Honey—The Bee’s Gift to Man
By Awake! writer in Mexico
COMING upon a comb dripping with honey in the woods, an exhausted Israelite soldier dipped his rod into it and ate some. Immediately, “his eyes began to beam” and his energy was renewed. (1 Samuel 14:25-30) This Bible account illustrates one of honey’s properties that benefits man. It is a quick source of energy, being composed mainly of carbohydrates—about 82 percent. Interestingly, with the energy provided in just one ounce [30 g] of honey, a bee could theoretically fly around the world!
Do bees make honey just for man’s benefit? No, they depend upon honey for food. A standard-size hive of bees needs between 20 and 30 pounds [10 to 15 kg] of honey to survive the winter. But in a good season, a hive can produce some 60 pounds [25 kg] of honey, allowing for a surplus to be harvested and enjoyed by humans—as well as by animals such as bears and raccoons.
How do bees make honey? Foraging bees collect nectar from flowers, sucking it up with their tubelike tongues. They carry it back to the hive in one of their stomachs. The nectar is transferred to other bees who “chew” it for about half an hour, mixing it with enzymes from glands in their mouth. Then they place it in hexagonal cells made of beeswax and fan it with their wings to dehydrate it.a After the water content is reduced to less than 18 percent, the cells are capped with a thin layer of wax. Capped honey can keep almost indefinitely. Perfectly edible honey has reportedly been found in the tombs of the Pharaohs dating back some 3,000 years.
Honey’s Medicinal Properties
In addition to being a marvelous food—a veritable storehouse of B vitamins, various minerals, and antioxidants—honey is one of the oldest known medicines in continuous use.b Dr. May Berenbaum, an entomologist with the University of Illinois, U.S.A., comments: “Honey has been used for centuries to treat a wide range of medical problems like wounds, burns, cataracts, skin ulcers and scrapes.”
Commenting on recent interest in the medicinal value of honey, the CNN news organization reports: “Honey fell from favor as a wound dressing when antibiotic dressings were developed during World War II. But the new research—and the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria—are putting this old-time folk remedy into the contemporary medicine chest.” For example, one area of research has involved the treatment of burns. It was noted that patients had a faster healing time and less pain and scarring when honey dressings were used.
Studies show that because of an enzyme added to the nectar by the bees, honey has mild antibacterial and antibiotic properties. This enzyme generates hydrogen peroxide, which kills harmful bacteria.c Additionally, applied topically, honey has been found to reduce inflammation and to promote the growth of healthy tissue. Thus, New Zealand biochemist Dr. Peter Molan says: “Honey is becoming accepted as a reputable and effective therapeutic agent by practitioners of conventional medicine.” In fact, the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration has approved honey as a medicine, and medical honey is being marketed as a wound dressing in that country.
How many other foods do you know of that are so nutritious and delicious yet have medicinal use? No wonder that in times gone by, special laws were passed to protect bees and beekeepers! To damage trees or hives where bees lived was a crime punishable by heavy fines or even death. Truly, honey is a valuable gift to man and a credit to the Creator.
a The wax from which bees construct the honeycomb is produced by special glands in the bee’s body. The hexagonal shape of the comb’s cells allows the thin walls of the comb—one eightieth of an inch [1⁄3 mm] thick—to support 30 times their weight. The comb is thus a marvel of engineering.
b Honey is not a recommended food for infants because of the potential danger of infant botulism.
c Since the enzyme is destroyed by heating and exposure to light, unpasteurized honey is used for medicinal purposes.
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Cooking With Honey
Honey is sweeter than table sugar. Therefore, as a substitute for sugar, use only half to three quarters as much honey as you would sugar. Also, since honey is about 18 percent water, reduce the liquids in your recipe accordingly. If there are no liquids, add two tablespoons [30 ml] of flour per cup [200 ml] of honey. For baked goods, also add one half teaspoon [2 ml] of baking soda per cup [200 ml] of honey and reduce the temperature of your oven by 25 degrees Fahrenheit [15°C].
National Honey Board
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A bee foraging for nectar
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A colony of honeybees
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A beekeeper inspects a frame from the hive