What is Honey ?
Honey is a sweet and sticky fluid produced by honey bees from the nectar of flowers and plants. Its colour, flavour, thickness and aroma vary depending on the flower or plant from which the bees gather the nectar. Bees ingest the nectar they collect into their ‘honey stomach’, the nectar is regurgitated and dehydrated repeatedly until it reaches the desired quality at which stage it is placed by the honey bee into a honeycomb cell where it gradually converts into honey.
Honey is composed of 95% sugars; fructose, glucose, sucrose and maltose. It contains the minerals potassium, sulphur, calcium, chlorine, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, sodium, manganese and silicon. It also contains the vitamins; Riboflavine (B2), pyridoxine (B6), ascorbic acid (C), thiamine (B1), niacin (B complex), pantothenic acid (B complex).
Honey contains natural acidity, the main one being gluconic acid and the others being acetic, malic, lactic, maleic, citric, formic, butyric, pyroglutamic, succinic and oxalic acid. It contains small amounts of proteins which depend upon the amount of pollen that is present. Amazingly honey also contains the carbohydrates dextrose, pollen, glycine, calvenlase, mucilage, levcine and tyrosine.
So out of the five main nutritional elements that the body needs honey contains, vitamins, minerals, proteins and carbohydrates, (the fifth element which it doesn’t contain is fat). So it is no surprise that honey is considered a food.
Honey has been used throughout centuries by many nations. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese, Assyrians and Romans used it in healing and as food. It is a natural antiseptic which prevents infection and is an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent. Its properties make it far superior than most of the antibiotics prescribed today. Honey is a food, a drink, a sweet, a remedy a type of refreshment and an ointment and that there is no substance that is more beneficial. Since the medical uses of honey are many for the purpose of brevity we will only mention some of the maladies it is most commonly used for.
- Colitis – Polyphenols contained in honey act as an antioxidant, these antioxidants can help reduce the damage done to the colon in colitis.
- Burns, cuts and wounds – the antiseptic and antibacterial properties in honey are good in treating burns, skin ulcers, and other wounds. It prevents the growth of bacteria and is soothing to the skin. It speeds up the healing process and by regulating the collagen production it minimises scars.
- Enuresis (Bed-wetting) – Due to its water-holding and sedative properties honey is able to absorb large amounts of water and retain it for long periods of time. Hence making it an excellent remedy for in-voluntary bed wetting especially for children since it has no side effects.
- Skin care – Honey is an essential ingredient in skincare products. It can be mixed with other ingredients to treat acne, abscesses, and other skin conditions. It can also be mixed with other ingredients to make facial masks, facial toners, facial creams and moisturizers. It is known to delay the appearance of wrinkles when utilised daily in one of the above mentioned forms.
- Diarrhoea and stomach ulcers – Studies indicate that honey shortens the duration of diarrhoea.
- General health – studies suggest that honey may increase the populations of probiotic bacteria in the gut which can help strengthen the immune system, lower cholesterol, prevent colon cancer and improve digestion.
- Gastroenteritis – a clinical study where patients were given a bland diet and 30ml of honey three times a day proved to be an effective remedy for 66% of the patients, it relieved a further 17% and corrected anaemia in 50%!
- Gastric Ulcers – Studies prove that honey reduces the secretion of gastric acids. Furthermore honey as a dietary supplement has treated gastric ulcers with an 80% recovery rate on tests carried out on 600 gastric ulcer patients in 1987. Additionally, radiological examination indicated that the ulcers had disappeared in 59% of the patients.
- Diabetes – Studies carried out in 1985 and 1988 suggest that honey can be used as a sweetener in type 2 diabetes since honey has no acute hyperglycaemic effect.
- Oral Health – due to its antibacterial properties honey can aid in treating mouth ulcers, gum disease and other areas of oral health. The Honey Research Unit in the University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand has written about the potential of honey for therapeutic usage in dentistry.
The most effective way to take honey is by oral consumption; however it is applied topically depending on the malady that it is used for. We will mention a few of the ways honey can be applied.
- General health – Take one teaspoons 2-3 times a day.
- Burns, cuts, wounds, bruises and lacerations – apply topically (i.e. directly on the place effected)
- To bring lustre to the face – mix equal parts of olive oil, honey and almond oil (this can be stored in a jar), apply the mixture to the face and leave for 15 to 20 minutes before washing off.
- To prevent Bed Wetting – The child (or patient) should empty their bladder and then take one teaspoon of honey before going to sleep.
- To rejuvenate hair – mix ½ cup of honey and ¼ of a cup of olive oil, massage into the scalp. This will get the nutrients into the roots of the hair. Leave for 30 minutes to an hour and then wash off.
Sometimes honey can be contaminated with the spores of bacteria that can cause Infant Botulism (a very rare but fatal infection where the spores produce toxins in the intestines, after the age of one, children develop a defence against the spores). For this reason as a warning and to reduce the risk, it is advised that children under the age of 12 months should not be given honey. Other than this, honey has no known side effects.