To the caveman, honey was a magic elixir. Science says they were mostly right.
Ever wonder who the first brave soul was who dared to reach into a beehive and extract a handful of pure, raw honey? Whoever it was, it likely happened 10,000 or more years ago, during the early Stone Age, in Egypt or Spain, even before the arrival of milk and bread. Ancient cave paintings unearthed by archeologists clearly show figures climbing up on ladders to retrieve honey from nests in the rocks. (No record on how many times they were stung.)
Almost immediately, though, the sticky, thick, amber syrup became revered for its many health benefits. To the ancient Egyptians, honey really was the Nectar of the Gods and quickly became a valued commodity. Honey was believed to have numerous healing properties, and it was even used to embalm the dead, sending them sweetly to the great beyond.
Amazingly, the honey that was pulled from that very first hive is remarkably unchanged from the raw honey we offer today – unprocessed, unfiltered, right from the hive to your cupboard. And that means the same health and medicinal benefits of raw honey that the Egyptians recognized thousands of years ago remain active and intact today.
Of course, those Stone Age-era honey lovers didn’t really know why the sweet substance made them feel good, it just did. But today, we know why. Many of the health benefits of raw honey that the cavemen ascribed to magic and mysticism have been verified by science.
But not all honey is alike. A lot of the honey you see on grocery store shelves or in those plastic teddy bear squeeze bottles has been processed, heated, and pasteurized, removing many of its beneficial minerals and enzymes. Some have added sugars and corn syrup. Raw honey is, well, raw, with all the natural health benefits preserved. Basically, the clearer the honey, the more it’s been processed, which is why raw honey is darker, foggier, but better for you.
ANTIOXIDANTS: Raw honey is rich in antioxidants, a nutrient from plants that helps prevent heart disease, inflammation, high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, and other cardiovascular risk factors. They help boost the immune system and promote healing. Some types of honey have more antioxidants than many vegetables, and studies show that honey from buckwheat flowers boost antioxidants even more (and, since buckwheat is not a wheat, it’s vegan). Here’s one recipe to help boost immune health: put one spoonful of raw honey in warm water, a squeeze of lemon, stir, and drink it in the morning before breakfast.
LOWERS CHOLESTEROL: Another risk factor for heart disease is high cholesterol, which can lead to a buildup of fat that clogs your arteries and cause a heart attack or stroke. Studies have shown that good, quality honey reduces total cholesterol levels, especially the “bad” LDL cholesterol, while significantly boosting “good” HDL cholesterol, just what the doctor ordered.
A BETTER COUGH MEDICINE: Who hasn’t put a little honey in their tea to soothe a sore throat or stifle a cough? Research shows that honey works better to reduce coughs than some common cough medicines, especially in children (although it’s not advisable to give honey to infants under a year old due to the risk of bacteria that can multiply in a baby’s immature digestive system and cause serious illness). Honey is a natural, safe cough suppressant without the chemicals or side effects of many over-the-counter medications.
To soothe a sore throat, add a spoonful of raw honey to warm herbal tea or milk, but not too hot. Putting honey in hot tea can destroy its benefits.
ANTIBACTERIAL: For centuries, honey has been used to heal wounds and burns, and it’s still used in some hospitals today for bedsores, skin grafts and ulcers. That’s because honey is a natural antibiotic containing hydrogen peroxide that fights infection and bacteria. With a low water content, honey works to pull moisture away from the infection, causing the bacteria to dehydrate and die. It’s the same reason honey doesn’t spoil (if stored properly). Organisms that would spoil honey can’t survive. Add in turmeric and ginger, two other natural antibiotics, and you’ve turned honey into a superfood.
SKIN AND HAIR: All those antioxidants and antibacterial properties make honey a powerful skin and body lotion to remove dirt and bacteria, clear up acne, and boost collagen production, a key to protecting skin from the ravages of aging. People who make do-it-yourself facemasks of raw honey (especially Manuka honey) swear by the its restorative benefits. One woman who said she washed her face with nothing but raw honey for two weeks called it a “miracle product,” and wrote on the web that her “skin has never been better…Overall, my skin just looks more even-toned, glows, and has actually survived winter, dryness-free.”
DIGESTION: Honey is sometimes used to treat digestive issues such as diarrhea, although the evidence isn’t conclusive. It’s has been proven to be effective as a treatment for Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria, though, a common cause of stomach ulcers. Because it’s a potent prebiotic, honey nourishes the good bacteria that live in the gut, which are crucial not only for digestion but overall health.
How to substitute honey for sugar: It’s easy to substitute honey for sugar and get all the health benefits that make other sweeteners jealous (if sugar could be jealous). Here’s how: Up to one cup of honey can be substituted for sugar in equal amounts. For example, substitute 1/2 cup of honey for 1/2 cup of sugar called for in a recipe. If the recipe calls for more than one cup, use about 2/3-3/4 cup of honey instead because honey is actually sweeter than sugar. You can also try sweetening plain yogurt with a drizzle of raw honey and add your own fruit from the refrigerator instead of the store-bought fruit yogurt that has too much sugar.
Just remember, honey is still similar to sugar with fructose, glucose and high calories, and should be consumed accordingly. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than six teaspoons daily of added sugars (100 calories), and men no more than nine teaspoons daily (150 calories). Those limits include all sources of added sugar in your diet, so use honey in moderation to avoid exceeding the limits.
The cavemen and ancient Egyptians knew best. Raw honey tastes good and is good for you. Call it magic or a miracle or just good science, but the health benefits of raw honey are no myth.