Referred to in ancient Sumerian, Vedic, Egyptian, and biblical writings, honey has been employed since ancient times for both nutrition and healing medicine. For centuries honey has been a multipurpose food, used to give homage to the gods and to help embalm the dead, as well as for medical and cosmetic purposes. Some evidence suggests that despite the risk of bee sting, collection of honey has occurred since 7000 B.C.E., and since at least 700 B.C.E., beekeeping for the production of honey (apiculture) has been used. To the surprise of the Spanish conquistadors, the natives of Central and South America were already keeping bees for the purpose of collecting honey when they arrived. Honey was considered a food of the rich for many years. More recently, honey has decreased in popularity as refined sugar, which is cheaper and sweeter, has replaced the sweet, viscous liquid in common households all over the world.
Honey is a source of riboflavin and vitamin B6. It also provides iron and manganese. A 3.5 ounce (100 gram) serving of honey provides 304 calories, mostly as 82.4 grams of carbohydrate, almost all of which is sugar, 0.3 grams of protein, and 0 grams of fat. However, honey is more likely to be consumed by the tablespoon (15 grams), which provides 64 calories, 17.3 grams of carbohydrate, and 0.1 grams of protein.
The health benefits of a particular honey depend on its processing as well as the quality of the flowers the bees utilize when collecting the pollen. Raw honey is honey that has not been pasteurized, clarified, or filtered, and this form typically retains more of the healthful phytochemicals lost to the standard processing of honey. Propolis is a product of tree sap mixed with bee secretions that is used by bees to protect against bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
Propolis is unfortunately lost in honey processing, thus greatly reducing the level of phytochemicals known to protect against the germs; recent research suggests that these may also prevent certain types of cancer. Also important, healthy organic flowering plants will provide the raw nectar that will confer a higher-quality nutrient profile to the honey produced.
Within the propolis are well-researched phytochemicals that have cancer-preventing and antitumor properties. These substances include caffeic acid, methyl caffeate, phenylethyl caffeate, phenylethyl dimethycaffeate. Researchers have discovered that these substances in propolis prevent colon cancer in animals by shutting down the activity of two enzymes, phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase C and lipoxygenase, that are involved in the production of cancer-causing compounds.
The following sections address the complete health benefits of honey in its raw form and of bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly:
Honey, particularly darker honey, such as buckwheat honey, is a rich source of phenolic compounds, such as flavonoids, that exert significant antioxidant activity.
Honey is an excellent source of readily available carbohydrate, a chief source of quick energy.
The wound-healing properties of honey may be its most promising medicinal quality. Honey has been used topically as an antiseptic therapeutic agent for the treatment of ulcers, burns, and wounds for centuries.
Propolis contains well-researched phytochemicals that have numerous cancer-preventing and antitumor properties.