First, we must talk about buying honey. If you have access to an honest beekeeper, then your first choice is to get blocks of honey comb straight out the hive. If your beekeeper really is honest, you may trust the clean honey he spins off the combs he harvests from his own bees. If the beekeeper in question is a commercial-sized operation, they may offer honey in a variety of forms, including crystallised honey, creamed honey, combs precisely cut and the waxy block floats in a jar of liquid honey. All acceptable, as honey goes, but for medicinal use, we like to define the qualities of honey a bit better.

Colour of honey varies wildly, which can sometimes be interesting, even pretty attractive, but of no importance.

Taste is influenced by the food sources available to the colony. This may range from sugar water to exotic blooms. Other than obvious enjoyment, taste has no relation to quality.

Consistency of honey should always be of firm syrup at cool room temperature, it may contain more or less water, different sugars from different flowers... Because of the many variations in conditions, consistency is of little use in qualifying honey, but it should not be watery.

Odour of honey is almost totally dependend on the food source, but the intensity of the flavour may be important for table use, as this survives careful processing well, but for medicinal use, it serves no immediate purpose.

Throat-burn is a sign of quality. That is the only real trick we know at Greenpets: if you put a drop of honey on the tip of your tongue, your throat should burn. The best honeys are totally inedible, as they burn so much right at the back of the throat where nothing can scratch and everything scratches. This is from a medicinal viewpoint, of course, for breakfast Eucalyptus honey will do juuust fine.

None of the above is advertised, though, so let us read the labels on commercial honey products.

Pure Honey:

The definition of ‘pure’ is open to interpretation. For the purposes of selecting honey, this word means nothing. For something to be pure, I have to add nothing. I may, however, remove whatever I want, I may change the very character of the substance, but as long as I add nothing, I can call it ‘pure’. I can take a bag of poop and bake it into cookies, and those will be pure cookies. I can also take a bag of sugar, feed it to a sickly colony of bees, harvest the resulting watery and tasteless paste that looks just like honey, and bottle it as pure honey. Yes, it is honey, and you added nothing, but as honey goes, this is a commonly perpetrated hoax resulting in supermarket shelves full of sugary goo that sells for the same price as real honey. Purity as a descriptive term means nothing, which is why it usually includes one of the following phrases:

Raw honey:

Honey is, for most purposes, sterile, or at least extremely hygienic and germ free. There are, however, cases of people finding ill health in contaminated honey. As with all other problems modern man encounters, we had two choices; throw money at the problem, or legislate against any honest solution. The honest solution would include little things, like not poisoning the world’s bees in to extinction, but too many bees would probably damage the market in environmentally derived sugar-based substance derivatives, so let’s limit the resources to keep the price high? That was not so much cynical and sarcastic as desperately sad and pleading for an end to the poison culture we live in. To solve the problem of three people dying of contaminated honey every century-and-a-half, we pasteurise it. With all due regard for Mister Pasteur, and thank you for your contribution to science, but you cannot just cook the hell out of everything and then call it cleansed. Honey is not a mixture of sugar, water and flavonoids. Honey is a living substance; it is the painstakingly collected and hermetically sealed humours excreted by bees of a certain age and social status. When you heat living tissue to above fever temperature, it dies. Raw honey lives, pasteurised honey is a mixture of water, sugars and flavonoids. Guess which one has value as medicine?

Irradiated honey:

A severe form of pasteurisation. Honey imported across any border, is subject to laws put in place to protect the health of our national bee population. Raw honey may carry pathogens local bees are not immune to, and entire subcontinents have seen their bee colonies falter due to diseases accidentally imported from far away. Imported honey should always be cooked, and we do not care about the damage done to the honey. If you really think your imported confection is better than the scum our depraved bees kotch up, then so be it, but we must prevent you from spreading a disastrous epidemic across our nation. As medicine, this honey is truly worthless, but the status of eating imported produce satisfies most consumers. The need to import something we produce in excess has not been sufficiently explained to me. Like those woolly tomatoes from Israel. As always, you have to read your labels carefully. Look for the words “Non-Irradiated”, look for “Produce of South Africa”. Any other country’s name on the label demands, by law, that it must be irradiated. Provided you are in SA, otherwise look for your own country’s name as producer. As a matter of  act, why not do the proper thing and source as close to your own home as possible, without going to a supermarket.

Natural honey:

As with everything else, the term ‘natural’ usually indicates a desire by the vendor to profit from the rising passion for orthorexia. This would be the desire to ‘eat right’. Add to this the ever-increasing social media warnings about countless diseases and how you can stave them all off by eating this new product or drinking that special juice or rubbing your tonsils with some other concentrated herbal extract. On a bottle of natural honey, get out your reading glasses, because the lettering informing you of the irradiation and importation is bound to be so small, you cannot even find it. All products labelled as natural, is to be distrusted and individually verified before you buy it. On food, the word ‘natural’ serves the same purpose as a semi-naked prostitute in a motor car advertisement; it promises you status without substance in either the promise or the status, but the promise is enough to convince your wallet to spread itself at the ready to be screwed.

