The Buzz on Honey

Make a beeline for one of nature’s tastiest foods derived from herbs.

| September/October 2005

  • Rick Wetherbee

Honey is an effective wound healer with antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Throughout human existence, honey has been one of nature’s culinary wonders. But the value of this elixir hasn’t been strictly for the taste buds: Honey also has been valued for its healing properties, used to treat ailments of the internal organs and the skin. Hippocrates recommended using honey for optimal health, the ancient Egyptians used it as a salve to treat wounds and Cleopatra considered it part of her daily beauty routine (honey naturally attracts and retains moisture).

Scientists are rediscovering just how diverse honey’s healing properties really are. A natural “nutraceutical,” honey is an effective wound healer with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties (see “Honey’s Health Benefits” on Page 50). Honey also functions as an antioxidant (darker-colored honeys usually are more potent), including one unique to honey called pinocembrin that’s an extremely concentrated antioxidant.

This natural bee byproduct contains a swarm of nutrients and enzymes. Its antimicrobial activity is believed to be mostly the result of an enzyme (glucose oxidase) that produces hydrogen peroxide. Certain honeys have even been shown to treat gingivitis and stop the growth of dental plaque.

Which Honey is Right for You?

Honey results from the involvement of three important players: the honeybee, flower nectar and enzymes. When flowers are in bloom, the bees collect nectar and carry it back to the hive. (A single honeybee easily can collect nectar from several hundred flowers during one trip.) The bees ingest the nectar, which mixes with their digestive enzymes. Back in the hive, they regurgitate the nectar and store it in the honeycomb. The honeycomb is left unsealed and the bees inside the hive fan their wings, which creates a strong draft across the honeycomb. This evaporates much of the water from the nectar, which raises the sugar concentration and prevents fermentation. Once the beekeeper removes the honey from the hive, it has a long shelf life and will not ferment.

Honey is especially prized for use in baking and marinades, as well as for its distinctive flavors. With more than 300 types of honey available in the United States alone, there’s a cornucopia of culinary distinction to be discovered. Though honey is produced in every state, certain types of honey — for example, poison oak, meadowfoam or tupelo — are only produced in selective regions.

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