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Culture: The buzz around honey ... by Carole Baker

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Winnie the Pooh
Winnie the Pooh

Winnie the Pooh day is January 18!

I wanted to focus on something different this new year rather than nagging about detoxing and weight loss and dry January! So, I thought I’d share with you the benefits of Winnie the Pooh’s favourite thing and that is HONEY! This time of year I insist my family have a daily dose of hot honey and fresh lemon to ward off any nasty bugs that are doing the rounds and for those that can take it, I put fresh ginger root slices in as well (let’s leave the ginger for another time!)

What is raw honey? It’s a pure, unfiltered and unpasteurised sweetener made by bees from the nectar of flowers.

Raw honey v commercial honey

Raw honey is a crude form of honey immediately taken out of the cells of the honey comb within a bee hive. This form of honey is far from pure. It commonly contains bee pollen and propolis, which are both two very positive health additions. Raw honey cannot be heated above 95°F, which is the normal temperature of the bee hive. While it’s OK to strain raw honey, it’s never filtered or pasteurised. It also cannot have any other additives at all. There are a wealth of local beekeepers who are often found selling their honey by the roadside or in some local shops.

On the other hand, commercial honey is often heavily processed and may even have been chemically refined. Excessive heat destroys the natural enzymes, vitamins and minerals in honey, making honey processing a very bad thing. Filtering and processing eliminate many of the beneficial phytonutrients, including pollen and enzyme-rich propolis. Non-raw honey can be sourced from bees that are treated with antibiotics (such as ciprofloxacin in China’s honey). Honey that isn’t raw is pasteurised and filtered, and it can have many additives.

Raw honey nutrition facts

Honey is a ‘functional food’, which means it’s a natural food with health benefits. Raw honey nutrition is impressive. Raw honey contains 22 amino acids, 27 minerals and 5,000 enzymes. Minerals include iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and selenium. Vitamins found in honey include vitamin B6, thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and niacin. In addition, the nutraceuticals contained in honey help neutralise damaging free radical activity. One tablespoon of honey = 64 calories, with a healthy glycemic index, which is a little less than a banana. Raw honey does not cause a sugar spike and elevated insulin release like white sugar.

Benefits of eating local raw honey

Counters pollen allergies – Raw honey contains bee pollen, which is known to ward off infections, provide natural allergy relief and boost overall immunity, based on a concept called immunotherapy. The local bees go from flower to flower collecting pollen (that can cause you to suffer hayfever etc) but when you consume local raw honey, you also consume that same offending local pollen. After time, an allergy sufferer may become less sensitive to the pollen that previously caused problems and thus experience less seasonal allergy symptoms.

Natural energy source – Raw honey contains natural sugars (80 per cent), water (18 per cent), and minerals, vitamins, pollen and protein (2 per cent). It’s not surprising that honey has been called ‘the perfect running fuel’. It provides an easily absorbed supply of energy in the form of liver glycogen, making it ideal for energetic morning starts and as a pre- and post-exercise energy source.

Studies at the University of Memphis have shown honey to be one of the best choices of carbohydrate to consume right before exercising, plus, as a sporting fuel, honey performs on a par with glucose, which is the sugar used in most commercial energy gels and the hideous coloured sports drinks!

Antioxidant powerhouse – Other studies have shown that a daily dose of raw honey raises levels of health-promoting antioxidants in the body. Antioxidants help block free radicals in the body that cause disease. It also boosts the immune system, acting as a preventative against any number of debilitating diseases. Honey contains polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants that have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Sleep promoter – Raw honey promotes restorative sleep in two ways. By consuming honey before bedtime, it restocks the liver’s glycogen supply and prevents the brain from triggering a crisis search for fuel, which can wake you up. Secondly, eating raw honey fosters the release of melatonin in the brain by creating a small spike in insulin levels, which stimulates the release of tryptophan in the brain. Tryptophan converts to serotonin, which is then converted to melatonin. Melatonin also boosts immunity and helps rebuild tissue during periods of rest.

Wound and ulcer healer – Honey-infused bandages are known to aid healing. The University of Waikato has found that honey is a natural antibacterial with wound-healing effects and that honey reacts with the body’s fluids to make hydrogen peroxide, creating an inhospitable environment for bacteria.

For the treatment of burns and wounds, honey is typically applied directly to the problem area or in a dressing that’s changed every 24 to 48 hours. It was a very common treatment in the World War One and before.

Honey has been studied for its use in effectively treating various types of ulcers as well. Honey may reduce the size, pain and odour of problematic skin ulcers. (Note: I once healed a nasty ulcerated wound on my cat which the vet said would need a skin graft, with a poultice of raw honey, garlic and sea salt!)

Natural cough syrup – Raw honey has been shown to be as effective in treating coughs as over-the-counter commercial cough syrups. In one study, honey was just as effective as diphenhydramine and dextromethorphan, common ingredients found in over-the-counter cough medicines. One or two teaspoons of honey at bedtime is a studied and recommended dosage for anyone over the age of one. It’s even more effective if you infuse the honey with garlic cloves and dried or fresh thyme leaves (both natural antibiotics and thyme a natural expectorant as well)

Warning – Honey should never be given to children under 12 months of age since raw honey is a potential source of botulism spores or if you have a compromised immune system or are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatments for cancer – you should speak with your doctor before consuming raw honey.

With thanks to draxe.com and medicalmedium.com for some of the info.

The suggestions in this article are the personal opinion of the author. Please do not take any new remedies if you are currently on any medication without the consent of your GP.

Carole Baker is founder of The Self Centre, Bury St Edmunds