Honey, an herbal delicacy

Honey in the mouth won’t help bitterness in the heart.
Yiddish Proverb

Autumn has tinted the foliage of our trees with brush strokes the color of honey. Look around. The golden rod, mums and turning leaves are speaking the language of the harvest. Trees and perennials are almost asleep while we are enjoying nature’s bounty from the garden. One of nature’s oldest gifts from the garden is honey. Honey cannot be grown, but without the growth of flowers, honey cannot exist.
What is this magic elixir? Is all honey the same? How can we best take advantage of its special qualities? Is honey even good for us? This substance called honey is truly enchanted. In fact the word ‘honey’ comes from ancient Hebrew and means ‘enchanted’. The use of honey is very old. Even the popular combination of honey and mustard is thousands of years old.
Everyone knows that honey is made when bees go from flower to flower and take nectar back to the hive. It is a fascinating combination of chemistry evaporation that makes honey. The nectar (sucrose and water) is collected in the bee’s honey sac. The bee adds enzymes, which break down the nectar to simple sugars in a process called ripening. The process is already taking place as the bee continues to flit from flower to flower. It is almost like a tiny cement mixer! The nectar, which has almost become honey, and pollen, are delivered to the workers in the hive. The worker bees work the honey in their own sacs and store it in the honeycomb. Moisture then evaporates and the honey thickens.
Most of the honey is good for the bees. The rest, about a pound for every nine pounds, is gathered for human use. If the hive is not emptied of this excess, the bees will have to leave the hive to find a less crowded place for the bees to do their work.
Raw honey is heated to kill off fermenting yeast. Then it is filtered to remove grains of pollen. If you wish unfiltered honey can be bought at health food stores or from the beekeeper.
Honey is mostly glucose, fructose and water, but about 4 % is a mixture of pollen, organic acids, minerals, enzymes and proteins. Many of these are useful to the human body. These elements are also what gives honey its color, flavor and scent. This is where honeys may be quite amazingly different.
Commercial honey plants are clover in the north, buckwheat in the west and tupelo in the south. Clover is sweetest, but the sweetness also depends on the sweetness, or lack of acidity, of the soil. California touts mild sage and orange-blossom honey. Specialty honeys are found in shops all over the country. Dandelion honey is bright yellow. It is strong and aromatic. Fruit blossom honey is mild and light to golden yellow in color. Lavender and thyme honeys are mild and light in color. Forest honey, from spruce, oak or maple is mildly spicy and golden amber in color.
Is honey good for us? A pediatrician once told me that honey is the single-most impure food that exists. Unpasteurized honey is said to contain a bacteria that is harmful to infants. Older children and adults are unharmed by this.
Honey is better for the body to process than refined white granulated sugar. Consider though that 1 tbsp. of honey has 64 calories, while 1 tbsp. of sugar has 46!
Therapeutic treatment with honey is called apitherapy. Honey is said to help one regain lost energy. It is said to help respiratory problems and hay fever. It calms the mind and helps one sleep. It is also said to help indigestion and help minor skin problems. Honey and lavender in the bath is wonderfully soothing.
In addition to being an easily digestible food, honey is nature’s only naturally preserved food with no need of refrigeration. Millenniums have shown honey to be a healthy, tasty and enchanting food. Check out honeys that are beautifully rich in color and have originated from many different flavorful herbal flowers.

Kathy Catani

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