Can’t you just taste it? Who doesn’t love a spoonful of golden honey slathered on a warm, flakey buttermilk biscuit with a hunk of smooth, melting butter? It tastes like a bright bite of heaven. Not only is it a delicious sweetener, but honey has many health and beauty properties, as well. Is it any wonder honey has an entire month – September – dedicated to its diverse delights?
Honey’s Health Properties
Palate piquing aside, for thousands of years honey has had significant medicinal and mythical applications, as well. Its health benefits have been found in Vedic, Greek, Roman, and Christian texts. Ancient Egyptians appear to have used honey in medicinal and beauty compounds 5,000 years ago, and ancient physicians including Aristotle, Aristoxenus, Hippocrates, and Dioscoredes have extolled honey’s healing virtues. Known even today for its antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties, honey is used widely in alternative and Chinese medicine for wound care (largely to mitigate swelling and scarring), to treat burns, diabetic ulcers, and even deadly MRSA infections.
It is said Cupid dipped his arrow in the golden liquid just before targeting unsuspecting lovers. Meade, made from honey and alcohol, was called nectar of the gods, and of course the Old Testament referred to Israel as the land of milk and honey (milk and honey are also known to represent things that are fertile). Throughout history, honey has been so coveted that in the 11th century A.D., it is reported German peasants used beeswax and honey as currency to satisfy feudal lords.
And what about hair and skin? Honey is said to be quite effective as a moisturizer due to its humectant (attracts and maintains moisture) quality. It is used in some products to treat acne, as well as being a superb hair conditioner (mix raw honey with olive oil to moisturize face, skin, and hair). In fact honey has been incorporated into beauty products and regimens for thousands of years. In ancient Egypt, honey, which can act as a preservative, was applied to keep corpses from spoiling as a form of embalming. And raw honey enzymes are said to be detoxifying for the skin – of live persons, that is!
How’d They Do That?
In a nod to honeybees’ “intelligence, industry and creativity” mentioned in Islamic texts, the process of converting flower nectar into honey is called regurgitation and evaporation. Using its “straw-like proboscis,” a worker bee drinks the nectar from hundreds of flowers and stores it in a stomach pouch aptly called the honey pouch. Enzymes then break down the nectar’s complex sugars into simpler sugars which, experts say are less prone to crystallization, in a process called inversion. The worker bee then regurgitates this back at the hive, where a hive bee ingests it and continues to break down the sugars. In turn, it regurgitates the inverted nectar into a cell of the honeycomb.
Next, hive bees beat their wings to fan the nectar so its remaining water content evaporates. As it does, the sugars thicken into honey, whereupon it is capped off in the cell for later consumption. In its entire lifetime, a worker bee produces only 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey. Small wonder it is equated with gold in literature and lore.