More than simply a delicious addition to your tea, honey is also a powerful medicine. In fact, high quality honey can treat infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, speed up healing, protect wounds and boost your immune system. That said, not all honeys are created equal and certain processing practices severely impair the quality and health benefits. Read on to discover the amazing properties of honey, and how to choose the best product.
Historical Medicinal Use Of Honey
The earliest evidence of honey’s use as a medicine to treat wounds was found etched on a Sumerian stone tablet dating back to over 4,000 years ago. Before the introduction of modern antibiotics a few decades ago, honey was used globally and throughout history as a protection against infection.
Anti-bacterial, Anti-viral, Anti-oxidant
The rapid rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria has propelled doctors to search for alternative solutions, and some are turning to bees for answers. Following numerous clinical trials demonstrating its benefits, honey is being introduced into hospital settings. The results are conclusive: honey inhibits the growth of harmful pathogens, even when diluted by over 50 percent!
Honey’s syrupy consistency protects wounds from infection, while its antibacterial action destroys germs. It also has antioxidant properties, which prevent skin damage around lesions during healing, as well as boosting the immune system. Honey therapy is effective against the most resistant and persistent strains of bacteria, and successfully treats infected burns, wounds, and leg and stomach ulcers.
The Bee Issue
Unfortunately, honey’s rising popularity, as a wholesome alternative to sugar and as a health supplement, is changing the way it’s manufactured and marketed. Where a harmonious and collaborative relationship previously existed between the bees and their keepers, the increase in demand has resulted in a drive to produce maximum amounts, for minimal costs. The result? Stressed out bees and poor quality honey.
In the last few years bee populations have been declining dramatically and bee colonies across the world disappearing, a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder (CCD) which can result in 90 percent destruction of colonies, due to a number of various factors:
- Heavy use of pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers and other chemicals on flowering crops.
- Malnutrition, as many beekeepers place the hives near fields of monoculture crops which results in bees only getting one type of nectar and making them susceptible toward viral and bacterial infections.
- Industrial production methods, which increase the risk of contamination.
- Electro magnetic pollution from telephone masts and wireless devices, which affects bee navigation.
- Introduction of foreign bee species that kill off native bees.
- Starvation due to lack of winter food.
Nearly a third of the world’s crops rely on pollination from honey bees, so protecting these important insects and meeting their needs is vital for our survival.
Beware of Fake Honey
Natural honey is rich in vitamins, minerals, proteins, phenol antioxidants, amino acids and antibiotic-rich inhibin. However, an imposter may be masquerading on supermarket shelves: artificial honey! This product has never seen a bee; produced using artificial sweeteners, it contains no beneficial nutrients.
Bees Fed on Sugar
There’s little doubt over the dangers of eating sugar. This addictive[13,14] ingredient, added to many processed foods, has a significant negative impact on our health. Ethical bee keeping practices cater to the wellbeing of bees. The humble bee keeper will traditionally leave enough honey for the bees to feed on over winter and ensure their survival. However, a number of modern bee keepers take all the honey from the bees and only provide them with a sugar solution instead. Knowing how damaging sugar is to our bodies, could it be hurting the bees as well?
To make matters worse, up to 75 percent of shop bought honey is filtered and heated during the manufacturing process. This makes the source impossible to verify due to the pollen being removed, and the extreme heat also destroys a high percentage of the beneficial nutrients. The lack of traceability poses concerns as it leaves no way to check whether the honey is real, or whether it is a poor quality or contaminated product manufactured in countries where standards are more lax.
In 2011, Qatar’s Ministry of Environment set up a support program for apiaries, as part of the country’s plan to decrease dependency on food imports. Since then, the number of apiaries has increased to 142 nationally, and these produce around 16 tons of honey a year. The majority of the apiaries are located near sidra trees, whose nectar produces the premium ‘sidr’ honey, famous for its medicinal value.
Choosing the Healthiest Honey
What can you do to ensure the honey you buy is packed full of the beneficial properties naturally present in this delicious medicine?
- Buy local — find a local honey producer and buy direct from them. Local honey is more effective at preventing hay fever and other seasonal allergies, and is excellent for your immune system. Connect with your local producers; they will be happy to share their bee wisdom and answer your questions about bee keeping.
- Buy raw honey — this honey isn’t heated above 42 degrees Celsius, so its beneficial nutrients have been kept intact.
- Buy organic — not only does buying organic support farming practices that are safer for bees, you’ll also avoid ingesting a large amount of chemical fertilizers and pesticides!
You can also use these methods to check the honey’s purity:
- Drip a drop of honey on a rough surface, and blow on the drop; if the drop moves and doesn’t stick to the surface, the honey is pure.
- Place the pot of honey in the fridge; if it separates into two layers, the honey contains impurities.
- Pour the honey slowly; if it forms a smooth continuous flow, the honey is pure. An intermittent or interrupted flow points to impurities in the honey.