Honey and Health
This time of year a lot of clients come in complaining of coughs, colds, sore throats and various leftover dredges of respiratory complaints. Very often my recommended treatment for clearing off the last bit of symptoms comes from the hardworking honeybees. Any herbal tea can be enhanced and sweetened with a spoonful of honey. Sore throats can clear up overnight from a shot of propolis tincture. And bee pollen offers a wealth of B vitamins to improve behavior problems while boosting energy and overall health.
For thousands of years, honey has been valued—even revered—as a foundation for a long, healthy life. The King James Bible mentions honey dozens of times, including Proverbs 24:13, when King Solomon says, "My son, eat thou honey, because it is good; and the honeycomb, which is sweet to thy taste." In the first century A.D., Plutarch observed that the honey-loving Britons "only begin to grow old at one hundred and twenty years of age." The Muslim prophet Mohammad said, "Honey is a remedy for every illness and the Koran a remedy for illness of the mind."
Sounds like some powerful endorsements. So, can you just grab any product with a bee on the label and assume that it will improve your health and lengthen your life? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The positive effect of honey and the other bee products is due to the live enzymes they contain. The bee-produced enzymes, like the ones your body makes, aid in digestion and assimilation of vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, enzymes can be easily destroyed by heat—particularly during processing. How hot is too hot? If you add honey to anything that is warmer than body temperature you start to kill the enzymes. This means that you should allow your tea to be cool enough to touch before adding honey. (If I let three ice cubes melt in the cup, that usually does the trick.) So, obviously, cooked honey loses all of its health benefit, as does the concentrated honey spreads and the abomination of powdered honey. Beekeepers often use heat to extract the honey from the comb, so most honey you find in grocery stores offers only a marginal benefit over sweetening with sugar. Since this honey is so hard to find I only offer local, unheated wildflower honey in my store.
When considering beneficial products derived from the industry of bees, we can’t stop with honey.
Bee pollen, collected from flowers, is the protein part of the bees’ diet; this golden treasure is the super food of the bees. I also see it as a nutritional substance to be added to the diet. It’s full of B vitamins and seems to be beneficial for those with allergies like hay fever.
Propolis is the waxy substance that is the major building block of beehives. Each of the thousands of bees in the colony has to crawl through the propolis tunnel to protect the queen from possible contamination. (You could think of it as the colony’s private security system.) In his book Herbal Medicine, Healing & Cancer, author Donald Yance writes, "propolis is one of the best infection fighters and healing aids available. Internally, propolis is excellent for bacterial, viral and fungal infections, sore throats and mouth ulcers." It has a strong biting taste but could be just the thing for knocking out your cold before it grabs hold of you.
What about royal jelly? You may have heard the health benefits associated with this "food of the queens." While it certainly does have some special properties I do not recommend it because, frankly, the bees need it worse than we do. This is the special food that allows a queen to lay eggs. Taking this precious substance from the hives hurts all of us in the long run, just as digging up wild ginseng or goldenseal roots has created a shortage down the road.
In addition to this challenge in finding beneficial ethical honey products, the National Honey Board is warning against an influx of low-priced honey from China. Producers in that country are treating their bees for parasite infestation with the strongest possible antibiotic. The adulterated honey that the bees produce is then filtered repeatedly until it no longer is chemically classified as ‘honey,’ but can be labeled as ‘syrup.’ This allows Chinese honey merchants to avoid the heavy honey tariff. American producers have started buying the cheap ‘syrup,’ mixing it back in with what our bees have produced and labeling it ‘honey’ again. That is why retail honey prices have fallen in recent months. As usual, you get what you pay for. For my money I want the best nature produces. As I always say, don’t mess with Mother Nature.
"Honey and Health," Trilby Sedlacek with LaDawn Edwards, from The Stone Path and the Green Health Archives.
Copyright © 2005 Green Angels & Healing Arts