Honey is a sweet food made by bees using nectar from flowers. The variety produced by honey bees (the genus Apis) is the one most commonly referred to and is the type of honey collected by beekeepers and consumed by humans. Honey produced by other bees and insects has distinctly different properties.
Honey bees transform nectar into honey by a process of regurgitation, and store it as a primary food source in wax honey combs inside the beehive. Beekeeping practices encourage overproduction of honey so the excess can be taken from the colony.
Honey gets its sweetness from the monosaccharide’s, fructose and glucose, and , and has approximately the same relative sweetness as that of granulated sugar It has attractive chemical properties for baking, and a distinctive flavor that leads some people to prefer it over sugar and other sweeteners. Most microorganisms do not grow in honey because of its low water activity of 0.6. However, honey sometimes contains dormant endospores of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can be dangerous to infants, as the endospores can transform into toxin-producing bacteria in the infant’s immature intestinal tract, leading to illness and even death
Honey has a long history of human consumption, and is used in various foods and beverages as a sweetener and flavoring. It also has a role in religion and symbolism. Flavors of honey vary based on the nectar source, and various types and grades of honey are available. It is also used in various medicinal traditions to treat ailments. The study of pollens and spores in raw honey (melissopalynology) can determine floral sources of honey because bees carry an electrostatic charge and can attract other particles; the same techniques of melissopalynology can be used in area environmental studies of radioactive particles, dust or particulate pollution.
Honey is produced by bees as a food source. In cold weather or when fresh food sources are scarce, bees use their stored honey as their source of energy. By contriving for bee swarms to nest in artificial hives, people have been able to semi domesticate the insects, and harvest excess honey. In the hive (or in a wild nest), there are three types of bees in a hive:
- a single female queen bee
- a seasonally variable number of male drone bees to fertilize new queens
- some 20,000 to 40,000 female worker bees
The worker bees raise larvae and collect the nectar that will become honey in the hive. Leaving the hive, they collect sugar-rich flower nectar and return.
In the hive, the bees use their “honey stomachs” to ingest and regurgitate the nectar a number of times until it is partially digested. The bees work together as a group with the regurgitation and digestion until the product reaches a desired quality. It is then stored in honey comb cells. After the final regurgitation, the honeycomb is left unsealed. However, the nectar is still high in both water content and natural yeasts, which, unchecked, would cause the sugars in the nectar to ferment The process continues as bees inside the hive fan their wings, creating a strong draft across the honeycomb, which enhances evaporation of much of the water from the nectar. This reduction in water content raises the sugar concentration and prevents fermentation. Ripe honey, as removed from the hive by a bee keeper, has a long shelf life, and will not ferment if properly sealed.
Honey in wound healing:
Honey is one of the oldest know medicines that has continued to be used up to present times in foil-medicine. Its use has been “rediscovered” in later times by the medical profession, especially for dressing wounds. The numerous reports of the effectiveness of honey in wound management, including reports of several randomized controlled trials, have recently been reviewed, rapid clearance of infection from the treated wounds being a commonly recorded observation.
In almost all of these reports honey is referred to generically be found in natural products. Yet the ancient physicians were aware of differences in the therapeutic value of the honeys available to them: Aristotle (384-322 BC), discussing differences in honeys, referred to pale honey being “good as a salve for sore eyes and wounds”; and Dioscorides (c.50 Ad) stated that a pale yellow honey from Attica was the best, being “good for all rotten and hollow ulcers”.
Any honey can be expected to suppress infection in wounds because of its high sugar content, but dressings of sugar on a wound have to be changed more frequently than honey dressings do to maintain an osmolarity that is inhibitory to bacteria, as honey has additional antibacterial components. Since microbiological studies have shown more than one hundred-fold differences in the potency of the antibacterial activity of various honeys, best results would be expected if a honey with a high level of antibacterial activity were used in the management of infected wounds.
Other therapeutic properties of honey besides its antibacterial activity are also likely to vary. An anti-inflammatory action and a stimulatory effect on angiogenesis and on the growth of granulation tissue and a stimulatory effect on angiogenesis and on the growth of granulating tissue and epithelial cells have been observed clinically and in histological studies. The components responsible for these effects have not been identified, but the anti-inflammatory action may be due to antioxidants, the level of which varies in honey. The stimulation of tissue growth may be a tropic effect, as nitrification of wounds knows n to hasten the healing process: the level of the wide range of micro nutrients that occur in honey also varies.
The antibacterial activity of honey is due primarily to hydrogen peroxide generated by the action of an enzyme that the bees add to the nectar, but there are some floral sources that provide additional antibacterial components. The body tissues and serum contain an enzyme, catalase that breaks down hydrogen peroxide – how much of the honey antibacterial activity is lost through this is now known. The antibacterial components that come from the nectar are not broken down by this enzyme. Until comparative clinical trials are carried out to determine which type of antibacterial activity is the more effective, it may be best to use manuka honey, as this contains hydrogen peroxide activity as well as the component that comes from the nectar.