Honey: The Food Of The Gods

In ancient Egypt, honey was an elite foodstuff, referred to as the food of the gods. Later, its healing properties were also recognized and used successfully in many areas. However, scientific studies are still being conducted today to prove honey’s healing properties. However, the results of the studies are very contradictory, because not every honey has a healing effect. And even as a sweetener, honey is not always the best choice. We explain what you should look out for when buying honey and how you can use it for your health.

Honey – A coveted food

For at least 10,000 years, honey has served as a foodstuff for humans. It was always considered a very special delicacy because for a long time honey was the only sweet food there was. And the bees were also admired and revered for their hitherto inexplicable ability to produce this jelly.

Honey not only tasted delicious, but it also gave people very special powers. For example, during the first Olympic Games, athletes were able to achieve unprecedented peak performance just by drinking honey water.

This fact is easy to explain because honey provides the body and brain with a large number of easily digestible carbohydrates that are quickly converted into energy.

Honey is 80 percent sugar

Although up to 245 natural ingredients have been detected in high-quality types of honey, honey still consists of 80 percent pure sugar.

The average composition of honey is as follows:

  • 38 percent fructose
  • 31 percent glucose
  • 10 percent polysaccharides
  • 17 percent water

Depending on the variety, about 2 to 4 percent of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, organic acids, and phytochemicals

The fructose-glucose ratio determines the consistency of honey. Since glucose crystallizes faster in honey than fructose, honey with a high glucose content is creamy to firm, while honey with less glucose and higher fructose content is more liquid.

But how is honey actually made and what are the health benefits? We answer these and many other questions below.

From nectar and honeydew to honey

Honey bees collect the nectar from flowers on the one hand, and honeydew on the other hand, which is mainly found on conifers:

nectar from flowers

Honey bees produce their honey mainly from the sugary plant sap of flowering plants, the nectar. With their long proboscis, the nectar first reaches the esophagus and then the honey stomach (honey sac), where it is collected. The bees use a small part of their yield to generate energy for their strenuous flight back to the hive. The diligent collector then leaves the rest of her “booty” to her hive mates.

honeydew from trees

In addition to nectar, bees also collect honeydew from deciduous or coniferous trees. There are more scale insects and aphids on these trees, which pierce the needles with their sharp mouthparts in order to suck out the cell sap. The amino acids contained therein are the elixir of life for the lice, but they do not need the sugar that they also absorb with the juice. Therefore, for the most part, they eliminate him again. The bees that look for food in the forest benefit from this. They suck him up and bring him home.

Further processing in stock

The hive mates receive the harvest from the foragers. They pass them on from bee to bee, while each of these bees mixes the nectar or dew with their own body enzymes via their saliva. As a result of this transfer, the enzyme content of the unripe honey increases enormously. Some of these enzymes break down the carbohydrates, which also changes the sugar composition.

In addition, the excess water evaporates due to the constant movement in the warm hive air, so that the unripe honey slowly thickens. It is carefully distributed by the bees on the combs and only at the end of a highly complex maturation process can the beekeeper start harvesting the honey.

Honey – The food of bees

Of course, every beekeeper hopes for a good harvest, but this is not only important for him. The bees in particular are dependent on sufficient honey supplies because honey is the basic food source for them and their brood.

Unlike wasps and bumblebees, of which only the queens survive the winter, bees try to keep their entire colony alive during the cold season. And in order to achieve this, they have to produce so much heat that the required minimum temperature of 30°C remains in the beehive even when the outside temperature is minus 20°C. This costs the bees an enormous amount of energy, but thanks to adequate honey stores, they can always compensate for this loss of energy.

For example, a colony of bees needs about 25 kilograms of honey for the winter in Central Europe. If the bees were able to collect enough nectar or honeydew during the warm months, they produce well over 100 kilograms of honey. If you now determine the year-round honey requirement of a bee colony, including overwintering, there are usually still a few kilograms of honey left over for the beekeeper.

