By Health Coach Deborah Cox FMCHC, NBHWC

According to the beloved Winnie the Pooh:

“And the only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey.”

And then he got up, and said: “And the only reason for making honey is so as I can eat it.” So he began to climb the tree.

                                                            Winnie The Pooh, Chp. 1, (1926) A.A. Milne

Every time I think of honey, I see this little rotund, and very astute, bear with his hand or head stuck in a HUNNY pot, and I get a smile on my face, a chuckle remembering my Grandma reading us stories of Pooh’s escapades when I was little. 

History of Honey

Honey has been a part of human life most likely far beyond any type of record-keeping.  We have more than 4,000 years of recorded uses of honey as medicine, as a sweetener, and as a sign of royalty.  Cave paintings in Spain, possibly dating to 7000BC, show the earliest signs of harvesting honey.  The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used honey medicinally, as a sweetener, and as a gift to their gods; they also practiced beekeeping.  The Egyptians used it as an ingredient in their embalming fluid, and they also buried honeycomb with the pharaohs as a going away gift as they presumably journeyed to the hereafter.  When archaeologists found this honeycomb in the tombs of pharaohs it was, amazingly, still eatable!  Not sure I would want to be the first person to eat something buried in a tomb for 1000’s of years!

Aristotle, Hippocrates, Pedanius Dioscorides (a Roman Surgeon), Roman authors – Bassus, Cato and Athenaeus, and Pliny the Elder all spoke and wrote of honey and its uses.  Most of the religions of the world speak of and use honey in one way or another.  Honey has also been used as currency; in the 11th century, German peasants paid feudal lords in honey and beeswax.  It was also used to make cement and used in furniture polishes and varnishes.  Honey was successfully used as battlefield medicine from the time of the Iliad to World War I, most notably as a wound treatment.

In the 17th century, European settlers brought honeybees with them to North America.  There were native bees here, but they did not produce the quantities of honey that the bees imported with the settlers did.  As natural medicine goes, honey lost its place as a medicine as western medicine came to the forefront, casting honey and other natural remedies aside as folk healing.  Thanks to modern science many of these remedies are being brought back as they are proven to be useful in health and healing through laboratory studies.

What is honey??

Simply put, it is the nectar that bees collect from flowering plants and carry back to the hive where they deposit it into the honeycomb with enzymes that they secrete from their stomach and saliva.  As the moisture from the nectar evaporates, what we know as honey begins to form.  The bees cover each cell with beeswax after the moisture has evaporated to continue the process of honey formation.

Raw honey is a pure and natural substance and takes on the characteristics of the flowers/blooms the bees collect nectar from.  These characteristics may include flavor, color, and nutrient content.  Be aware that not all honey will look and taste the same or have the exact same nutrient content.

Raw honey offers many benefits to a healthy clean lifestyle due its unique composition.  Honey is not just another sweetener; it is not just sugar in a different form; it is a whole food with an impressive nutrient composition.  Raw honey contains 22 amino acids, including essential amino acids our body cannot make itself; 27 minerals including iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and selenium; vitamins, including vitamin B6, thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and niacin; and 5000 enzymes. Bee pollen and propolis are also found in raw honey, both of which pack an added nutritional punch.

When consumed raw, never heated, honey can be a great addition to your healthy diet.  Here are a few ways that studies are finding raw honey to be beneficial:

  • Potentially obesity protective by activating hormones that suppress appetite.
  • Potentially provides seasonal allergy relief through a concept known as immunotherapy – supplying a small dose of the allergenic pollen causing the body to be desensitized. This is a controversial topic; if it works for you great; if not, no harm done. Honey is still a healthier alternative to sugar.
  • A natural energy source for exercise and a post-exercise energy/nutrient source for recovery.
  • A natural source of antioxidants to help boost the immune system.
  • Potentially promotes restorative sleep by restocking the liver’s glycogen supply when eaten in the evening, promoting the release of melatonin.
  • Studies have shown that honey promotes wound healing.
  • The combination of honey and cinnamon have shown to be a great low glycemic food combination.

Keep in mind that if you are allergic to bee venom you will probably want to steer clear of honey and all bee products.  For the rest of us, honey is a great natural sweetener, with many potential health benefits when used in moderation.

Pure, raw honey will offer the most robust nutrient profile, so choose, if you can, a local raw, unpasteurized honey.  These honeys will often times be opaque or hazy; this is normal.  If you are dealing with a local beekeeper, or any beekeeper for that matter, here are a few things to keep in mind and to ask them so that you know you are getting pure raw honey.

  • Be sure their hives are chemical free.
  • Use of heated harvesting knives decreases healthy enzymes in the honey.
  • Is the honey filtered or strained? Strained is best as filtering, applying pressure and heat, will decrease nutrient content.
  • Raw honey is never pasteurized.
  • Know when the honey was harvested, especially if you are looking for allergy benefits; you want the bees to have collected nectar and pollen from those blooms that cause your allergies for the best possible benefit.
  • Be sure the honey has never been heated above 95° F.
  • Be sure there are no additives/nothing added.
  • Know how the beekeeper feeds the bees; they should be fed their own honey, not high-fructose corn syrup or boiled sugar water. You want to purchase honey from sustainable producers who care about the health of their bees.
  • Keep your purchase local if possible.
  • Read labels if buying honey from any retailer, and don’t hesitate to contact the company/beekeeper on the label with specific questions.

Now, put your carefully sourced honey to work and make some delicious nut butter chocolate fat bombs!

Researchers at the University of Sydney found that wounds, especially of the legs and feet, healed relatively quickly when treated with Manuka honey.  Manuka honey is produced in New Zealand and Australia by bees that collect the nectar of the Manuka bush. This honey has its own unique manuka factor (UMF) which measures its antibacterial strength. (There is no standard to measure the known antibacterial content of regular raw honeys.)

My husband uses a little honey when teaching horses to accept the bit when we go from hackamore to spade bit. It’s not so much a treat as a way to teach them to open their mouth and let the bit slide in without bumping their teeth, which can scare them and cause resistance to the bit.  Most spade bits, when made in a traditional way, will have a “sweet taste” to a horse so, once in, they will happily learn to roll the cricket and relax.  Honey helps us to keep things soft.

  • One of the most studied tribes in Africa is the Tanzanian Hadza who over the course of a year eat about 15% of their calories as raw honey…honeycomb and all, including bee larvae and the queen’s royal jelly. This does not mean we should eat 15% of our calories as raw honey!! 
  • The squeezable honey bear, created in 1957, is still one of the most popular containers for honey.
  • On average a healthy bee colony will produce 80 pounds of surplus honey each year. This is honey that can be harvested from the colony without depleting the colony’s food source.
  • Honey has an exceptionally long shelf-life, as seen above when discovered in pharaoh’s tombs.
  • It will “sugar” over time; this is ok, simply heat it up in a bowl of warm water, mix and enjoy, it will return to the sugar state as it cools.
  • Cooking with raw honey will alter its nutrient profile, but not its sweetness.
  • Fermented honey, known as Mead or ‘honey-wine” preceded wine throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. I have some from a great friend in Hawaii; it is delicious added to a cup of hot water and sipped on cold nights.


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