The days are getting longer, trees are beginning to bud, birds are singing, and bees are buzzing. It must be Spring! What a better time to discuss the benefits of one of nature's sweetest gifts – honey!
Raw Versus Pasteurized
Stone Age paintings of honey and bee products being used medicinally date back as far as 8,000 years ago. During this time, unless the honey was strained, it most likely contained bee pollen, beeswax, and parts of dead bees. Today it is filtered to remove these impurities and much of it is pasteurized (or heated) to kill yeast cells that can affect its taste, give it a more transparent hue, and make it less likely to crystallize over time on grocery shelves. The process of pasteurizing honey may reduce its medicinal and nutritive qualities, but there is not enough current research to confirm this. When looking for a pure, good quality honey product, make sure to check the ingredients as some products may include added sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup and only honey labeled “raw” is such – regular honey is pasteurized.
First off though, just how is it made?
Before we better understand how honey is beneficial to us, let’s look at how it is created. Like most things bee related, the process is both mysterious and magical! And it begins with nectar – once a bee collects nectar from a flower, it takes the nectar back to the hive in its stomach, where the nectar mixes with enzymes and changes in pH. Upon returning to the hive, the honeybee regurgitates the partially digested nectar into a younger worker bee, who also digests it and breaks it down into simple sugars before depositing the liquid into the honeycomb. The final step in the honey-making process occurs when bees fan the honeycomb to evaporate water out of the liquid until it begins to resemble the golden syrupy confection that we all know and love. The takeaway here? The process bees use when digesting nectar is what gives honey its impressive qualities, a few of which we will explore below.
From the perspective of skin health, honey has recently been proven to possess a powerful combination of antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and emollient properties. This trinity makes it a wonderful remedy for burns and wounds and the scars they can cause, as well as skin diseases like eczema and psoriasis. Raw manuka honey is so effective at healing wounds that it has been used by doctors in clinical settings. It can also treat acne. Apply directly to the skin in a thin layer, leave on for 10 minutes and wash off gently. To increase the anti-inflammatory effects, include turmeric powder or cinnamon, but always experiment with a small patch of skin first before applying liberally! And for those who have an allergic reaction to bees, bee-related products, or pollen, it is advisable to not use honey on the skin.
Protective Cough Syrup
The antimicrobial and emollient properties discussed above come into play when considering the merits of using honey in homemade cough syrups. The sweet, soothing consistency of honey coats and softens a raspy throat while the antimicrobial properties reduce infection. Oxford University researchers recently discovered that honey reduces both cough frequency and severity. Plus it tastes good and can easily be fed to children! (As long as they are over a year old, due to the risk of botulism.)
Amanda Furbee, owner of The Herb Shoppe, has a tasty and super easy recipe using honey for Elderberry Syrup:
4 cups cold water
2 cups dried Elderberry Blast Herbal Blend
Raw local honey
Step 1: Bring Elderberry Blast Herbal Blend and water to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for about 30-40 minutes. Remove from heat. Let cool to room temperature. Step 2: Take a cheesecloth and a strainer to press all the berries until all the juice is out of them. Step 3: Add honey (to taste) to the remaining liquid. Warm-up enough to melt the honey and liquid together.
This recipe combines the powerful antiviral and immune-stimulating effects of Elderberries with the soothing and antimicrobial properties of honey! A win-win!
Who enjoys the flulike symptoms that appear just as the weather is more agreeable for outdoor activities? A runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and itchy eyes can ruin many a baseball game, hike, or picnic. By now, most of us have heard about using locally harvested honey to allay hay fever and other seasonally related allergies. Much of the information regarding this is anecdotal. However, a Malaysian study in 2010 did see conclusive improvement in allergic rhinitis sufferers after 8 weeks of the participants consuming honey, up to 3 spoonfuls, every day compared to a placebo group. Another study in 2016 saw improvement in allergic rhinitis symptoms with the use of an intranasal honey spray. The emollient properties of honey coated the nasal passages, effectively blocking allergens. Both studies combined the use of honey with antihistamines so the verdict is still out regarding whether honey can be used alone as an allergy relief alternative. But most hay fever sufferers agree that the best approach to reducing symptoms is a multidisciplinary one, so consider the daily use of honey as a tasty and easy addition!
Improved Gut Health
Honey contains non-digestible food particles also known as prebiotics, which encourage the growth of probiotics such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in the gut lining. So a simple snack of yogurt with honey is another win-win combination, and this time for the gut. The importance of having healthy gut flora has garnered lots of attention recently for its positive effects on mood as well as the immune system!
For those struggling with the fungal overgrowth of candida, honey is one of the only sweet foods that are still safe to consume in small amounts. How can honey, which is still very high in glucose and fructose, be a safe food for those with yeast imbalances? Because of the amazing anti-fungal activity that honey expresses toward candida and other pathogenic yeast. Seriously, what can honey NOT do?
Why not boost the multiple nutritious aspects of honey by infusing it with a variety of herbs? Infusing honey is easy to do as Amanda Furbee explains:
Honey naturally contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, phosphorous and manganese. It’s also rich in polyphenols, similar to chocolate or red wine. These powerful plant compounds are known to boost brain health, as well as protect against heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Citrus Shine Honey is infused with even more nutrient-dense herbs including Oatstraw, Nettles, Horsetail, and Gotu Kola. Horsetail contains silica, an important trace element that increases the production of collagen and activates enzymes that improve skin strength and elasticity, as well as improve hair growth and texture. Gotu Kola contains terpenoids that also increase collagen synthesis, while Nettles and Oatstraw offer large doses of vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin C, another powerful antioxidant that not only boosts immunity but has also been shown to improve skin texture, repairing sun damage. Doses of Vitamin C are added to Citrus Shine Honey with the presence of Orange Peel and Lemon Peel, which with a little Lemongrass, infuses a lovely citrus flavor. Combined in a delicious herbal blend that can also be purchased as tea, these herbs can improve the strength and appearance of skin, hair, nails, and teeth. Basically, nature’s vitamin wrapped in a robust natural candy!
Consider adding Citrus Shine Honey to salad dressings, sauces, or as a glaze for meat or tofu. It can also be the sweetener for a refreshing pitcher of fresh lemonade, drizzled over ice cream, or added to fruit pies for an unusual, tangy dessert. Or get creative and infuse honey with a favorite herb of choice. Either way, this versatile substance boosts health while simultaneously adding a dose of sweetness!