Honey-- Magic and Medicine
For those who don't know, honey is made by way of incredible and laborious work by our beloved honey bees, Apis mellifera. While honey bee's certainly produce the greatest quantity of honey, there are a handful of other bee and wasp species that produce honey in much smaller quantities.
The creation of this medicinal gold begins with bees going from one flower to the next, using their long straw-like tongue called a proboscis, to drink up the sugary nectar inside. This nectar gets stored in an extra stomach of sorts, called a "crop". Here, the flower nectar mixes with enzymes within the bee, and may pass from one bee tummy to the next several times via regurgitation, before it is dispensed into the hive for safe keeping. From this point, the bees will encourage extra water to evaporate off by fanning the honey combs with their wings. Once it has thickened and dried out a bit, they seal the honey combs with a special secretion from their abdomen, known to us as beeswax, to safely store their precious creation.
Records of honey's use to treat wounds and various other ailments, have been found in nearly every part of the world since the dawn of medical history. Modern science has confirmed that honey is antiseptic and antimicrobial in nature, though humankind has known this to be a tried and true sentiment for much longer. Honey's wound-healing nature can be attributed to it being hydrophilic. Simply put, this means it draws water out of anything submerged it in. When bacteria come in contact with honey, this drawing quality will kill bacteria as the water is exploded out its membrane. This water-pulling quality also allows the honey to penetrate the wounded or infected tissue deeply. A clinical trial dating 1991 in a medical clinic in India, tested honey to treat serious burn wounds against the usual antibiotic treatment. The results showed that honey eliminated infection and initiated healing in half the time, as compared to those treated with the traditional antibiotic treatment (Bergner). An additional benefit observed from the honey patients, was that it also provided a notable degree of pain relief!
Now, let's take a look at some other realms where bees and honey were celebrated...
Bees and beekeeping were commonplace among the hieroglyphs found throughout ancient Egyptian dwellings. Honey was also highlighted in hundreds of healing recipes found within ancient Papyrus scripts dating back to approximately 1700 BC.
Ancient Grecians described the precious Ambrosia, food for the greatest of Gods, to be rich with the golden nectar of the bees.
Traditional Chinese medicine, one of the oldest known healing modalities, utilizes honey to make special herbal preparations where roots are roasted in it to increase vitality and balance the humors or energetics of the herbs.
Ayurvedic medicine, hailing from India, refers to honey as asmadhu, which means “the perfection of sweet.” Its use is recommended liberally for easing ailments from head to toe.
Unani Tibb medicine teaches that honey is a prized corrigent, or a humoral balancer, and is one of the main mediums in which herbs are dispensed.
To look deeper into this common thread of honey as a "balancer", we can start by discussing energetics. This term refers to the degrees of heat, cold, moisture and dryness that an herb or substance has. In todays world, the majority of people and herbs posses a cold and dry humor or constitution. This factor can be irritating at least, and incredibly desiccating at worst, especially in dry climates. In dryer regions around the world, in this case the middle east where Unani Tibb was born and lives today, practitioners almost exclusively dispense herbal formulas as a powdered honey paste.
Not only is honey supportive in balancing energetics, when warmed and mixed in with herbs, the honey acts to decarboxylate/potentiate the herbal actions, making is a more effective medicine. It will also preserve the potency of the remedy and make it taste delicious, encouraging the recipients willingness to take as directed.
Other wonderful applications of honey include:
Respiratory herbs in honey: As honey is warm and moist, it is a wonderful option for delivering herbs to the mucous membrane-rich respiratory system. Whether you're adding honey to a respiratory tea formula, delivering powdered herbs in a honey paste or infusing honey with respiratory allies, you're sure to add powerful benefit with honey.
Digestive herbs in honey: Similarly to the respiratory system, the gastrointestinal tract is full of delicate mucosa. These membranes thrive with supportive moistening action, more than ever when inflammation is present. When creating an herbal honey paste formula, an added bonus is that the medicinal action of the powdered herbs will be carried all the way into the lower GI tract and the colon. This is a quality specific to a powdered herb formula. (As opposed to a tincture, tea, etc. which only makes it as far as the stomach or sometimes the small intestine).
Allergy relief: Honey that has been gathered by bees within your bioregion is renowned for intelligently supporting your immune and histamine responses. Taking medicinal doses of local honey before your usual allergy season is a wonderful holistic strategy for relief of pesky histamine symptoms.
Garlic honey: A long honored folk remedy. Simply peel and then crush or mince a whole clove of garlic. Add to a clean jar and cover with honey! Viola. You have a warming, moistening, systemic antimicrobial remedy. Garlic has a specific affinity for the respiratory tract, in fact, if you make a garlic foot bath, you will be able to smell and taste the aromatic oils of the garlic on your breath within minutes... Try it! In action, this means that the powerful antimicrobial compounds of garlic are coating the mucosa of your airways and increasing your resilience against illness. This recipe is a treasure in my home during the cold months.
Oxymels: An oxymel is another traditional folk remedy specific for ailments within the lungs. It contains varying ratios of apple cider vinegar and honey. ACV is cold and dry, while as we now know, honey is warm and moist. Together they are delightfully balanced and promote the breaking up and moving of stagnant mucous. A simple 1:1 blend of these will be medicinal on its own, but infusing an oxymel with herbs is even better! Think Elecampane root, Marshmallow root, warming aromatics like Thyme, Monarda or Citrus peel, Wild Cherry bark, Osha and so o