Allah’s Medicine Chest: Honey
By Hwaa Irfan
The bee, its product, and the lessons one can learn are appreciated so much in the Qur’an that a whole chapter (An-Nahl) is dedicated to the work of the honeybee. Just think, such a small creature contributes to the global food supply through pollination and a gain through its supply of honey as a food, and as a medicine.
We may react with fear in the presence of a bee like so many aspects of our diverse world without appreciating the good along with the sting, which is only active in the presence of danger. No fun for those with those with sting allergies, but maybe we appreciate the bee more with reports that the global bee population is on a decline. As fruits are only pollinated by the honeybee that does not farewell for our global food supply as well as the 300 tons of honey for commercial use annually.
There are in fact 4 species of honey bees:
- Little Honeybee, Apis florae – native to southeast Asia
- Eastern Honeybee, Apis cerana – native to eastern Asia as far north as Korea and Japan
- Giant Honeybee, Apis dorsata – native to southeast Asia
- ‘Western Honeybee’ Apis mellifera – native to Africa, Europe, and western Asia
Taking care of all the continents, unlike other bees, refines the nectar it extracts from flowers to make the honey we all love. Known as ‘asal abyad (Arabic), miel blanc (French), honig (German), they make enough honey to provide for their food supply throughout the winter when they are still busy while most of nature is taking time out.
These very social creatures that know the true meaning of structured teamwork are brightly coloured to warn off honey thieves along with an egg laying tube that holds venom and is used when their domain, is threatened. Male honeybees do not have stingers.
The hexagonal honeycomb made of beeswax is produced by the worker bees when they are only 12 – 15 days old. The population uses it as a nursery for the young as well as a warehouse for their honey and pollen. Totally practical, the honeycomb is made up of two-sided precision made cells where the Queen bee lays her eggs.
Because of the different sources of nectar, the colour, and flavor of honey varies.
Known as purified honey, it is prepared by melting honey at a moderate temperature, skimming off any impurities, and diluting with water.
Unfortunately, one really needs to know one’s honey and not trust the brand name as fake/heavily diluted honey is not uncommon. The honey one could be buying could be a mixture of sugar water, malt sweeteners, or corn/rice syrup. In the U.S. 75% of honey is heavily diluted/processed, and contain little or no medicinal/nutritional properties at all! The Food Safety News reports:
- 76 percent of honey samples bought at grocery stores (such as TOP Food, Safeway, QFC, Kroger, Harris Teeter, etc.) were absent of pollen
- 77 percent of the honey from big box stores (like Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, and Target) were absent of pollen
- 100 percent of the honey sampled from drug stores (like Walgreens, Rite-Aid, and CVS Pharmacy) were absent of pollen
In other words, it is not honey!
We are told in the Qur’an:
“And your Lord inspired the bee, saying: “Take you habitations in the mountains and in the trees and in what they erect.” Then, eat of all fruits, and follow the ways of your Lord made easy (for you).” There comes forth from their bellies, a drink of varying colour wherein is healing for men. Verily, in this is indeed a sign for people who think.” (An-Nahl 16:68-69)
Mildly acidic, due to the various sources of nectar that honeybees process into honey, the phytochemical composition can vary. Honey contains over 181 different phytochemicals, and they include:
- Butanoic formic acid
- Caffeic acid
- Citric acid
- Gluconic acid
- Lactic acid
- Malic acid
- Methyl caffeate
- Phenylethyl caffeate
- Phenylethyl dimethylcaffeate
- Pyroglutamic acid
Antibacterial – this is well documented in traditional, folk, and modern medicine. Honey contains Abaecin and Apidaecins, which are antibacterial along with royalisin. However, much is lost in commercial honey that has been subject to prolonged exposure to heat, and sunlight. The honey with strong antibacterial properties includes Honeydew honey, which is from the nectar of the conifers of mountainous regions of central Europe, as well as Manuka honey or Leptospermum scoparium from New Zealand.
Manuka honey has been found to be affective against bacterium:
- Staphylococcus aureus and epidermis
- Streptococcus pyogenes
The commercially available Manuka honey is the only commercially available honey that contains antibacterial properties. It is the product of bees that extract nectar from the flowers of the Manuka bush indigenous to New Zealand.
In New Zealand, chronic, and acutely infected wounds have been treated successfully with honey where conventional treatments failed accept where the arteries were compromised. Research carried out at the Waikato University varicose ulcers healed with 3 months without the use of systemic antibiotics. They found honey has a cleansing and deodorizing affect on malignant wounds, and is affective within 24 hours. Honey proved to be more effective than the drug phenytoin in cases of chronic leg ulcers, and more effective than povidone-iodine with 70% ethanol washes for postoperative wound infections. The honey used was Manuka honey!
Caffeic acid methyl caffeate, phenylethyl caffeate, and phenylethyl dimethylcaffeate has been found to prevent colon cancer, but these properties are lost in commercial honey, i.e. honey subject to prolonged heat.
Antiseptic – this is well documented in traditional, folk, and modern medicine.
Ulcers – this is well documented in traditional, folk, and modern medicine. From 1984 – 2001 25 modern scientific papers document and confirm honey as an effective topical treatment of ulcers, wounds, and skin graft preservation.
Depending on the type of honey, nutritional properties includes :
- Pantothenic acid
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol)
- Vitamin K
Choline is similar to the B-vitamins, a small percentage of which is produced by the human body. Choline supports the cell membranes, the neural transmitter acetylcholine connected to the muscles, prevents build up of homocysteine, reduces chronic inflammations, and helps to maintain a healthy liver.
Vitamin A is full of beta carotene, which supports the lungs and the eyes by maintaining healthy mucous membranes.
Vitamin K promotes bone formation and prevents nerve damage in the brain.
Zinc plays an important role, synthesizing certain processes in the body like that of carbohydrates, and proteins for instance. Zinc also metabolizes certain micronutrients, and stabilizes certain structures of cells.
Pure unfiltered honey has the ability to:
- Prevent tooth decay
- Promote friendly gut bacteria
- Balances homocysteine levels (high levels lead to cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis)
- Calm allergies
- Calm coughs
Pure unfiltered honey has:
- Amino acids
Pure unfiltered honey is:
- Good for the skin
- Good for the heart
Honey contaminated with Clostridium botulinum the cause botulism is not suitable for infants. Clostridium botulinum comes from the soil in which the plant grows. Honey that is from the nectar of poisonous plants like mountain laurel, jimson weed, azalea, and rhododendron should be avoided.
In New Zealand, honey is used as a standard treatment for leg ulcers by community nurses.
In the Niger Delta, Nigeria, honey mixed with onion juice has been used for upper respiratory infections, problems of the liver, and stomach ulcers; used as a carminative when mixed with Benin pepper, and mixed with the powder of black/white pepper to treat dyspepsia, debility, diarrhoea, cholera, piles and urinary tract problems.
Chew the honeycomb or propolis (the plant resin) as an antihistamine, and as immune system booster.
In balance He gave us everything we needed, but as for what we want!
Molan, P.C., and Betts, J.C. “Clinical usage of honey as a wound dressing: an update.” Journal of Wound Care Vol 13, No 9, October 2004