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Honey can be found in its standard amber state but may also be red, brown, and even nearly black. Made by bees in an elegantly natural process, honey is designed for bees' nourishment. Incredibly, each bee makes on average about only 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its entire lifetime. Considering the tons of honey produce each year, that is a lot of bees at work! The honeybee (Latin name Apis) first travels several miles to collect nectar from local flowers into their mouths. Enzymes in the bees' saliva then create a chemical reaction that turns this nectar into honey, which is deposited into the walls of the hive. Incredibly rapid movement of the bees’ wings aerates the honey, which decreases its water content and makes it ready to eat. Textures and flavor are dependent on which flowers the honeybees choose. Typical choices include heather, alfalfa, clover, and the acacia flower. Less common but well-known flowers that confer their own special taste characteristics to the honey include thyme and lavender.
In addition to honey, bees produce bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly. These products concentrate many phytochemicals with powerful health-promoting activity. Yet, for the most part, these foods have been under-appreciated and underutilized in North America.
Bee pollen comes from the male germ cell of flowering plants. As the honeybee travels from flower to flower, it fertilizes the female germ cells with some of the male germ cells it picks up. Honeybees make possible the reproduction for more than 80% of the world's grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. The remaining male pollen is collected and brought to the hive, where the bees add enzymes and nectar to the pollen. Bee pollen is comprised of tiny, golden yellow to dark brown granules that have a delicate flavor and aroma that varies according to the plant pollen it was made from and is used as a nutritive tonic as well as to desensitize seasonal allergies.
Propolis is the resinous substance collected by bees from the leaf buds and barks of trees, especially poplar and conifer trees. The bees utilize the propolis along with beeswax to construct the hive. Propolis has antibiotic activities that help the hive black out viruses, bacteria, and other organisms. Propolis is yellow to brown, waxy, and bitter flavored and is used as an anti-microbial.
Royal jelly is a thick, milky substance produced by worker bees to feed the queen bee. The worker bees mix honey and bee pollen with enzymes in the glands of their throats to produce royal jelly. Royal jelly is believed to be a useful nutritional supplement because of the queen bee's superior size, strength, stamina, and longevity compared to other bees. It is used as a nutritive tonic.
Referred to in ancient Sumerian, Vedic, Egyptian, and biblical writings, honey has been employed since ancient times for both nutrition and healing medicine. For centuries honey has been a multi-purpose food, used to give homage to the gods and to help and embalm the dead, as well as for medical and cosmetic purposes.
Some evidence suggests that despite the risk of bee sting, the collection of honey has occurred since 7000 B.C.E., and since at least 700 B.C.E., beekeeping for the production of honey (apiculture) has been used. To the surprise of the Spanish conquistadors, the natives of Central and South America were already keeping bees for the purpose of collecting honey when they arrived. Honey was considered a food of the rich for many years. More recently, honey has decreased in popularity as refined sugar, which is cheaper and sweeter, has replaced the sweet, viscous liquid in common household all over the world.
Honey is a source of riboflavin and vitamin B6. It also provides iron and manganese. Bee pollen is often referred to as “nature’s most perfect food” because it is a complete protein (typically containing 10 to 35% total protein) in that it contains all eight essential amino acids. Bee pollen also provides B vitamins, vitamin C, carotenes, minerals, DNA and RNA, numerous flavonoid molecules, and plant hormones. Propolis and royal jelly have similar nutritional qualities as pollen but have considerably higher levels of different biologically active compounds.
The health benefits of a particular honey depend on its processing as well as the quality of the flowers the bees utilize when collecting the pollen. Raw honey is honey that has not been pasteurized, clarified, or filtered, and this form typically retains more of the healthful phytochemicals lost to the standard processing of honey. Propolis is a product of tree sap mixed with bee secretions that is used by bees to protect against bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Propolis is unfortunately lost in the honey processing, does greatly reducing the level of phytochemicals known to protect against the germs; recent research suggests that these may also prevent certain types of cancer. Also important, healthy, organic flowering plants will provide the nectar that will confer a higher-quality nutrient profile to the honey produced.
Within the propolis are well-researched phytochemicals that have cancer-preventing and antitumor properties. These substances include caffeic acid, methyl caffeate, phenylethyl, caffeate, and phenylethyl dim ethylcaffeate. Researchers have discovered that these substances in propolis prevent colon cancer in animals by shutting down the activity of two enzymes, phosphatidylinositol- specific phospholipase C and lipoxygenase, that are involved in the production of cancer-causing compounds.
The following sections address of the complete health benefits of honey and its raw form end of bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly.
Antioxidant Effects - Honey, particularly darker honey, such as buckwheat honey, is a richer source of phenolic compounds, such as flavonoids, that exert significant antioxidant activity. A recent human trial showed that daily consumption of honey actually improves blood antioxidant levels and helps prevent lipid peroxidation. Lipid peroxidation, the damaging of lipids (such as cholesterol) by free radicals, is central to the initiation and progression of atherosclerosis. Honey's ability to prevent lipid peroxidation may translate into a protective effect against atherosclerosis, since oxidized cholesterol is a well-known risk factor for this cardiovascular disease.
