I guess you don't need me to tell you that not all honey is created equal?
Honey is the original smallholder's gem crop. A few well kept hives can yield enough honey for a year and a few more can bring in a little cash. Bees find their nectar from flowers blooming in the local area and bring it back to a hive that the beekeeper has thoughtfully provided with some fresh clean combs. The plundered blossoms needn't even belong to the hive owner as the bee takes nothing desirable away when it leaves. In fact, the bee scrumping some pollen and nectar is a free bonus that inadvertantly contributes to pollenation of those plants and trees visited. In this equation, everyone is a winner.
After the bees have digested the nectar a few times, they regurgitate it into a cell of the comb, which is left unsealed. The moisture content is then slowly, slowly reduced by the fanning of tiny bee wings, to produce something that has keeping properties well beyond what jam manufacturers can dream of!
Honey produced in this way confers a myriad of beneficial qualities on anyone lucky enough to taste a spoonful and comes in a huge variety of colours, from pure white to deep amber brown depending on the varieties of flowers visited.
The small amounts of local pollen in raw honey, appear to reduce the symptoms of those who suffer with pollen induced hayfever - although it may not help if grass or dust is the problem. Choose a honey produced from hives as close to your home as possible, so that the honey contains pollens that are irritating you.
Due to it's low moisture content (high osmotic pressure), honey has the ability to draw water towards it - the scientific name for this quality is, humectant. For this reason, it was traditionally used to draw out splinters - by osmosis.
Honey's humectant qualities also make it a great ingredient in skin creams for dry skin - combined with beeswax it makes a delicious and nourishing lip balm or skin salve that chimes with my personal philosophy - only put on your skin what you would willingly eat!
Honey is highly antimicrobal - due to it's high acidity (which is much lower in commercial honey) and low moisture content. It is now included in skin dressings as it appears to be successful in combatting MRSA. It's certainly the first thing I reach for when I feel a cold coming on - I include it in a kill or cure drink made from fresh ginger root, cayenne pepper, and fresh lemon juice with 30 drops of echinacea tincture for good measure.
Propolis is a sticky substance that bees make from tree sap, sticky buds and other resins that they find in the local area - it can range from yellow to black in colour, depending on what the bees use to make it. They use propolis to plug up any cells that are not being used in the hive and to seal any small cracks. For us, it's a powerhouse of antimicrobal medicine - used to cure sore throats, colds and other viruses, it may have a regulating effect on the immune system (sources 1 + 2) and aid skin healing in burns. It's also made into gum for chewing and added to toothpaste for it's healing effect on the gums.
And finally, raw untreated, cold extracted honey actually scores much, much lower on the glycaemic index than commercially produced and extracted honey.
Raw honey generally scores around 30-40 on the index (making it moderate) whilst most commercial honeys seem to score between 55 and 80 on the index which is somewhere between highish and rocket fuel! (source). If the honey has been adulterated with refined glucose then it may be even higher.
This discrepancy in fuel release may be due to any number of factors. Possibly because commercial honey is filtered and blended - thereby removing some of the most beneficial elements such as pollen and other small particles, that slow down the rate at which honey is processed? It may be because some unscrupulous producers actually adulterate their honey with glucose or corn syrup - or feed these things to the bees. It may be that heating honey during commercial processing destroys essential enzymes and reduces acidity within the honey - who knows for sure? What is widely believed anecdotally and hinted at in some studies that I have read, is that raw honey produced in the traditional way will not spike your blood sugar in the same way that commercial honey does.
So if you want to use honey for sweetening food, make sure it's raw honey, as your body will thank you and your blood sugar levels remain much more stable than if you used commercial honey.
Of course if you eat large quantities of anything sweet, you will cause your blood sugar to rise - I am not handing you carte blanche to reprise the Honey Monster's top ten sticky sweet moments! Instead, I urge you to go to your local farmer's market, or search out a small local producer of traditional, cold extracted honey and press a decent amount of cash into their hand in exchange for a jar of the golden stuff.
Then the next time you want a little sweetness in your life, have a small, respectful amount - a medicinal serving - and give thanks for bees.
If you would like to add a link to your local supplier of raw honey anywhere in the world, please do! Anyone with any information on the glycaemic index of honey, or it's traditional uses, please also link at the bottom of the post, or in the comments.
Here are two of my local suppliers - long may their hives thrive.
The Beesmith in Bradpole (Bridport, Dorset) sell truly raw honey - they also have a blog and can be emailed direct at: keepers at beesmith.co.uk
Filberts Bees near Dorchester in Dorset sell their (almost raw) honey under the name of Monkey's Gift Apiary - who also sell lip balms and skin salves made with their beeswax. For a list of local stockists look here. Or pop along to Bridport Farmer's Market every other Saturday.
Maybe you'd like to try these Magic Lemon Pudding Bars, using your raw honey? Diary free, Raw, pocket sized energy bars that give Låra a run for her money!
This post is part of the Fight Back Friday blog carnival hosted by Kristen at Food Renegade. It celebrates S.O.L.E food - ie, that which is slow, sustainable, whole, traditional, local and nourishing to body and spirit. If you'd like to join in next Friday, just visit Food Renegade.
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