We went to a local Christmas market this weekend and, while I was busy buying my own bodyweight in locally-produced Landaise honey, Léo was busy consuming his bodyweight in garbure (a duck and vegetable soup typical of Southwestern France). The quantities of food that Léo consumes and the enthusiasm with which he does so, are becoming acute sources of embarrassment to me — you would honestly think that he wasn’t fed at home. Sometimes, for example, we drop into a local café at about 11am for a cup of coffee and he orders a three-course ‘menu du jour’. I desperately feel the need to justify his appetite and end up woefully tying myself in knots with comments like: ‘I do feed him at home you know! In fact I feed him extremely well!’. On realising that this sounds horribly pretentious, I might add: ‘When I say extremely well, obviously I mean, you know, normally. Well not out-of-a-packet normally, but, errr, very healthily’. Of course I end up sounding like a furiously back-pedalling crazy person who should probably learn when to shut up.
Anyway, back to honey. Honey has been used for its healing properties since biblical times when it was used, amongst other things, to treat diphtheria. Physicians of ancient times, such as Aristotle, Hippocrates and Cornelius made reference to its healing qualities. A recent Russian study showed that beekeepers in Georgia who consumed raw honey and pollen on a regular basis frequently lived to over 100, a few even living as old as 150.
Raw honey is honey that has not been heated, pasteurised or processed in any way. It is alkaline-forming and contains a multitude of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes and powerful antioxidants as well as other natural nutrients. It also contains the enzyme amylase, which aids in the digestion of starch. A piece of toast spread with honey, for example, is more easily digestible than a piece of toast without as the enzymes in the honey ‘predigest’ the starch. (Beware of pasturised honey, which is more or less equivalent to refined sugar.)
Raw honey has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. It promotes general health as well as digestive health and also strengthens the immune system. It helps to control allergies and is an excellent remedy for skin wounds and all types of infections. It can also stabilise blood pressure, balance sugar levels, relieve pain, calm nerves and has been used to treat ulcers. It is an expectorant and has anti-inflammatory properties which means that it is useful in the treatment of respiratory conditions such as bronchitis and asthma.
The different varieties of honey have varying properties as well as quite distinctive aromas. Here are a few:
Acacia, a light and clear honey, is one of the most popular and sweetest honey varieties because of its mild delicate floral taste. Due to its low sucrose content, it is a good choice for diabetics. Acacia cleanses the liver, regulates the intestine, and has an anti-inflammatory action on the respiratory system.
Buckwheat honey is a dark, full-bodied and rich in iron. It contains a higher percentage of antioxidants than other honeys and is perhaps the strongest and darkest of all varieties.
Heather honey is thick, amber in color and has one of the strongest and most pungent flavours. It is fragrant and floral with a very lingering aftertaste that is almost bitter. Prized since ancient times due to its medicinal properties, heather honey is extremely high in protein.
Linden honey is pale yellow in colour with a distinctive yet delicate fresh woody scent. Due to its sedative quality, it is effective in the treatment of insomnia and anxiety. It may also be used to treat colds, coughs and bronchitis.
Pine Tree honey is not overly sweet, has a strong aroma and is rich in minerals and proteins.
Thyme honey’s healing benefits are second to none. It is currently being used in hospitals in France for its infection-fighting, powerful antioxidant properties. A 2009 Greek study found thyme honey to reduce the viability of both endometrial and prostrate cancer cells..
Wildflower honey can vary in colour from very light to dark its flavour ranges from light and fruity to tangy and rich, depending on the mix from the different seasonal wildflowers.
Raw honey should not be given to children under a year old as they lack the stomach acid to de-activate any bacteria.