Bee Healthy: The Sweet Goodness of Honey

By Sarah J. Schmidt

The Greeks and Romans knew something about the health benefits of honey that modern day scientists are just discovering: it actually works! That sticky sweet nectar from the humble honey bee may do more than just satisfy our sweet tooth. Recent studies show that honey has healing properties that help stave off disease, relieve gastrointestinal issues like acid reflux, and even treat some bacterial infections.

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The exact composition of honey varies, depending on the flora and fauna of the area where it is produced, but typical honey contains mostly water and natural sugars like fructose. Locked inside its sticky molecules are small deposits of minerals and proteins. At least one of those proteins, an antimicrobial peptide called Defensin alpha-1, has been shown to kill bacteria and aid in the treatment of chronic wound infections. Another study conducted in Africa concluded that honey was more effective than antibiotics in the treatment of gastrointestinal conditions like rotavirus, especially in children, lessening recovery time by almost two days.

Although there is no scientific evidence to support the claim, many allergy sufferers also swear by honey, claiming it works like a vaccine by helping build up an immunity to allergens. Skeptical myself, I tried a spoonful of locally produced honey in my coffee every morning starting last January. When the spring allergy season rolled around this year, my symptoms were almost non-existent! That is, by no means, hard scientific data, but it’s enough to keep me on the honey routine in hopes of warding off the ragweed and mold allergies that plague me every autumn. And at only 64 calories per tablespoon, honey easily fits into any diet (in moderation, of course).

Want to try it for yourself? Find local honey at farmer’s markets or roadside stands in your community or at one of these thriving Alabama honeybee farms:

Beeginnings

LEAN_Honey.Beeginnings1-450This family-owned, honey production company maintains bee hives throughout Coffee County with a home office in New Brockton, Ala. In business for over 20 years, owner Gerry Whitaker describes his honey as “raw, unfiltered and unheated—not pasteurized—and therefore, full of the most health benefits honey can offer.” Beeginnings sells honey online and in several Enterprise, Ala., stores including Enterprise Health Food, Living Tree and H&H Equipment. The online store also features a honey-based peppermint foot cream and body scrub that they only make on a monthly basis, Whitaker says, because the all-natural ingredients have a very short shelf life.

Hewett’s Honey Farm

LEAN_Honey.Hewetts1-450Located in Duncanville, only 15 minutes south of Tuscaloosa, Hewett’s specializes in organic honey. Bill Hewett and son, Geary took up beekeeping as a hobby in the 1970s then started selling honey in the 1990s as a way to fund their pastime. “People are much more interested in organic honey now than when we started the business because there’s a greater effort to eat all-natural now,” Geary said. Hewett’s sells honey at the farm and through the Manna Grocery & Deli in Tuscaloosa. They also run a busy mail order service online, frequently shipping to customers in Japan because a shortage of honey bees there makes organic honey hard to find. In addition, Hewett’s offers a yummy honey soap, made with ground almond shells that work great as an exfoliator.

Rohe Bee Ranch

LEAN_Honey.RoheBee1-450Owner,Dale Rohe has been in business since 2001, and besides beekeeping, he also provides swarm removal as a community service in Madison County and north Alabama. He gets frequent calls every spring as panicked homeowners find bee swarms on their property. “By all means don’t fumigate or try to remove them yourself,” he advised, “call your local beekeepers association.” Because honey bees are under increasing environmental stress, beekeepers and scientists are taking extra steps these days for preservation and are happy to come remove a swarm, he explains. Along with honey, he and his wife make beeswax lip balm, candles and several varieties of hand and loofah soaps. Their secret ingredient: propolis, a sticky substance with antibacterial properties that bees produce to clean the hive.

More Buzz: Check out this WatchLEAN video about some “backyard beekeepers” in Montgomery, Ala.