Honey, golden and sweet, is a remarkable product.
Bees make honey by visiting flowers, collecting nectar and filling their stomachs. While the nectar is in the bees’ stomachs, it mixes with proteins and enzymes converting the nectar to honey. Returning to the hive, the bees fill the comb with honey for the nourishment of the workers and queen. Luckily, bees make enough honey for their needs and ours.
It only makes sense that honey, which sustains the bees, must be loaded with healing nutrients that are passed on to us. In fact, honey has both antibacterial and antiviral properties. Buckwheat honey suppresses nighttime coughs. Manuka honey from New Zealand shows promise for healing resistant wounds.
My interest in honey has been sparked by spending time with beekeeper Phyllis Smith of Cape May, New Jersey. She has five hives, each with about 50,000 bees. These produce about 400 pounds of honey. Here are a few things I learned from Smith:
▪ Honey does not go bad. Even the honey found in Egyptian tombs would probably be safe. If an old jar has some crystallization, which is natural, gently reheat for a clear product. And never refrigerate.
▪ Propolis was news to me. Bees collect tree sap and turn it into propolis, a sealant for their hives. Propolis has been used medically since ancient Greece. The National Institute of Medicine rates propolis as possibly effective for cold sores, genital herpes and reducing pain and inflammation after dental surgery. It is available in over-the-counter products.
▪ There is no legal definition for raw or pure honey. The evidence is not strong that local honey provides immunization against allergies, but buying local supports our beekeepers.
Beekeeper Smith uses honey in sauces, smoothies, oatmeal and even puts a very small drop on bandages. For a sore throat she recommends hot water, 1/4 of a juiced lemon and 2 teaspoons of honey.
Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.