Energy-Enhancing Effects - Honey is an excellent source of readily available carbohydrate, a chief source of quick energy. In the time of the ancient Olympics, athletes were reported to eat special foods, such as honey and dried figs, to enhance their sports performance. Recently one group of researchers investigated the use of honey as a performance aid in athletes. The study involved a group of 39 weight trained athletes, both male and female. Subjects underwent an intensive weightlifting workout and then immediately consumed a protein supplement blended with sugar multi dextran or honey as the carbohydrate source. The honey group maintain optimal blood sugar levels throughout the two hours following the workout. In addition muscle recuperation and glycogen restoration carbohydrate stored in the muscles was favorable in those individuals consuming the honey protein combination.
Wound-Healing Properties - The wound healing properties of honey maybe it’s most promising medical quality. Honey has been used topically as an antiseptic therapeutic agent for the treatment of ulcers, burns, and wounds for centuries.
One study in India compared the wound healing effects of honey to a conventional treatment (silver sulfadiazene) in 104 first degree burn patients. After one week of treatment, 91% of honey treated burns were infection free compared to only 7% receiving the conventional treatment. At the conclusion of the study, a greater percentage of patients burns were healed more readily in the honey treated group. Another study exam and the wound healing benefits of honey applied topically to patients following cesarean section and hysterectomy surgeries. Compared to the group receiving the standard solution of iodine and alcohol, the honey treated group was infection free in fewer days, healed more cleanly, and had reduced hospital stays.
Several mechanisms have them proposed to explain the wound healing benefits that are observed one honey is applied topically. Because honey is composed mainly of glucose and fructose, two sugars that strongly attract water, honey absorbs water in the wound, drying it out so that the wound growth of bacteria and fungi is inhibited. Secondly, raw honey contains an enzyme called glucose oxidase that, when combined with water, produces hydrogen peroxide, a mild antiseptic.
In addition to the glucose oxidase enzyme found in honey, which may help in the healing process, honey also contains antioxidants and flavonoids that may function as antibacterial agents. One antioxidant in particular pinocembrin, which is unique to honey, is currently being studied for its antibacterial properties. One laboratory study of unpasteurized honey samples indicated the majority of antibacterial action against Staphylococcus aureus, a common bacterium found in our environment that can cause infections, especially in open wounds. Other reports indicate honey is effective at inhibiting Escherichia coli and Candida albicans. Darker honeys, especially honey from buckwheat flowers, sage, and Tupelo, contain a greater amount of antioxidants than other honeys, and raw, unprocessed honey contains the widest variety of health support of substances.
Anticancer Benefits - Propolis contains well researched fatal chemicals that have numerous cancer preventing and antitumor properties. These substances include caffeic acid, methyl caffeate, phenylethyl caffeate, and phenylethyl dimethylcaffeate. Researchers have discovered that these substances prevent colon cancer in animals by shutting down the activity of the enzymes phosphatidylinositol-specific phosphollipase C and Lipoxygenase, that are involved in the production of cancer-causing compounds.
SELECTION & STORAGE
Honey is usually found pasteurized, although more health-conscious consumers can find the wrong version as well. Pasteurized honey is generally translucent; honeys that are creamy are also produced by mixing crystallized honey into the liquid honey mixture. Darker honey is usually of a stronger flavor. Flavors may also depend on the flower nectars from which the honey is produced, so it is fun to try new honey made from various sources to experience the gustatory nuances in this delicious food.
High sugar and acid content helps this liquid remain quite fresh for long periods of time. Honey does easily absorbed moisture from air, and honey stored in an airtight container will keep particularly indefinitely. Since cold promotes viscosity and changes honey's flavor and taste, it is best not to store honey in cold conditions.
Bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly are most often available in the refrigerated sections in health food stores in containers to maintain optimal freshness. These foods should be stored in the refrigerator. The pollen and propolis will keep up for one year and royal jelly will keep up to six months.
TIPS FOR USE
Honey may crystallize, but you can easily remedy this by heating the jar in hot water for 15 to 20 minutes. Honey heated in the microwave might have an altered taste, as its hydroxymethylfurfural content can change through exposure to microwave radiation. Honey can replace sugar, where a half to 3/4 cup of honey is equivalent to 1 cup of sugar. Honey is a bit sweeter, so you can use less. In addition, since honey adds liquid content to your recipe, remember to decrease the liquid by a 1/4 cup for each cup of honey used. Finally, since honey browns well, reducing baking temperature by 25°F to avoid over browning.
Because honey can contain spores of Clostridium botulinum - the causative agent of botulism, an infection in infants - children less than 12 months old should not be fed honey. Due to their more mature digestive track, honey is safe for persons one year of age and older.
Allergic reaction is the most common side effect from the products. If you know you are allergic to honey, bee pollen, or conifer and poplar trees, do not use the products. Allergic reactions can range from very mild, such as mild gastrointestinal upset, to more severe reactions, including asthma, anaphylaxis (shock), intestinal bleeding, and even death in people who are extremely allergic to bee products.
Honey contains small amounts of oxalate. Individuals with a history of calcium oxalate containing kidney stones should limit their consumption of this food.
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