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All About Honey

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All About Honey
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Honey is many things to many people.

It’s a nutritious, natural sweetener, a concentrated energy source, and an ancient folk remedy for health and healing. Honey is also an active ingredient in beauty and skin-care products and the subject of medical research.

For me honey brings memories of sweet sticky indulgence on our family farm in Geneva, the flavour of alpine flowers rich in the white creamy honey. It’s my boys favourite thing with a nut butter and a whop of butter on toast….but what exactly is this sweet, syrupy superfood, and how can it help you?

A natural sweetener, honey contains around 40% fructose and 30% glucose, along with some water, propolis, pollen, trace minerals, including potassium, calcium and magnesium. Refined sugar by comparison is 50% fructose and 50% glucose. As honey has a lower GI value than sugar, this means it does not raise blood sugar levels as quickly.

Honey is higher in calories than sugar, but it is also sweeter tasting and so less is usually required, making it a good substitute.

The next time you purchase a bottle of honey, take a good look at this liquid gold and reflect on the sacrifice of the thousands of bees that went into making this for you.

Consuming local honey has long been touted as a hayfever remedy, but as yet there hasn’t been enough research to support this claim. One study in 2011 looked at honey in cases of birch pollen allergy which is common in Finland. Patients consumed honey with added birch pollen daily from November through to March (before the hayfever season) and then they recorded their symptoms from April through to May. The results demonstrated a 60% lower total symptom score and twice as many asymptomatic days compared to those using conventional medicine. The sample size for this study was only 50 patients, but it’s a promising early result. However, more evidence is needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn.

A study in 2007 found that parents favoured honey for symptomatic relief for their children’s night cough and sleep difficulty due to upper respiratory tract infection.

This has been supported by a later study in 2016 that found honey may be better than placebo for the symptomatic relief of cough but that it wasn’t better than certain over-the-counter cough mixtures. As always, it is best to be guided by your pharmacist in the treatment of child coughs and upper respiratory tract infections.

Honey has natural antibacterial properties and its effects on wound healing have been well researched. It is a rich source of chemical compounds such as flavonoids which have been reported to have antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic properties. Both laboratory studies and clinical trials have shown that honey is an effective broad-spectrum antibacterial agent.

Honey may help to stimulate new tissue growth and minimise scar formation which is encouraging for treating those with non-serious wounds, ulcers and burns.

Honey has also been shown to help seborrheic dermatitis, a common skin condition that mainly affects the scalp and causes scaly patches, red skin and stubborn dandruff. A trial in 2011 of 30 patients with chronic seborrheic dermatitis on the scalp, face and chest were asked to apply diluted honey every other day and leave for three hours before rinsing off. After four weeks, all the patients saw improvements in their condition. The researchers concluded that topical application of honey could markedly improve seborrheic dermatitis and associated hair loss, plus prevent relapse when applied weekly.

Are there any risks to taking honey?

There is a risk of infant botulism (a rare but serious illness) from honey. The NHS therefore advises not to give honey to children until they’re over one year old. As honey contains sugar, it can contribute to tooth decay. Speak to your dentist or another health professional if you’re concerned about dental health.

Beekeepers use various methods to squeeze or otherwise extract honey from the honeycomb. Some methods drain the honey while preserving the wax comb so it can be used again, while others melt or otherwise manipulate the wax to remove and separate out the raw honey. Small-scale beekeepers usually stop here and sell honey in its raw state, but most mass producers of honey sold in supermarkets take the process a step further, buying up big batches of honey, and then diluting, heating, and filtering the raw product to remove pollen and other naturally occurring substances.

How honey looks and tastes depends on the type of flower that provides the nectar and can also be affected by weather conditions in different regions. Lighter-coloured honeys (such as clover, tupelo, and alfalfa) are generally milder in flavour, while amber-coloured honeys (such as orange blossom, avocado, and eucalyptus) are more moderately flavoured.

Therapeutic honeys — such as manuka (leptospermum) from New Zealand and Australia — are used as topical antiseptics in skin gels, creams, wound dressings, and other medicinal skin treatment products. These honey varieties are of particular interest to researchers and the medical community because of their unique ability to stimulate healing and reduce the formation of scar tissue.

The healing components of honey are also used in many cosmetic skin and hair preparations, not only for their antiseptic and antioxidant potential but for their softening, soothing, and conditioning effects. Honey lubricates your skin and holds onto moisture, making it an ideal ingredient in the production of beauty products ranging from lip balms and lotions to shampoos and facial scrubs. Proponents of natural skin care and cosmetics sometimes recommend practices like applying honey directly on pimples and dry lips, and diluting about a teaspoon of honey in 4 cups warm water to use as a hair rinse for added sheen.

The same substances that give honey its medicinal qualities also make it shelf-stable and resistant to spoilage. In fact, as long as it’s tightly covered to keep out humidity, and no liquid is added, you can store honey indefinitely at room temperature. It may thicken and crystallize over time, but that’s not a sign of spoilage.

If you buy gorgeous, beneficial local raw honey from a local supplier, the honey that comes to your table is likely to be harvested pretty much straight from a hive, with nothing added or removed. But honey products purchased from a supermarket or grocery chain, even those labeled “pure honey,” may be highly filtered, and some may even be diluted with less expensive sweeteners like syrup. To be sure you’re getting the real thing, it’s best to buy raw honey from a locally known and respected brand. You’ll also have the pleasure of knowing that you’re supporting a local industry.

Let’s support our wildlife diversity, our bees and our local industries by giving back and buying raw delicious honey from Thrive – Better than Well.

BY: Kim Germiquet – Responsible Pharmacist & Thrive Hilton Manager