Dogs may have a challenger when it comes to the “Man’s Best Friend” Award. Honeybees pollinate eighty percent of the fruit, vegetable, and seed crops in the United States. In addition, they are the only insects that produce a food that humans eat. Honey, which the bees have been producing for 150 million years, contains all of the substances necessary to sustain life, including water. And if that (in addition to its delicious taste) wasn’t enough, honey provides us with a myriad of health benefits and can be used in home remedies, baking, and beauty recipes.
The latest research has been looking at honey’s use in healing skin problems. As recently as World War I, honey mixed with cod liver oil was used to dress wounds. There are a number of reasons why honey is so effective in wound healing. First, honey topically numbs pain. Secondly, honey is osmotic; it attracts water. Since bacteria is mostly made of water, it is sucked dry in the presence of honey. Bacteria is further inhibited by honey because honey produces hydrogen peroxide and is acidic. Third, honey activates the immune response by providing glucose for the white blood cells. Finally, honey speeds up the healing process. It creates a moist environment by drawing serum up through the skin tissues that helps “moist scab” formation. Honey also reduces inflammation, helps shed dead tissue, and stimulates the development of new blood cells. Honey’s antiseptic qualities also help prevent infections from moving to other wounds. For these reasons, honey may be very helpful in the treatment of minor burns, open wounds, abscesses, strep infections, Cesarean incisions, gangrene, shingles, and abrasions with debris (when the abrasion is dressed with honey for 24 hours, the honey will actually draw and lift the debris). Its anti-fungal properties make it useful in the topical treatment of athlete’s foot and eczema.
Honey is a panacea for the digestive system and improves a poor appetite. Honey also contains prebiotics which feed beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacteria (a bacteria that aids in digestion and helps prevent allergies and some tumor growth). Because of its antimicrobial characteristics, honey destroys the H. pylori bacteria that causes stomach ulcers and inhibits the growth of E. Coli and candida. Honey is also a gentle laxative that isn’t “habit-forming” and can be used with children over one year old. Paradoxically, honey has also been used to treat diarrhea and dysentery. Furthermore, honey can help in the prevention of, and recuperation from, a hangover – not strictly a digestive issue but we all need some help from time to time.
Some other medicinal uses include: soothing a sore throat, reducing eye inflammation, healing cataracts, improving night vision, and/or soothing dry eyes by sticking a drop on the bottom lid, typhoid fever, pneumonia, allergies, bronchitis, and sinusitis. Honey can also be a boon to pregnant women—ginger tea with honey can help with morning sickness, warm milk with honey may alleviate heartburn and help the mother to sleep, and tea with lemon and honey can boost the immune system when the mother has a cold and wishes to avoid medications.
In addition to these specific medicinal uses, honey is nourishing to the entire body. As mentioned above, it contains all of the necessary substances for life including vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and all of the B’s, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, amino acids, iodine, and zinc. It is fat free and cholesterol free. Honey has a lower Glycemic Index rate compared to table sugar; this is because honey supplies two stages of energy. The glucose is absorbed immediately and gives a quick energy boost while the fructose is absorbed more slowly and provides sustained energy. Daily consumption is said to stabilize blood sugar and reduce cholesterol. Mix honey with apple cider vinegar and/or lemon juice to alkalize the body (too much acid may lead to bloating, heartburn, belching, and feeling too full).
The importance of antioxidants is frequently in health news; antioxidants help prevent cellular damage thus slowing down the aging process. They also help prevent chronic disease. And you guessed it, honey’s got ’em. In fact, the antioxidant “pinocembrin” is only found in honey. Generally, the darker the honey, the more antioxidants. It’s probably easier to get your family to take their honey than to eat all their leafy greens! Honey improves memory, so you’ll be able to remember all of the great benefits it provides. And finally, if you aren’t already feeling good about honey’s many gifts, one or two teaspoons in warm milk is a nice sedative.
To use medicinally, be sure to purchase raw honey from a reputable source. Eat at least one teaspoon three to four times a day for most of the issues listed above. Allow honey to roll down the back of the throat if using to soothe a sore throat and/or infection. Honey can also be used in the appropriate herbal tea; for instance, mix it into an infusion of elder blossoms for a fever. Or chop fresh herbs into honey; coltsfoot and honey helps one to heal more quickly from a cold. To use on skin problems, simply apply the honey and cover with gauze or cheesecloth—messy but effective. Peppermint and/or lavender essential oil may be added to honey to enhance the healing process. While honey may be used topically on anybody, it should not be consumed by children under the age of one year or by those with compromised immune systems. This is because honey may contain botulinum spores; the digestive systems of adults and older children are acidic enough to inhibit the bacteria but a baby’s system is not.
