Being essentially of floral origin, and a vegetable product endowed with curative properties, Honey may be fairly ranked among Herbal Simples. Indeed, it is the nectar of flowers, partaking closely of their flavors and odors, whilst varying in taste, color, scent, and medicinal attributes, according to the species of the plant from which it is produced.
The name Honey has been derived from a Hebrew word ghoneg, which means literally "delight." Historically, this substance dates from the oldest times of the known world.
We read in the book of Genesis, that the land of Canaan where Abraham dwelt, was flowing with milk and honey; and in the Mosaic law were statutes regulating the ownership of bees.
Among the ancients Honey was used for embalming the dead, and it is still found contained in their preserved coffins.
Aristoeus, a pupil of Chiron, first gathered Honey from the comb, and it was the basis of the seasoning of Apicius: whilst Pythagoras, who lived to be ninety, took latterly only bread and Honey. "Whoever wishes," said an old classic maxim, "to preserve his health, should eat every morning before breakfast young onions with honey."
Tacitus informs us that our German ancestors gave credit for their great strength and their long lives to the Mead, or Honey-beer, on which they regaled themselves. Pliny tells of Rumilius Pollio, who enjoyed marvelous health arid vitality, when over a hundred years old. On being presented to the Emperor Augustus, who enquired what was the secret of his wondrous longevity, Pollio answered, "Interus melle, exterus oleo, the eating of Honey, and anointing with oil."
At the feasts of the gods, described by Ovid, the delicious Honey-cakes were never wanting, these being made of meal, Honey, and oil, whilst corresponding in number to the years of the devout offerer.
Pure Honey contains chemically about seventy per cent. of glucose (analogous to grape sugar) or the crystallizable part which sinks to the bottom of the jar, whilst the other portion above, which is non-crystallizable, is levulose, or fruit sugar, almost identical with the brown syrup of the sugar cane, but less easy of digestion. Hence, the proverb has arisen "of oil the top, of wine the middle, of Honey the bottom."
The odor of Honey is due to a volatile oil associated with a yellow coloring matter melichroin, which is separated by the floral nectarines, and becomes bleached on exposure to the sunlight. A minute quantity of an animal acid lends additional curative value for sore throat, and some other ailments.
Honey has certain claims as a food which cane sugar does not possess. It is a heat former, and a producer of vital energy, both in the human subject, and in the industrious little insect which collects the luscious fodder. Moreover, it is all ready for absorption straightway into the blood after being eaten, whereas cane sugar must be first masticated with the saliva, or spittle, and converted somewhat slowly into honey sugar before it can be utilised for the wants of the
body. In this way the superiority of Honey over cane sugar is manifested, and it may be readily understood why grapes, the equivalent of Honey in the matter of their sugar, have an immediate effect in relieving fatigue by straightway contributing power and caloric.
Aged persons who are toothless may be supported almost exclusively on sugar. The great Duke of Beaufort, whose teeth were white and sound at seventy, whilst his general health was likewise excellent, had for forty years before his death a pound of sugar daily in his wine, chocolate, and sweetmeats. A relish for sugar lessens the inclination for alcohol, and seldom accompanies the love of strong drink.
With young children, cane sugar is apt to form acids in the stomach, chiefly acetic, by a process of fermentation which causes pain, and flatulence, so that milk sugar should be given instead to those of tender years who are delicate, as this produces only lactic acid, which is the main constituent of digestive gastric juice.
When examined under a microscope Honey exhibits in addition to its crystals (representing glucose, or grape sugar), pollen-granules of various forms, often so perfect that they may be referred to the particular plants from which the nectar has been gathered.
As good Honey contains sugar in a form suitable for such quick assimilation, it should be taken generally in some combination less easily absorbed, otherwise the digestion may be upset by too speedy a glut of heat production, and of energy. Therefore the bread and Honey of time-honored memory is a sound form of sustenance, as likewise, the proverbial milk and Honey of the Old Testament. This may be prepared by taking a bowl of new milk, and breaking into it some light wheaten
bread, together with some fresh white Honeycomb. The mixture will be found both pleasant and easy of digestion.
Our forefathers concocted from Honey boiled with water and exposed to the sun (after adding chopped raisins, lemon peel, and other matters) a famous fermented drink, called mead, and this was termed metheglin (methu, wine, and aglaion, splendid) when the finer Honey was used, and certain herbs were added so as to confer special flavors.
"Who drank very hard the whole night through Cups of strong mead, made from honey when new, Metheglin they called it, a mighty strong brew, Their whistles to wet for the morrow."
Likewise, the old Teutons prepared a Honey wine, (hydromel), and made it the practice to drink this for the first thirty days after marriage; from which custom has been derived the familiar Honeymoon, or the month after a wedding.
Queen Elizabeth was particularly fond of mead, and had it made every year according to a special recipe of her own, which included the leaves of sweet briar, with rosemary, cloves, and mace.
