By Victor S. Sierpina
Watching a bee doing its pollination dance in a friend’s azaleas recently, I was once again reminded of the miracle of how honey is made from flowers, nectar and the hard work of little buzzing creatures.
I bought some organically grown honey recently at the local Galveston Organic Farmers Market, which is every Sunday morning from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 2508 Post Office St. This was my reintroduction to the taste and joy of really good honey. “Pure Beeing” honey sold there is dark, delicious and a perfect accompaniment to espresso, cooking or baking. I drizzle it generously on wild-caught Northwestern Pacific salmon, along with seasonings of dill, lemon pepper and a finish of goat cheese after grilling. Yum!
Honey with lemon juice is excellent for soothing irritating coughs and sore throats. This old home remedy is tried-and-true. Equal parts honey and lemon juice are the traditional recipe. Adding hot water also makes it a bit easier to drink, especially for children.
Another formula is to steep a teaspoon of dried sage in a cup of hot water, strain it and add a teaspoon of cider vinegar and a teaspoon of honey. Use this as a gargle for sore throat.
Avoid honey in children younger than one year of age as spores of the botulism bacteria can cause serious problems in infants.
Honey has a long history of other health benefits. One of its historical uses is for chronic sores and ulcers. It can also be helpful in mild burns. The high sugar content helps dry and disinfect wounds, and it has been used for this since biblical times. Manuka honey from New Zealand, “Medihoney,” has a particularly useful acid-base balance and is especially useful for infections. If you can’t get it, use any raw honey for wounds and ulcers due to diabetes, varicose veins or pressure ulcers.
Milk and honey can be a nice treatment for heartburn, even in pregnant women. Mixed with ginger, it can be helpful for morning sickness as well. Honey also is good for a burst of energy, and I remember taking honey for energy before wrestling competitions. I often lost anyway, but it wasn’t the fault of the honey!
It is commonly believed that locally grown honey prevents inhaled allergies and runny noses. The general idea is the local pollens that bees gather are the same ones that stimulate allergies. So, the theory is that taking some local honey could reduce the inflammatory response of the immune system and hay fever symptoms. Research has examined this and the results are conflicting, with some studies supporting the benefits of honey and others opposing it.
Grass and ragweed pollen are common allergens not in honey. As with many disputes in science, we need to look at the risk benefit ratio. On the whole, if you like honey, I’d suggest you try locally sourced honey and see if it helps your allergies. Honey is safe, inexpensive, tasty and generally healthful.
Honey is easier on your system if you have diabetes as it is absorbed more slowly and is lower in glycemic index than white or brown sugars. It is still sugar though.
Other healthful options for sweeteners for those with diabetes or seeking to lose weight are blue agave nectar and stevia.
Like olive oil or wine, honey comes in a broad variety of colors and tastes. The best idea is to buy local honey at your local farmers market, health food store or from a local beekeeper. The darker the color, the higher the antioxidant levels and antibacterial effects.
In the meantime, be sweet to your honey, work on your “honey-do” list, and enjoy living in “the land of milk and honey” by enjoying one of nature’s most amazing, healthful and sweet gifts.
Dr. Sierpina is the Nicholson Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch.