Our earliest records of beekeeping date back to 2400 B.C., in Cairo, Egypt. Since then, across the globe, people have fallen in love with the sweet, gooey gold that we call honey. Its uses range from versatile kitchen ingredient to medicinal marvel, and just about anything in between. Its health benefits are wide ranging and diverse, and not to mention, it is one of nature's best natural sweeteners to date.
Below is a list of my favorite ways to incorporate honey into my life; I hope you can enjoy some of them as well. Above all else, I would recommend buying raw, local honey. Raw honey is not heated or pasteurized, and contains natural vitamins, antioxidants, enzymes, and local pollen (which can be beneficial in its own right to allergy sufferers, see #8). Honey that is not raw is pasteurized and filtered using heat, which removes the pollen, but allows it to have a longer shelf life in stores. Fun fact: the FDA says that any product that has been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen IS NOT honey. So, if your honey isn't local, is it even real?
Buying from local honey producers not only can benefit your immune system, but it can ensure you are getting honey that is truly raw, and in turn, allow you to reap the bountiful benefits that honey has to offer. Oh, and supporting local businesses is AWESOME. Corporations mass produce honey for profit, not for us, and sift out its natural benefits along the way. Local beekeepers, on the other hand, love what they do, respect the bees and the honey they give us, and make the world a sweeter, healthier place. I would much rather give my money to the latter, and I encourage you to do the same.
Coffee and tea sweetener
If you use sugar in your coffee and tea, I'm NOT saying you're doing it wrong… I'm just saying you could be doing it better with honey.
Sometimes I like to skip the syrup - Do I love it? Yes. Is it good for me? No- and drizzle honey on my pancakes, waffles, and French toast instead. This is an awesome way to enjoy your favorite breakfast foods while also being mindful of your health. I even drizzle honey on peanut butter toast (my peanut butter is organic and not very sweet by itself). The possibilities are endless.
If you have never experienced a (candy) turtle, it is a cluster of pecans covered in gooey caramel, contained by a smooth, chocolatey shell. If you have had turtles, and are as fond of the devilishly delicious treat as I am, you are living life. Either way, turtles can be a fun treat to make in your very own kitchen, and some healthier variations call for mixing honey with other ingredients as a substitute for caramel. Homemade turtles can be a great addition to your holiday celebrations or gift exchanges.
Sweeten up your salad with a honey vinaigrette or honey mustard dressing, while gaining the added health benefits they honey has to offer.
Try adding honey to your next cheese/charcuterie board! Honey's sweetness compliments sharp and savory cheese flavors, and pairs extremely well with goat cheese, brie, and Manchego (but that is from my own limited experience). I am sure that with some mixing and matching, you could find a wide array of foods and flavors that honey pairs well with to mix into your next charcuterie board.
That's right, there is a whole variety of wine, made from honey, called mead. The Vikings were particularly fond of mead, which has been affectionately referred to across centuries, in lore and literature, as "Nectar of the gods" and "the drink of kings/warriors/heroes". The main ingredients are honey, water, and yeast, and it can be made- yes, you can make alcohol- in your very own home. If you don't feel like making it yourself, however, I'm sure you can find a great mead in a wine/liquor store or even a winery near you.
Honey can be used as a cough suppressant, and has anti-inflammatory effects. Some cough drops contain honey for these very reasons.
Anecdotally, locally made honey has been reported to reduce symptoms of seasonal allergies. This may be due to the fact that honey can contain traces of flower pollen (if the honey is local, the trace pollen will be the same pollen causing your allergies), and one way allergies are treated is by repeated exposure to small amounts of the irritants and allergens. This is similar to how vaccines introduce our body to small amounts of certain pathogens so that our immune system can begin to work against them and prepare for larger exposure.
Burns and wounds
For thousands of years, we have used honey as a salve to heal burns and wounds and prevent infections. It can speed up recovery time, ease pain and inflammation, and reduce scarring as well.
We have come to know that honey harnesses antioxidant properties. In 2011, Iran studied the effects of honey on renal cell carcinoma (a kidney cancer) and found that honey effectively stops cancer cells from multiplying. This study opened the doors for further research into honey as a cancer treatment.
Honey has been studied as a memory enhancer as well, and is believed to improve both short-term and long-term memory. A study on postmenopausal women showed that after several weeks of honey treatments, they experienced as much improvement in immediate memory as women who received estrogen and progestin (hormone therapy).
Honey has long been admired as a topical skin care miracle. It has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic properties, all of which work wonders on dry, oily, and/or acne prone skin. It can work as a spot treatment on stray pimples or be used as an overall face mask to calm irritated skin, disinfect pores, and reduce dark spots, scars, and signs of aging. Additionally, honey is a natural humectant, which means it can retain moisture, and when used on the skin, can reduce moisture loss (in turn, giving you healthy, hydrated skin).
Honestly, I would be incredibly thankful if I got a gallon of local honey under the tree this year. It may seem lame to gift honey to loved ones or friends, but I guarantee you, it is not. There exists a sweet, magical goo that can improve memory, fight cancer, heal wounds, combat colds, reduce allergies, improve skin, sweeten up your favorite foods, AND be made into alcohol, and that goo is honey. Why not give the gift of sweetness (and health) this holiday season?
Every time I taste even a drop of honey on my tongue, I think about all of the busy bees and their little fuzzy feet on flower petals, collecting pollen and nectar. I think about the honeycomb homes where the magic is made, and I think about kind, patient beekeepers that let bees be bees, and in turn, put raw honey in my kitchen. One drop of honey is enough to spark appreciation in my heart for all of the living things that make honey possible. With each taste, I take a second to realize just how naturally sweet nature (and life) can be... but that's just me.
However you do honey, I hope that you do it locally, and I hope that even just for a moment you too can appreciate just how magical honey is.
I wish everyone happy holidays, good health, and a life of sweetness. Thank's for reading!