It’s a shame that sugar came along. Before the discovery in the sixteenth century of refined sugar made from sugar cane or sugar beets, honey was the world’s primary sweetener. Available only to the rich due to its rarity and expense, honey displaced its sugary counterpart once the refining process made sugar both inexpensive and widely available. Though sweetness became more democratic, arguably the world lost more than it gained. Refined sugar is non-nutritive, providing empty calories that some blame for a host of health problems including diabetes and obesity. Honey, on the other hand, is a rich source of phytonutrients that offers healing benefits and disease protection.
Rich in Antioxidants
Gathered from the nectar of flowers, honey in its raw state has some of the same antioxidants found in the plants that bees pollinate. One study conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign concluded that it contains as many antioxidants as spinach, apples and strawberries. The particular antioxidants in honey may have anti-tumor, cancer preventing properties. Processing, however, strips honey of many phytonutrients, so you should choose raw honey for optimal benefits. Also, the darker the honey, the higher antioxidant concentration it has. Dark amber honeys from buckwheat flowers, sage and tupelo are good choices. Daily consumption can raise levels of protective antioxidants in the blood.
Raw honey also has natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, making it an elixir for healing wounds and burns. As a topical application, it absorbs excess water in the wound, which discourages the growth of harmful microorganisms. This absorption also produces hydrogen peroxide, a mild antiseptic, while honey’s antioxidants act as antimicrobials. The combination of these processes makes honey powerful even against such resistant bacteria as E. coli and staph aureus. In one study, when compared with the standard wound care solution of iodine and alcohol, topically applied honey resulted in faster and better healing and reduced hospital stays for Caesarean and hysterectomy patients.
The ability to fight bacteria and soothe inflamed tissues makes honey a useful home remedy for a variety of irritants. Dissolved in hot water, it is an ideal tonic for alleviating sore throats and laryngitis. As a skin treatment, honey mixed into a mask or a scrub may relieve acne and moisturize dry areas. By destroying harmful bacteria and boosting good bacteria in the gut, it can help relieve both constipation and diarrhea. A drop of honey dissolved in a solution can sometimes treat mild conjunctivitis.
Lowers Blood Sugar
For all the buzz about its benefits, some may be concerned about the effects of daily honey consumption on weight and blood sugar. Teaspoon for teaspoon, it has fewer calories than refined sugar. Studies have also shown that in patients with Type 2 diabetes, it causes a significantly lower rise in blood sugar than refined sugars. Natural honey may also lower total cholesterol while increasing HDL (good) cholesterol. Despite these research outcomes, there are a couple of precautions to consider. Because of the risk of botulism, it is not recommended for children under the age of one. It may also contain traces of pollutants if the pollen and nectar of the source flowers are contaminated; certified organic honey is safest. In the case of honey, nature is sweetest when left alone.
Perhaps there’s a reason sex is referred to as the “birds and the bees” and a “honeymoon” is a getaway for bride and groom. Greek physician Hippocrates — the Father of Modern Medicine — would prescribe honey for sexual vitality. According to an old French wives’ tale, a bee sting is akin to getting a straight shot of aphrodisiac. (Speaking of which, check out our list of nature’s best aphrodisiacs.) These long-held notions of honey’s romantic properties aren’t completely baseless. Today we know that it contains the mineral boron, which regulates testosterone and estrogen, as well as a plethora of vitamins and enzymes. How sweet it is.