The fossil record tells us honeybees have been around for 150 million years or more. No one knows when we discovered the treasure hidden in their hives, but paintings of beekeepers lining the walls of a cave in Spain prove that we have been practicing the art of beekeeping for at least 7,000 years. Honey is versatile. It has been prized as a sweetener, as medicine, as an offering for the gods, as currency, and as a symbol of love. In Greek mythology, for example, Cupid dips his arrows in honey before aiming them at our hearts.
Honey also shows up in scripture. The Qur’an describes rivers of honey in paradise, and the Old Testament speaks of the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. This golden elixir also appears in the Veda. (The Sanskrit word for honey is madhu.)
According to ayurveda, honey is the nectar of life. Because it is created from the essence of a flower’s sex organs, it has a natural affinity with reproductive tissue. It can also heal sore throats, colds, coughs, ulcers, burns, and wounds. And when ingested with a healing herb (like ashwagandha), honey travels to the deepest tissues, transporting the chemical properties and the subtle energies of medicine to the cellular level.
Ayurveda says that raw honey is medicine, but cooked honey is a slow poison. Why? In its natural form, honey is rich in minerals, vitamins, enzymes, amino acids, and carbohydrates. But heat strips honey of most of its nutritional value and transforms the honey molecules into a non-homogenized glue that adheres to mucous membranes and clogs subtle energy channels. Cooked honey creates cellular toxicity and may lead to immunological dysfunction. It can also clog the arteries and lead to atherosclerosis (thickening of the arteries), hampering blood flow to the vital organs. So as a general rule, honey should never be cooked, and nothing should be cooked with honey. Instead, add raw honey to yogurt, warm tea, or spread it on bread or toast.
These days, most honey sold commercially has been heated and should be avoided. Look for the words “raw” or “unpasteurized” on honey at a health-food store or online at places like the Ayurvedic Institute (www.ayurveda.com) or www.eBeeHoney.com. But the purest form of honey is local and raw because it helps prevent (or calm) seasonal allergies and is full of prana (vital energy). As summer approaches, check your local farmers’ market, and if you live in the country, keep an eye out for roadside honey stands.
Honey, Help Me!
Ayurvedic texts are full of honey-based remedies for a wide range of ailments.
For obesity, high blood pressure, and/or high cholesterol, drink a cup of hot water with a teaspoon of honey and 5 to 10 drops of apple cider vinegar early in the morning daily. (Ayurvedic texts say honey scrapes fat and cholesterol from the body’s tissues.)
To relieve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, take 1 teaspoon of honey with 200 mg powdered guggulu daily.
To heal oral ulcers, apply 1 teaspoon honey and a pinch of turmeric to canker sores, mouth ulcers, or sores on the tongue. This mixture will generate saliva and draw out toxins; spit it out to speed the healing process. For internal ulcers, mix a cup of warm milk with a teaspoon of honey twice daily.
To heal a wound, dress it daily with sterilized gauze brushed with honey; dispose at night.
For the common cold, mix 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon with 1 teaspoon honey and eat two or three times a day.
To clear your sinuses, take a mixture of 1 teaspoon each of fresh ginger juice and honey two or three times a day.
For asthma, eat a mixture made of 1/2 teaspoon bay leaf powder, 1/4 teaspoon pippali, and 1 teaspoon of honey two or three times daily.
For nausea, vomiting, and/or indigestion, mix one part lemon juice with one part honey. Dip your index finger into this mixture and lick it slowly twice daily.
For anxiety, drink 1 cup of orange juice with 1 teaspoon of honey and a pinch of nutmeg powder twice daily.
To help reduce the craving for cigarettes, chew small pieces of pineapple with 1/2 teaspoon of honey before smoking.
For abdominal pain, take a mixture of 1/4 teaspoon ground bay leaf, 1/4 teaspoon ajwan (celery seeds), and 1 teaspoon of honey before lunch and dinner daily.
For chronic fever, make a tea of 1 teaspoon of holy basil (tulsi) and 1 cup of hot water. Add 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper powder and 1 teaspoon of honey. Take two or three times a day.
To aid poor circulation, mix 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon trikatu, and 1 teaspoon honey in 1 cup of hot water. Steep for 10 minutes. Take twice a day.
To stop hiccups, mix 1 teaspoon honey and 1 teaspoon castor oil in a container. Dip your index finger into the mixture and lick it. Repeat every 10 minutes until your hiccups stop. (Hiccups are due to spasm of the diaphragm, and these ingredients in equal proportion are anti-spasmodic.)
Did you know?
To make one pound of honey, a swarm of honeybees flies about 24,000 miles and visits 3 to 9 million flowers.
Because its qualities are heating and sweet, honey is good for kapha and vata, and in moderation with pitta.
Raw honey is not recommended for infants under the age of 18 months, the very elderly, or others with compromised immune systems.
Vasant Lad, BAMS, MASc, is a world-renowned ayurvedic physician and author. He is the founder of the Ayurvedic Institute (www.ayurveda.com) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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