With all these health benefits as well as such a yummy taste, it’s time to start cooking with honey. Generally light honey has a more mild taste while dark honey is stronger. A few pointers will make your kitchen experiments more successful. First of all, store honey at room temperature so that it doesn’t crystallize. Don’t worry, honey will not spoil. In fact, honey was found in King Tut’s tomb and was still edible. Then again, maybe that was the cause of the curse of King Tut, but never mind… Another point to keep in mind is that honey has a higher fructose count than sugar; it’s at least 25% sweeter. One half to 2/3 a cup of honey equals one cup of sugar. Reduce any liquid that’s called for in the recipe by half a cup, add ½ teaspoon of baking soda, and reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees.
Another characteristic that makes honey so fun to experiment with is that honey tastes much different depending on the flowers that the honeybees visited on their collection flights. For instance, clover honey has a mild taste that is sweet and flowery while buckwheat honey is dark and tastes somewhat similar to molasses. Orange blossom honey is said to be a good all around honey that is light and mild. Here in the mountains of North Carolina we have sourwood honey which is light and reminds me of cotton candy.
Your recipes will turn out differently depending on which variety you use and some varieties lend themselves better to certain types of cooking. For example, orange blossom honey’s mild taste is good in tea and spread on breads and biscuits. “Tea”-totalers may also enjoy alfalfa, clover, and Leatherwood. Heather and clover are possible sugar substitutes in coffee but most find honey a little too “unique” for their coffee. Many mead makers use medium-colored goldenrod. When baking breads, cakes, muffins, etc, use mild, flowery honeys such as alfalfa and orange blossom. Sourwood, basswood, and wildflower honeys are also good in desserts because they impart their sweet floral taste. Toasted food is enhanced by tupelo, fireweed, and Manuka honey. Use buckwheat and macadamia for meat and sauces, or heather and Rewarewa for dishes that contain ham, chicken, or turkey. Acacia honey may be used to complement a seafood dish.
I’ve included some recipes to help get you started cooking with honey today:
Trail Mix Bars
- 4 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup butter, softened
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds
- 1/4 cup cashew pieces
Preheat oven to 325°
Lightly grease a 9×15 inch pan.
Combine the first four ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add vanilla, butter, honey and brown sugar. Beat with an electric mixer. Batter will be very heavy. Using a wooden spoon stir in remaining ingredients until well combined.
Press dough into prepared pan. Bake 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Cut into bars and cool completely before removing them from pan.
Honey Lemon Yogurt Muffins
- 1/4 cup honey
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons yogurt
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon fresh grated lemon zest
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 375. Grease muffin tin. Melt butter and honey together. Remove from heat. Beat together yogurt, egg, lemon juice, and lemon rind. Add butter and honey mixture. Beat well. Sift dry ingredients into bowl. Make well in center and add wet ingredients. Stir just to combine. Fold in walnuts. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake 25 minutes.
In addition to tasting good and keeping you healthy, honey can be used to keep you looking beautiful (or handsome) naturally. Remember how useful honey is for treating skin problems? Those same characteristics make honey a clear choice for inclusion in skin care products. Honey can be added to homemade recipes for lip balms, facial scrubs and cleansers, skin moisturizers, hair shine spray, body bath, anti-wrinkle cream, hand soap bar, skin toner, acne treatment cream, body fragrance, and anti-stretch cream. It can be particularly effective in treating acne. Because of its antibacterial qualities, honey actually attacks the bacteria that causes acne while it also calms the inflammation. The antioxidants found in honey help to feed new tissue and prevent scarring. Honey may be dabbed directly onto blemishes and left for ten minutes before rinsing off with warm water. Or mix three tablespoons of honey with one teaspoon of cinnamon and apply paste to blemishes.
Also, honey is a humectant; it attracts and retains moisture from the environment. For this reason, it is useful for keeping the skin moist and soft. Use honey in a cleansing scrub by mixing one tablespoon of honey with two tablespoons of finely ground almonds and ½ a teaspoon of lemon juice. Rub gently onto face and then rinse with warm water. To make a skin lotion combine one teaspoon of honey with one teaspoon of vegetable oil and 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice. Rub on, leave for ten minutes, and rinse off with warm water. Another suggestion is to simply add 1/4 cup of honey to your bath to soften the skin. Using these remedies will put you in the company of historical beauties such as Cleopatra and Queen Anne of England.
Honey truly is a gift from Nature. It helps to ease our physical sufferings and brings nourishment and beauty to our bodies. But keep in mind that it takes 556 worker bees and 2 million flowers to produce one pound of honey. In fact, the average bee will only make 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. And this is on a good day when the hive isn’t dealing with pesticides, Colony Collapse Disorder, and lack of forage. So when you enjoy that sweet taste on your tongue, please remember to send out a thank you to the honeybees.