Nearly everyone has used honey as a sweetener. It is far sweeter per gram than table sugar. That means fewer calories per serving.
About thirty-five years ago I remember watching my future father-in-law dehorning cattle. After tying off exposed bleeding blood vessels he lathered the exposed tissue with honey. At the time I as perplexed and skeptical. I assumed the sugary substance would draw flies or at least provide a substrate for microbial growth.
I was wrong. The sores healed perfectly with no evidence of infection. Honey sealed off the wounds and kept them dry.
The only previous experience I had using honey as a medicinal substance was when my mother mixed it with glycerin, ginger and bourbon for cough syrup. As a kid I thought the only reason the honey was in there was to make it sweet, so we wouldn’t spit it out.
Honey contains compounds that are naturally antimicrobial. One of these is hydrogen peroxide. Honey is also acidic with an average pH of about 3.5 to 3.9. That in and of itself inhibits most bacterial growth.
For this reason, honey is often incorporated in soaps and shampoos. It’s also a component of many body lotions.
Honey also contains antioxidant enzymes and flavonoids, which are also antioxidants. Antioxidants reduce stress on our bodies. Buckwheat honey, a particularly dark type, has very high antioxidant properties.
One thing to remember though is that all honey is not the same. Even all raw honey isn’t the same. Consuming pasteurized honey will destroy vitamins and other antioxidants found in honey. Processed honey is prettier, but many of the natural benefits are lost.
Despite containing many different compounds, honey is still largely a sugar rich substance. However, type II diabetics need not totally abandon its use. Some research has shown honey to improve insulin resistance. This means sugar is transferred from the blood to the cells more efficiently, which is good.
Other researchers claim there is not a bump in insulin resistance, so more research is needed. It’s important to keep in mind that honey is basically a mix of sugars. Large quantities aren’t good for diabetics. Honey possibly could pose fewer problems than refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, but sugar is sugar.
Pretty much everything I’ve read advises not to feed honey to children under a year old. This is due to the potential of botulism or reaction to any of the myriad of chemicals found in honey in trace amounts. Babies do not have a developed immune system capable of dealing with impurities that would have no effect on adults.
It’s a shame there are no significant wild bee populations today. Forty years ago, robbing bee trees and filtering the honey was a fun pastime. A disease spread by mites and imprudent pesticide use has eliminated wild bees in many places.
The mite problem might be a difficult fix, but more careful and timely application of pesticides can help save bees. Spraying when bees are active is a problem and we should try to adjust out treatment to accommodate the bees.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.