Honey derived from cruciferous plants, such as rape, ladies' smock, and the wallflower, crystallizes quickly, often, indeed, within the comb before it is removed from the hive; whilst Honey from labiate plants, and from fruit trees in general, remains unchanged for several months after being extracted from the comb.
As a heat producer, if taken by way of food, one pound of Honey is equal to two pounds of butter; and when cod liver oil is indicated, but cannot be tolerated by the patient, Honey may sometimes be most beneficially substituted.
In former times it was employed largely as a medicine, and applied externally for the healing of wounds. When mixed with flour, and spread on linen, or leather, it has long been a simple remedy for bringing boils to maturity. In coughs and colds it makes a serviceable adjunct to expectorant medicines, whilst acting at the same time as sufficiently laxative. For sore throats it may be used in gargles with remarkable benefit; and when mixed with vinegar it forms the
old-fashioned oxymel, always popular against colds of the chest and throat.
"Honeywater" distilled from Honey, incorporated with sand, is an excellent wash for promoting the growth of the hair, either by itself, or when mixed with spirit of rosemary. Rose Honey (rhodomel) made from the expressed juice of rose petals with Honey, was formerly held in high esteem for the sick.
Bee propolis, or the glutinous resin manufactured by bees for fixing the foundations of their combs, will afford relief to the asthmatic by its fumes when burnt. It consists largely of resin, and yields benzoic acid.
Basilicon, kingly ointment, or resin ointment, is composed of bees wax, olive oil, resin, Burgundy pitch, and turpentine. This is said to be identical with the famous "Holloway's Ointment," and is highly useful when the stimulation of indolent sores is desired.
A medicinal tincture of superlative worth is prepared by Homoeopathic practitioners from the sting of the Honey bee. This makes a most valuable and approved medicine for obviating erysipelas, especially of the head and face; likewise, for a puffy sore throat with much swelling about the tonsils; also for dropsy of the limbs which has followed a chill, or is connected with passive inactivity of the kidneys. Ten drops of the diluted tincture, first decimal strength, should be
given three or four times in the day, with a tablespoonful of cold water. This remedy is known as the tincture of Apis mellifica. For making it the bees are seized when emerging from the hive, and they thus become irritated, being ready to sting. They are put to death with a few drops of chloroform, and then have their Honey-bags severed. These are bruised in a mortar with glycerin, and bottled in spirit of wine, shaking them for several days, and lastly filtering the
Boiling water poured on bees (workers) when newly killed makes bee-tea, which may be taken to relieve strangury, and a difficult passage of urine, as likewise for dropsy of the heart and kidneys. Also of such bees when dried and powdered, thirty grains will act as a dose to promote a free flow of the urine.
Honey, especially if old, will cause indigestion when eaten by some persons, through an excessive production of lactic acid in the stomach; and a superficial ulceration of the mouth and tongue, resembling thrush, will ensue; it being at the same time a known popular fact, that Honey by itself, or when mixed with powdered borax (which is alkaline) will speedily cure a similar sore state within the mouth arising through deranged health.
As long ago as when Soranus lived, the contemporary of Galen (160 A.D.) Honey was declared to be "an easy remedy for the thrush of children," but he gravely attributed its virtues in this respect to the circumstance that bees collected the Honey from flowers growing over the tomb of Hippocrates, in the vale of Tempe.
The sting venom of bees has been found helpful for relieving rheumatic gout in the hands, and elsewhere through toxicating the tender and swollen limbs by means of lively bees placed over the parts in an inverted tumbler, and then irritating the insects so as to make them sting. A custom prevails in Malta of inoculation by frequent bee stinging, so as to impart at length a protective immunity against rheumatism, this being confirmatory of the fact known to beekeepers
elsewhere, that after exposure to attacks from bees, often repeated throughout a length of time, most persons will acquire a convenient freedom from all future disagreeable effects. An Austrian physician has based on these methods an infallible cure for acute rheumatism.
In Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night", Sir Toby Belch asks to have a "song for sixpence," the third verse of which has been thought to run thus:
"The King was in his counting house Counting out his money, The Queen was in the parlor Eating bread and Honey."
"Mel mandit, panemque, morans regina culin? Dulcia plebei?on comedenda nuru."
A plain cake, currant or seed, made with Honey in place of sugar is a pleasant addition to the tea-table and a capital preventive of constipation.
"All kinds of precious stones cast into Honey become more brilliant thereby," says St. Francis de Sales in "The Devout Life", 1708, "and all persons become more acceptable when they join devotion to their graces."
The Primitive Simplers presented here show the way of life in other generations, it is not suggested or recommended trying them yourself.
History of Herbs
Herbs for Beginners
Drying & Preserving Herbs
Indoor Herb Gardening
Hints & Tips
Oil and Vinegar
Share your Recipes with others!!