It is now up to the beekeeper alone to decide whether only the remaining honey is to be sold or whether the bees are to be deprived of some of their food and replaced by feeding sugar water.

In industrial honey production, maximum profit is generally sought, so the use of sugar water is common here. Regional beekeepers, on the other hand, often use both variants, while organic beekeepers largely do without supplementary feeding.

Conventional or organic?

In conventional beekeeping, for reasons of profit, similar measures are used as are already well known from other conventional animal breeding operations. The companies are only subject to a few statutory regulations and are only rarely inspected.

Therefore, chemotherapeutic drugs can also be used in beekeeping, artificial insemination of the queens is permitted and their wings can also be clipped. All these practices are possible in conventional beekeeping.

Such methods are strictly prohibited in organic beekeeping. If the bees in an organic beekeeping business become ill, such as varroa mite infestation, only organic acids are used for treatment. The legal requirements for organic farms are extensive and are subject to regular, strict controls.

Honey against bacteria, fungi, and free radicals

Honey has always been valued as a medicine against many diseases and for healing wounds. Honey essentially owes its healing effect to its antibacterial, antifungal, and antioxidant properties, which are based on various mechanisms.

A relevant reaction in this context already takes place in the unripe honey, because small amounts of hydrogen peroxide are constantly being formed here. This is created by a special enzyme that the bees add to the unripe honey via their saliva. In higher concentrations, this substance would damage cells, but in small amounts, hydrogen peroxide has a strong antibacterial effect.

In ripe honey, the high concentration of sugar causes bacteria, fungi, and other parasites to die off because they bind to excess water. Microorganisms cannot survive without water, just like any other living being, so they eventually dry out and die. Only their spores can survive without water, but under these conditions, they can no longer grow and reproduce.

Honey also contains other substances that inhibit bacterial growth. Honey owes its healing properties to the numerous secondary plant substances, but above all to the antioxidant polyphenols and flavonoids.

But honey also has another very important property: it prevents pathogenic bacteria from gathering in the body and forming what are known as biofilms, which enable them to communicate with one another.

Honey, therefore, blocks the communication system of these bacteria, so that they are no longer able to “collusion” and act as a closed group. This also makes them significantly more susceptible to conventional antibiotic treatments.

Honey as a remedy

Bacteria, fungi, and an excess of free radicals in the body are the main causes of numerous inflammatory diseases. Therefore, honey with its antibacterial, antifungal, and antioxidant effects can serve well in many inflammatory processes. The use of honey for minor wounds, throat or skin problems, gastrointestinal complaints, or fungal infections has long been proven.

In the case of deep or poorly healing wounds and serious illnesses, however, you should definitely refrain from trying honey on yourself. In these cases, treatment with medical, sterile honey by an experienced therapist is indicated.

Below we present some treatment options in which honey shows its best side as a home remedy.

Honey for cough and sore throat

Probably the most well-known use of honey relates to coughs caused by a cold. Although the anti-cough effect of honey has been known in many cultures for centuries, a large number of studies have been carried out to confirm this effect.

In 2014, for example, a study was published in Nigeria in which the coughs of children between the ages of 2 and 18 were treated with honey, among other things. Unsurprisingly, the honey worked at least as well as the popular cough medicine dextromethorphan, but with the difference that honey is a natural food with no side effects.

In this study, as well as in numerous other studies, a teaspoon of honey taken straight before going to bed or stirred into a glass of water or warm tea was able to noticeably relieve the cough.

Honey for sick skin

Al-Waili, a doctor from Dubai, used raw honey to treat patients suffering from dandruff, severe itching, herpes, and, as a result, hair loss. You should liquefy the honey with a little warm water, apply the mixture to the affected areas of the skin every day and wash off carefully after allowing it to take effect for 3 hours. After a week, the symptoms had disappeared and the lesions began to heal.

