I think the first time I ever encountered raw honey was in France. But I didn’t know it was raw, and I didn’t know there was a difference between regular honey and raw honey.
It was in the kitchen of the parents of the woman whose children I was there to nanny. In a wisp of a town on the coast of Brittany. And there was always a little pot of honey on the counter in the kitchen. A soft, solid-ish, creamy, golden kind of honey. I had never seen semi-solid honey before. But I would put a teaspoon in my afternoon cups of herbal tea and it tasted like heaven. Nothing like the regular liquid honey you typically see in stores.
So what is raw honey, anyway? Raw honey is unpasteurized; “regular” honey has been heated, a process which also depletes the honey of most of its healthful properties. Raw honey will cost a tiny amount more than regular honey, but it is worth it, I promise. Also, if you can find it locally produced, of course buy that. Raw honey will often come in a solid or semi-solid form and can range in color and taste, depending on the type or types of flowers the bees have been visiting, the season, etc.
Health Benefits of Raw Honey (these benefits do not apply to regular honey– look for a label that says Raw)
* Contains propolis, which is a substance the bees produce to keep bacteria and viruses out of their hive. The propolis contains a number of healthful enzymes that are destroyed when honey is heated (i.e., regular grocery honey– or even raw honey is heated above about 118 degrees f.). And people, I do not know what enzymes are, I’m just going to be honest with you. But they’re important. (Some theorize that the body’s appearance of aging is connected with the depletion of enzymes, and raw honey is one of the few foods that can be ingested to get a surplus of amalase, an important enzyme.)
* Contains healthy bacteria (such as are found in yogurt and fermented foods)
* Full of powerful anti-oxidants, including the flavanoid pinocembrin, which is unique to honey
* Can be used topically as a moisturizing and acne-fighting mask, which is great, if you are approaching 30 and are trying to somehow battle aging skin and blemishes at the same time, which is something that I obviously don’t know anything about, but it would really suck I bet.
* Aids digestion
*Heals burns and other skin wounds (obviously please check with a doctor first for serious injuries)
* Helps to keep blood sugar balanced more than white sugar (has a lower Glycemic Index number, which means it’s absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream– but still, if you are watching your weight, be careful because even raw honey will still cause you to gain weight.)
* Thought to help improve symptoms of allergies
* Also reported to slow down hair loss (read here for more)
*A study at Penn State showed that children with upper respiratory illness improved significantly when given raw buckwheat honey (see here)
* Elderberry syrup and raw honey work wonders together for colds and other such sicknesses (I had a terrible sore throat a few weeks ago, the kind that, for me, usually turns into 2 weeks of misery and a couple of visits to the doctor and a round of antibiotics– and I drank somewhat enormous quantities of homemade elderberry syrup with raw honey… and I got better. Fast.)
Be careful not to feed honey to infants under 1 year.
Raw Honey and Heat
Just as regular store-bought honey is rendered less healthy by a heating process, raw honey can be damaged by over-eating as well. In Ayurveda, heated honey (above 118 F) is actually believed to be a poison to the body. I’m not sure why, but I do know that the living enzymes and probiotics in raw honey will be killed at 118 degrees F, so try to keep it warm, rather than hot. (You can test a liquid for temperature with your finger– if you can keep your finger in it for 10 seconds or so without pain, you know it’s cool enough to put the honey in. If it’s hotter than that, the enzymes and probiotics will be destroyed.)
Sources and More Information
Read here for more information on medical studies, the history of honey, etc.
Read here for a list of ailments for which honey can be used as a treatment
A somewhat inscrutable John’s Hopkins article on enzymes and aging
Read here for more information on honey and Ayurveda