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Honey, I’m Home!

Honey, I’m Home!
  • Honey-Nature's Oldest Sweet (by )
  • Ayurveda (by )
  • The Genuine Works of Hippocrates (by )
  • The Canon of Medicine (by )
  • Honey and Some of the Ways It May Be Use... (by )
  • Plini Naturalis Historia (by )
  • Beowulf (by )
  • The Story of Burnt Njal (by )
  • Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune Telling : Illu... (by )
  • Das Nibelungenlied (by )
  • Facts about Honey (by )
  • Bees and Honey; Or, The Management of an... (by )
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Ancient and sweet, produced by insects vital to agriculture and plant reproduction, and possessing surprising chemical properties conducive to health and healing, honey occupies a longstanding and well-deserved place in humankind’s lexicon of cuisine, medicine, and literature.

Since antiquity, humans have collected honey. The oldest record of honey collection comes from Mesolithic rock paintings in Valencia, Spain. Archeologists found the oldest remains of honey in an ancient tomb in Georgia. The ancient Egyptians used honey in the embalming process.

Wherever honey bees are found, humans enjoy the product of their ceaseless labor: honey. Obtained at peril and coveted by Winnie the Pooh, honey finds it way into recipes featuring every major food group. From breads and cakes to fruits and vegetables to dairy and meat, to the sheer delight of desserts, honey adds flavor, brightness, and sweetness. Mrs. Sara W. Prentiss offers a selection of her favorite honey recipes in Honey—Nature’s Oldest Sweet (1920).

Honey does not spoil. Used as a sweetener in countless ways, eternal honey also serves as a healing agent. The Indian Ayurveda emphasizes honey as helpful to those with weak digestive systems. The Edwin Smith Papyrus, an Egyptian text dating from 2600 to 2200 B.C., contains a receipe of a salve made from honey. Hippocrates prescribed honey mixed with vinegar or water for pain, thirst, and fever, and other ailments. Muslim prophet Mohammed advised using honey to relieve diarrhea and ancient Iranian physician Avicenna recommended honey in the treatment of tuberculosis.

Honey’s antibacterial properties prevent infection. It has been shown to relieve mild coughing and sore throats. Although modern research shows no benefit of honey in treating cancer, there is evidence that it can control or relieve the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy. Anecdotal evidence also indicates local honey may help treat seasonal allergies. 

Author M. L. Heeney describes honey’s utility in Honey and Some of the Ways It May Be Used (1936). In 1861, Albertus Fels translated Pliny the Elder’s treatise on honey and its uses in Plini Naturalis Historia.

Honey carries religious significance, too. Judeo-Christian scripture contains references to lands “flowing with milk and honey” indicate rich, fertile areas in which to settle. It contains references to honey in the Books of Judges, Leviticus, Samuel, and Exodus. Hindus consider honey (madhu) one of the five elixirs of immortality. On Rosh Hashanah, Jews beckon a sweet, new year by eating apple slices dipped in honey. In Buddhist tradition, honey commemorates the festival Madhu Purnima. The Muslim Quran devotes an entire chapter, called Sūrat an-Naḥl, to the honeybee.

Because humankind always seeks something aside from water to drink, the ancients discovered how to turn the miracle of bee spit into an alcoholic beverage: mead. By adding yeast to honey and water and waiting between 28 and 56 days for proper fermentation after which the mead is aged from six to nine months--with or without the addition of spices or herbs--the result is a sweet, golden wine. From Beowulf to J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, mead receives fond mention in classical literature: Icelandic literature has The Story of Burnt Njal; Romanic literature has Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune Telling by Charles Godfrey Leland; Germany has Das Libelungenlied.

To learn more about honey, read Facts About Honey by Frederick W. L. Sladen, Bees and Honey; Or, the Management of an Apiary for Pleasure and Profit by Thomas Gabriel Newman.

By Karen M. Smith

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