To determine if healing had actually occurred, Al-Waili divided his patients into two groups. While one group was considered cured and received no further treatment, the second group was instructed to continue using honey once a week for a period of 6 months.

In the first group, the first symptoms reappeared after just two months, while the second group remained symptom-free after the sixth month.

Although the use of honey alleviates annoying flaking of the skin and unpleasant itching and at best can even eliminate it, it is generally necessary to bear in mind that any type of skin disease always indicates a disturbed intestinal flora. It is therefore important, at the latest after the symptoms have subsided, to carry out a thorough intestinal cleansing so that your skin really heals and, above all, remains intact.

Honey for gastrointestinal inflammation

Gastrointestinal inflammation, also known colloquially as gastrointestinal flu, is a very unpleasant illness that is accompanied by constant diarrhea and nausea. The most common causes of this are viruses and bacteria, which led a team of researchers from Egypt to check the effect of honey on gastrointestinal infections.

100 sick child took part in the study and was divided into 2 groups of 50 children each. To counteract the high loss of water and minerals that occurs with chronic diarrhea and nausea, the patients received a special liquid that mainly contained sugar and salt and was drunk throughout the day. While one group only drank this liquid, honey was also added to the second group.

It was quickly observed that acute diarrhea and nausea of ​​the children who received the honey solution were significantly reduced. In the other group, on the other hand, there was hardly any change.

The addition of honey not only shortened the course of the disease significantly but also contributed to faster physical regeneration and normalization of the children’s body weight.

Honey for fungal infections

Despite the high sugar content in honey, it even attacks fungal infections of the genus Candida albicans. Scientists from an Iranian university were able to demonstrate the antifungal effects of honey with a group of 70 women affected by vaginal thrush.

Half of the women treated the fungal infection by applying a yogurt and honey mixture, while the other half used an antifungal cream.

After just one week, it was found that the yogurt-honey mixture and the pharmaceutical cream achieved comparable results. So, using honey can be a very potent, natural alternative in treating yeast infections.

In vitro, honey has already been used several times on Candida albicans and the result has always been the same: pure honey significantly inhibits the growth of the fungus, while honey solutions only have an effect from a honey content of 80 percent.

Honey as a prebiotic

Refined sugar has long been considered one of the main causes of disturbed intestinal flora, as it promotes the spread of intestinal fungi and has a negative impact on the bacterial balance. An Egyptian study, therefore, dealt with the question of whether this effect also applies to honey, which is also very rich in sugar.

The scientists observed how certain molds and their toxins, so-called aflatoxins, affect the well-being of mice and how honey can influence the effect. It turned out that a high concentration of honey as a dietary supplement effectively rendered aflatoxins harmless. And some fungal cultures were also inhibited in their growth by honey.

The researchers already knew from earlier studies that these effects are partly based on the prebiotic effect of honey, because it serves as valuable food for many health-promoting intestinal bacteria.

Unlike table sugar, honey still contains important minerals, vitamins, and amino acids. And although they’re only present in tiny amounts, they still provide the bacteria with a good source of food, allowing them to multiply faster. The greater the number of good intestinal bacteria, the more aflatoxins they can ultimately render harmless.

Honey – Not for babies

Despite the many health benefits that eating high-quality honey can bring, honey is off-limits for infants up to 12 months old! The reason for this is provided by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum or its spores, which can get into the honey unnoticed despite careful monitoring.

The dangerous thing about these spores is that they produce a muscle paralyzing toxin when they germinate. They do not pose a problem for adults, because even a reasonably stable intestinal flora can prevent the spores from germinating.

The situation is different for infants up to 12 months old, because their intestinal flora is not yet sufficiently developed for the spores to germinate and produce their poison. Undetected and untreated, it can cause paralysis of the respiratory and swallowing muscles in the sick infant and, in the worst case, lead to death.

Conscious handling of honey

While honey may seem like the perfect candy for its healing properties, it is not a food that should be consumed on a regular basis, much less in large amounts.

