibiotic. It can help reduce inflammation inside the body when consumed and also can work as a topical treatment for scars, burns, and wounds.

According to Health Remedies Journal, sports nutritionists recommend honey as a pre or post workout supplement because of its energy and carb content. So, if you want a proven healthful jump start to your day, try some honey on toast or use it as a beverage sweetener. As I eat my honey-infused oatmeal for breakfast I don’t think about how healthy it is. I think about how sweet it is!

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