"The only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey, and the only reason for making honey is so I can eat it." ...Winnie the Pooh
I was born into a family of beekeepers at a time when sweeteners were in short supply. It was during WWII, but I didn't know the difference, and the women who were doing the cooking used honey for any recipe that called for a sweetener. Even today, I use honey to sweeten my tea, and when I need comfort food, I turn to a light fluffy biscuit spread with honey.
In doing research for this article I found that honey has been used by many cultures for more that 8,000 years. Not only has it been used for food, but it was also used for medicinal purposes. I learned that researchers today are finding even more medical uses for honey. It isn't lore anymore, it is fact, and that makes it time for us to take a look at honey in a new light.
Honey has antimicrobial properties, which means that bacteria and other microorganisms cannot grow in honey. Honey does contain fructose and glucose, but it is also acidic, which some bacteria cannot tolerate. Even when you dilute the honey with water, it promotes the growth of helpful bacteria and gets rid of dangerous strains.
Honey contains glucose oxidase, and when combined with water and oxygen, glucose oxidase produces among other things, hydrogen peroxide. Diluted honey, then, can be used as an antiseptic, and one that is less damaging to tissue than regular hydrogen peroxide. Not all honeys are the same, however. It all depends on the plant that provided the source nectar.
Just as honeys vary in color, they also vary in medicinal properties. It doesn't become bad for you, it just becomes different. You also have to take into consideration the fact that we can't always know just where that bee has been or if it has partaken of pollutants on its way back to the hive. For that reason commercial providers are tested thoroughly and frequently.
There is one thing I learned from all my reading and it is important to share with you now. Until a child's digestive system has enough beneficial bacteria, honey probably should not be given to a very young child. Most sources say that after one year of age, beneficial bacteria has been established in a healthy child. Too bad nobody knew that when I was little, because I think I have been eating honey from birth.
During WWII honey was still being used as an antiseptic in treating wounds, but when penicillin began its impact on medicine, honey's importance was put aside. But, as with many things, history recycles itself, and now scientists are taking an even closer look at honey.
Professor Peter Molan, a biochemist at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, has identified one particular type of honey with extraordinary healing properties. He has shown that honey made from the flowers of the manuka bush, a New Zealand native plant, has antibacterial properties over and above those of other honeys. He has learned that in addition to hydrogen peroxide which is in all honey, manuka honey contains an additional property which he has named Unique Manuka Factor (UMF). UMF when compared with a standard antiseptic, has a much broader spectrum. It works on bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and all infectious organisms. Professor Molan says that UMF honey can also tackle antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, which continues to be a growing problem of hospitals worldwide.
Manuka honey has successfully treated leg ulcers, pressure sores, and it helps for healing after surgery particularly in diabetic patients. It proves to have an anti inflammatory effect as well. Cancer specialist Dr. Glenys Round has also found Manuka honey to be an effective treatment for cancer wounds that have affected the skin. She has had success using honey dressings on patients with wounds or ulcers resulting from radiation therapy. The best part of all of these trials is that most patients are very willing to try honey as a treatment for a painful skin eruption.
The Christie Hospital in Didsbury, Manchester, UK is studying the effects of Manuka honey on mouth and throat cancer patients. The Manchester Royal Infirmary has had success using special Manuka honey coated surgical dressings. It seems to reduce inflammation and the instances of staph infection. In Germany parents are being encouraged to replace sugar and other sweets with honey.
Honey seems to be useful for everybody, whether one is healthy or ill. It is an excellent preventive measure to increase immunity, reduce anemia, neuroses, liver and heart disorders, alimentary canal disorders, pharyngitis, laryngitis and bronchitis. It can be diluted and taken just before a meal to reduce digestive disorders. It can be included in stomach ulcer treatment. In New Zealand, Dr. Molan has developed honey dressings that are like a sheet of rubber, there is no stickiness in the product.
Keep in mind that Manuka honey is being studied for more intensive medicinal properties. The commercial honey that is available to us is equally effective for everyday use. With all this knowledge available I have decided that I will use honey as a preventative. Don't you think it will certainly justify all those honey filled fluffy biscuits that I might decide to consume?
Photo credits : Thank you Melody for the photos of the honeybee and the honeybee swarm, and thanks to Floridian for the wild bee hive, all found in Plant Files.