DAVID KEISLER: Honey, how sweet it is

  • Posted: Monday, November 25, 2013 12:01 a.m.

What if I told you that it is possible for you to eat a form of food that has been around for thousands of years and one that tastes the same as it did thousands of years ago? Where as this food is slowly made by insects, it never spoils and has interesting nutritional value and is also known for some of it’s health benefits.

If you guessed honey, you would be correct.

There are paintings in a cave in Spain several thousand years old that show honey gatherers using a ladder to reach honey. Archaeologist have found remains of honey in ancient vessels that date back to at least 5,000 years ago. Honey is mentioned in the Bible and the ancient Greeks and Romans referred to honey as the “nectar of the gods.”

Some plants produce a sugar rich liquid known as nectar which bees collect and turn into honey through a process of regurgitation and evaporation. It is stored as a primary food source in a wax honey comb.

There are many types of honey and the taste depends on which plants the bees frequent. Popular examples would include clover, blue berry, buck wheat, alfalfa and orange blossom.

Monofloral honey is a term used for honey that is derived from a single type of plant that the honey bees favor. This type of honey generally has a lower glycemic index that polyfloral honey. Locust honey from the black locust trees has a glycemic index if 32 where as clover honey has a glycemic index near 70.

Raw honey contains vitamins and minerals not found in refined honey. In ancient times honey was used for it’s medicinal properties but today it’s use is considered a form of alternative medicine. Honey does have bacteria fighting properties because an enzyme is present in honey that forms hydrogen peroxide.

Manuka honey from New Zealand is known for its antibacterial properties because of a chemical called methylglyoxl or MGO. This honey is specially treated then applied to sterile dressings to help treat certain wound infections.

Do not feed honey to infants younger than 1 as some types of honey may contain small amounts of bacteria. There are forms of toxic honey derived from certain plants, such as oleander and rhododendrons, that may cause illness.

It is thought that since honey contains flavonoids and antioxidants that it should be considered as a healthy addition to your diet.

There are three types of bees in a honey bee hive including the queen, drones and worker bees. The worker bees are all female and may travel over three miles from the hive. They are known to beat their wings more than 11,000 time a minute and are responsible for pollinating up to 80 percent of all fruit and vegetable plants in the U.S.

A single bee will produce only about one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.

A typical bee hive can produce more than 400 pounds of honey a year, and honey never spoils. To produce one pound of honey, bees must visit more than 2 million flowering plants and fly over 55,000 total cumulated miles.

Honey bees never sleep but may take “mini naps” when younger. A typical honey bee may literally work itself to death in only four or five weeks and fall over from exhaustion.

There were no native honey bees in the United States so bees were brought over from Europe years ago.

Be sure to look around for local honey here in Aiken because there are many knowledgeable beekeepers nearby.

If the world is adding about 80 million people to our population each year these people will need to be fed and that growth will stress our agricultural needs.

Hopefully beekeepers can help to raise and maintain enough bees to help sustain that growth. Beekeepers are playing an important part in our future.

David Keisler is a gastroenterologist and internist in Aiken.

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