Uses for honey:

Enough of the crookery and misrepresentation; let’s talk about the good stuff and by that we mean the real stuff, the berries, the Real McCoy, that sweetish goo we call the food of gods; honey! The internet will keep you busy for months, there is nary a disease, injury or slight, or honey has assisted in the healing thereof. If you believe the hype, you can rid your medicine cabinet of everything from Band-Aids to Viagra, aspirin to the most expensive antibiotic, and replace it all with a jar of honey. I don’t know about that. I don’t have a medicine cabinet myself, and I do eat at least half a kilo of honey a month, so I cannot compare the two situations without prejudice. Band-Aids and Viagra both seem to cause more harm than good, but once again, I have need for neither; my Honey is sweet enough to the touch, and honey makes a perfectly good plaster for most wounds. Before you dress a wound with honey, it is necessary to decide what you hope to achieve. Festering wounds need dry air, but honey is useful in damp conditions. Dry sores need help rehydrating, but honey absorbs water, yet it may help in very dry conditions. As we often say on this forum; herbalism is not the measuring of dosages or incantations around a harvest pile, it is a conscious decision to be conscious of your environment and the place you decide to occupy in it. Conscious people make mistakes, it is the unconscious who either sit idly and criticise, or blunder from hype to hype, brand name to hashtag, and never learn no nuthin’ useful to other people. Being useful to yourself, is basic survival, being useful to humanity may lead to immortality. Being useless is great fun until it catches up on you.

In the spirit of the ponderous introduction, going on about the different promises you find on the average label, let us go through some names and descriptions for honey:

Runny honey flows faster when warm, and may become almost solid when cold. Normal temperature fluctuations will not influence crystal formation in the short run. Repeated heat will evaporate more water, eventually causing crystallisation. The point being, the consistency of the honey has little to no relation to quality, but watery honey is always suspect.

Crystallised honey is sometimes called sugared honey. This name refers to the effect of honey crystals on the palate; the texture is indeed like eating sugar from a bowl. Honey gone to crystals is no disaster, the only real problem is getting it out that silly squeeze-bottle plastic bear. For a herbalist, that is easy enough, as even the tiniest pocket knife can slaughter a plastic bottle, but for folk with clean finger nails, the temptation of heating the honey seems irresistible. Yes, it melts the crystals, but it also destroys your honey, draws moisture into it as it cools, and within a week you throw away half a bottle of honey that first re-crystallised, then drew water, and started fermenting. Rather use the honey in its original crystallised form, okay?

Creamed honey is the most economical way of enhancing your chances of buying the best on the shelf. Creamed honey is made by rapidly beating crystallised honey, resulting in a milky cream. This guarantees you purity, at least, as watered honey will not remain creamy without fermenting, and pasteurised honey resists crystallisation. Creamed honey is usually sold in wide jars, to allow a spoon, but except for the consistency, creamed honey is just honey, slightly processed, but not in a destructive way.

Honey-on-the-comb is the safest way to buy honey. The idea is that you receive the product unsullied by any non-apian hands, guaranteed pure and original. While and whereas this privilege is priced at quite a premium, the emptor better caveat. Unless you are the type to chow your nachos mano a manos, eating honeycomb may be quite disgusting; you end up spitting out the wax, in a ball or in a mess, depending on your experience.

All of this being said, we still only discuss the label, but we may also talk about the things not on the label. Here are some important things to know about honey:

Honey does not dissolve in water. Water dissolves in honey. Raw honey contains very little water, and crystallised honey should contain virtually no water, and water in your honey is almost sure to lead to fermentation, and unless you are an experienced brewer, don’t try fermenting things, ethanol is only one possible by-product.

Honey should not be heated. If you want to sweeten your tea, first draw your tea, pour it when ready, and add the honey the moment before you start drinking. If the tea is too hot to drink, it is too hot for the honey to survive. Honey is a living thing, like your tongue, they can stand the same conditions.

Honey is addictive. At Greenpets, we use honey to bribe our animals, no shame. If doggy does not want to drink her medicinal tea, we first cover the bottom of the bowl in honey, then pour the tea, she will get to that honey, even if she has to drink that darn bitter tea. Note, we do not stir the honey to sweeten the tea, it is a bribe at the bottom of the tea.

Honey is energy. Greenpets never gives up on an animal as long as we can get some honey in there. To feed a sick organism is never a good idea, but honey is the exception. In the Greenpets opinion, we will keep trying as long as there is heartbeat, and honey keeps hearts going when hope seems like a dust trail on the horizon, going thataway. We have administered a herbal tea laced with copious honey, anally. The dog absorbed enough energy to survive a deliberate poisoning by criminals trying to kill the whole pack. It took days of constant care, not a dose of honey and call me in the morning here’s the prescription expect the bill in the post.

Honey for diabetics has been vindicated after decades of demonization by the diabetes industry. The evidence that honey is not processed like normal sugars eventually became too much, and even though they still recommend their artificial friends, at least they cannot diss honey anymore. There is no reason to suspect that the diabetics profiteers did not know honey is safe, just like they are now slowly forced to admit that ‘normal sugar’ does not equate to ‘ubiquitous sugar’, that being the very common high-fructose corn syrup. It turns out, ‘high fructose’ means 42% to 55%, which basically means that, on average, less than half the stuff you use to sweeten my junk food, is not actually fructose. So, honey is bad because fructose is bad and we know that because there is soooo much evidence that high-fructose corn derivatives cause diabetes, only it turns out, most of what you are dumping in the food is not even fructose, it is….? Who knows, who cares, there’s fructose in there!

So, Honey, that’s the honey on honey. Go trawl the internet for promises about magical curative properties; most are based on some level of truth.

Now go get yerself some honey!