If you still want to drastically increase your honey consumption, it should be said that the high sugar content in honey brings with it the same health disadvantages that are well known from normal table sugar. Too much good honey can also cause cavities in the teeth, ruin the intestinal flora, overwhelm the pancreas and contribute to obesity. Therefore, honey should always be consumed with caution.

Also, do not use the honey for cooking or baking, because temperatures above 40°C destroy all the health benefits of honey. Therefore, the water for the tea or the milk should be cooled down to this temperature before you add the honey.

In Ayurvedic medicine, heated honey is even considered toxic because it is said to contribute to the contamination of body tissue and thus trigger inflammatory processes, which then lead to various diseases.

Tips for buying honey

No matter whether you take the honey internally or apply it externally; Honey should always be of the best possible purity and quality.

So don’t buy one

  • Honey in plastic containers, because the softeners they contain are ultimately also found in the honey.
  • Cheap honey, because quality always has its price.
  • Import honey, as it has usually been pasteurized (heated to at least 75°C) and often contains genetically modified pollen. Manuka honey from New Zealand is an exception (see below).
  • Conventionally produced honey, because various poisons may be used here to prevent illness, which can also be transferred to the honey.

In Germany and Switzerland, the respective beekeepers’ association awards a seal that may only be applied to honey jars with domestic and untreated honey. A honey with this seal is clearly distinguished from an imported honey and indicates certain quality standards. After harvesting, this honey was neither heated nor were substances added or removed from it.

Organic honey

Organic beekeepers are subject to particularly strict guidelines and compliance with them is regularly checked. With organic honey, you can be sure that the high quality standards are actually met.

A short excerpt from the guidelines of an organic farm:

  • Clipping the queen’s wings is prohibited.
  • The use of chemical drugs and pesticides is prohibited.
  • Within a radius of three kilometers, only plants from organic cultivation and/or wild plants are allowed. There must not be any motorways, waste incineration plants or other pollutant-emitting companies.
  • The site must have sufficient natural sources of nectar, honeydew and pollen, as well as access to water.
  • The bees are kept exclusively in beehives made from natural raw materials. Non-toxic paints must be used for the exterior paintwork.
  • Any supplementary feeding that may be required in winter takes place with their own honey or pollen. Organic sugar syrup may only be used in exceptional cases.
  • Only unbrooded, residue-free combs are used for honey production.
  • The honey is never heated above 40°C.

Blossom honey and honeydew honey: the difference

Blossom honeys include, for example, rapeseed, clover, dandelion, linden blossom and spring blossom honey. Blossom honeys from which the nectar was collected in spring are usually very light in color, while collecting the nectar up to summer produces increasingly darker honey. The lighter the honey, the milder its taste. Blossom honeys are characterized by their fine fruity or floral aroma.

Forest honey is one of the best-known honeydew honeys. It consists of the dew of various deciduous or coniferous trees and is usually very dark in colour. Since forest honey contains less glucose than blossom honey, it stays liquid longer. In contrast to blossom honey, its aroma is strong, spicy and slightly tart. (What exactly honeydew, or tree dew, is, is explained in the paragraph “From nectar and honeydew to honey” above).

Fir honey is considered the king among forest honeys, because it is almost a rarity due to the rather small number of fir trees. Its taste is spicy, with the unmistakable fir aroma.

Manuka – The exceptional honey

Manuka honey comes from the flower nectar of the New Zealand manuka bush, a relative of the Australian tea tree. This is a very special type of honey, because its healing power is many times that of all other honeys.

Note: If you are considering using honey as a home remedy in the future, you should not compromise when buying honey. Only bees that have been allowed to enjoy natural, species-appropriate husbandry and feeding are able to produce outstanding honey that not only tastes excellent, but also enables the healing effects described. Therefore, only use high-quality organic honey or buy your honey from a beekeeper you trust.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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