Australians love their honey, and so we should – we process some of the best and purest honey in the world, with the most variety of colours and flavours. We also have no need to treat our hives with sprays that stop disease, as is common in developing countries. It might surprise us to learn, then, that bees were not here before the arrival of the First Fleet. They were bought to the sunburnt country in the early 1820s, and adapted so well that other species were immediately sought. The colonists once again had the comforts of home.
Honey is not a modern product. In fact, we’ve loved the sweet nectar at least since humans began recording history. The origins of man’s appreciation of natural honey can be traced back to the First Dynasty of ancient Egypt – sometime close to 3100 BCE. Bees were associated with Gods and Kings. Old Testament writings describe Israel as “the land of milk and honey”, with local hives being dated back to the time of King Solomon. What we buy from our supermarket shelves today will be very close to the taste our ancient ancestors so loved.
What is processed honey?
Most of us have had a jar of honey in the back of the pantry that has crystallised or hardened over time. The process of filtration and pasteurisation lengthens the shelf life and reduced crystallisation by presenting a more liquid product. The processing of raw honey removes microscopic particles like some pollen, air bubbles and environmental particles through a filtration process, before being gently heated to reduce the number of bacteria known as clostridium. This is a mostly harmless bacterium, but can cause toxic effects in babies and people whose immune system is compromised.
FACT: Many Westerners are used to this runnier and thinner honey, and this makes it more suitable for convenient squeeze bottles.
COST: From around $5.00 per 500 grams to around twice this for premium brands.
What is raw honey?
Raw honey may be gently filtered and even pasteurised, but it’s the closest you’ll get to the beehive honey in its natural state. It is thicker, creamier, mostly unsuitable for supermarket squeeze bottles, and preferred by Europeans. It may contain more calcium, potassium and iron than its filtered counterpart, but otherwise provides the same amount of fructose and glucose. A single tablespoon of honey is 64 calories, which might not seem like much, but can quickly add up.
FACT: You can buy raw honey still in the wax structure we call honeycomb. It’s perhaps the only time you’ll want to eat wax.
COST: From around $7.50 per 500 grams to over $60 per 500 grams. Manuka honey is the most expensive on the market.
What are the health claims?
Honey is nature’s natural wound healer, and has been for centuries. While many people use raw honey as a topical healer, is the filtered variety that is most suitable for battling superficial infections and aiding open wounds due to its reduced level of microscopic particles. Medical scientists recommend against treating your own wounds with honey, particularly raw honey, because clinical-grade honey is more purified that what you can buy on the shelves. It’s also worth visiting your GP if you have a nasty or slow-healing wound.
Filtered and unfiltered Manuka honey from New Zealand has been scientifically tested for its medicinal properties, with extremely good results. All honey exhibits antimicrobial activity that reduces infection and promotes healing, but the way it works it not well understood.
When honey is used clinically today we see:
- Healing rates improved compared with conventional treatment of wounds
- Reduced bacterial loads assisting with infection
- Improved tissue quality, with less damaged tissue and more healthy tissue present
- Less swelling around a wound
- Maintained sterility in uninfected wounds
- Greater rates of healing with superficial burns compared with conventional treatment
- Even improved antibiotic treatment of superbugs that are usually treatment-resistant
How about just eating it?
Sadly, none of these benefits are observed through simply eating honey, though it is an excellent source of energy. The main benefit of consuming honey, both raw and processed, is the satisfaction as it rolls over your taste buds and down your throat. But there is one proven health benefit of consuming honey, and that’s for a sore throat and a persistent cough. As the first twinge of discomfort, try pouring a good tablespoon down your throat and let it slide. You can also dilute it in warm water and sip it slowly.
Sore throats, open wounds and delicious, sweet nectar for your cooking, your morning toast, cereal or on your dessert – what a diverse, wonderful substance of nature! Bee’s wax is also an extremely useful product, and you mightn’t be aware at how diverse it really is.
Here are just some of the ways in which bee’s wax is used:
- In cosmetics, skincare and pharmaceuticals
- As a longer-burner candle wax than conventional wax
- During bone surgery to control bleeding
- In shoe and furniture polish
- As a binding product to stick surfaces together
- For certain types of printing and writing
- To coat cheese and protect it from spoilage
If you love bees, and want to give them a helping hand…
If you love your bees and their amazing ability to turn nectar into a magnificent feat of engineering, you can encourage them into your garden by planting a variety of flowering plants and vegetables, including bushes, succulents and herbs. This fact sheet will help you select the varieties. In the meantime, why not turn yourself into a honey connoisseur by exploring different regions, varieties and colours? Whether it’s raw or processed is a matter of personal taste, so why not try your hand at both? What a sweet idea!