By Gary Tulloch for the Belize Ag Report

Honey has been consumed by humans for over 10,000 years. It is the only food from insects that we eat. Honey is derived from the nectar of flowers, which is gathered by the female, or worker bee and stored in her honey sac for transportation to the hive. While obtaining the nectar, pollen from the flower is gathered on the two hind legs of the bee. During the course of the day, a bee may make as many as 25 trips gathering nectar and pollen, but will only visit one type of flower. This phenomenon is known as flower fidelity and is nature's way of not confusing the pollination issue.

Upon her returns to the hive, she is greeted by guards who identify her as a member of the colony and allow her entrance. She then passes her partially digested nectar to another worker or deposits the nectar in an empty cell in the wax foundation. The pollen is deposited in a cell and softened with water to a paste. This pollen paste, a source of protein, is used for rearing the brood.

The complex sugar (sucrose) is converted to simpler sugars (glucose and fructose) to which are added enzymes. Water, which in the beginning stage of honey is the dominate component, is evaporated by the bees fanning the honey with their wings. Less water content allows the product to better resist spoiling. Good honey contains only about 18% water or less.

The mature honey consists of 80% sugar, mostly fructose and glucose, 18% water and 2% minerals, vitamins, pollen and protein. One tablespoon of honey contains 64 calories. Honey has a healthy glycemic index, which means its sugars can be more gradually absorbed into the system resulting in better digestion.

The vitamins present are B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and certain amino acids. The minerals include calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc. Honey also contains antioxidants and is free of fat and cholesterol. Furthermore, the vitamins and minerals in honey help to metabolize undesirable cholesterol and fatty acids on the organs and tissues, thus helping to prevent obesity. Honey also improves the immune system. It also provides relief from coughs by soothing the throat. Mixed with milk and taken before bedtime it helps the sleep process.

Through the ages honey has been used to help the healing of wounds. Bacteria do not live in honey and its application to wounds tends to dry out bacteria which may be present in the wound site. Some studies actually show that honey can kill bacteria by virtue of a protein known as defensis-1. Additionally, the dressings for the wound do not stick to the affected areas when honey is applied, resulting in pain free changing of the dressings and less interference with newly forming tissue over the wound area.

There have been some significant results in healing diabetic ulcers by applying honey to the affected area. One case example described a patient with diabetic ulcers on his feet, who, after spending over US$395,000.00 in treatments and surgery over two years, had lost two toes and experienced no healing of the ulcerated areas. Within weeks of treating the areas with honey, the sores were cured and the patient was ambulatory.

In addition to wounds and infected areas, honey is also good for treating burns and as a skin cream. Local honey also helps to minimize the effects of seasonal allergies. This appears to be the result of local pollens being introduced into the system by ingesting honey, thus helping to immunize the individual from the effects of the airborne pollens. Studies have shown honey to be helpful in preventing acid reflux and in shortening the duration of bacterial diarrhea in infants and young children.

The wonderful thing about honey is that when consumed as raw honey (not heated over 116 degrees) it is an entirely pure and natural sweetener with no adverse effects and instead, abundant healthful properties.