Many things in life count as treasure
Though they don't cost a thing
A honey bee's buzz can bring pleasure
Also a butterfly on the wing.
Riches I have aplenty
With stars and the Moon above
And sharing a smile or twenty
With the honey who is my love.
– An h2g2 Researcher
I'm suspicious of honey, it's the only organic substance that doesn't go off.
– An h2g2 Researcher
Honey is one of nature's mysteries. It is a natural substance which is created by honey bees in their home, called a hive. There's nothing quite like watching a loaded honeycomb being lifted from the hive, the honey dripping like liquid gold glinting in the sunshine. Harvested honey can be treated with different processes, and can be clear or cloudy.
Honey is popular as a foodstuff, among other uses. Research takes us back to the days when Greek and Egyptian physicians used honey for its antibacterial healing properties. Ancient Egyptians regarded the honey bee as a sacred insect, they even had a bee hieroglyph, and their tomb walls depict beekeeping as an everyday activity. The goddess Neith had a temple in Lower Egypt called Per-bit, which translates as 'House of the bee'. Honey was so highly prized it was used as an offering to their gods, and was also known as a symbol of resurrection. Due to its longevity, honey was buried with their dead to provide nourishment in the afterlife.
KV46, the private tomb of Yuya and Tuya, was excavated by Theodore Davis in 1905. Yuya and Tuya were the parents of Queen Tiy, the mother of 18th-dynasty pharaoh Akhenaten, so the burial can be accurately dated to around 1350BC. Among the objects retrieved were stoppered jars of liquid, one of which smelled of honey. Some inscribed pottery honey jars were found in Pharaoh Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922, but the contents hadn't survived.
Featuring in the 1597 book Chinese Materia Medica was a recipe guaranteed to cure everything from broken bones and headaches to bowel disorders and skin complaints. This fabled panacea has its own Edited Guide Entry and should carry a health warning for those with delicate dispositions, as the prime ingredients (to begin the process) are an ailing elderly person and a copious supply of honey. The end product would likely as not be banned by Health and Safety officials should there ever be a revival movement to resurrect the mellification process.
The Role of the Honey Bee
Mother Nature is very clever, wise and bountiful. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are attracted to flowers by the smell of the nectar, and while they're busy collecting the sweet stuff to make their honey, they're collecting pollen which they deposit on the next flower they visit. By the time they get back to the hive, pollination takes care of the next generation of flowers. The hive is efficient and suits their purpose. The honeycombs within are made up of hexagonal shapes formed from wax; for economy and strength, it's the best structure in nature.
The honey bee makes a golden, sticky, sweet gloop called 'Royal Jelly' for its queen, who gorges herself while perpetually reproducing the next generation of bees. She never leaves the hive; all the other bees are her willing slaves, their only goals in life to keep her satisfied, and sleep. Should you ever have the urge to find a wild nest, watch a honey bee and when it is finished tramping about in the flowers it makes a bee-line for its hive. But don't get too close — they will defend their home to the death, and they sting. Don't disturb — observe (from a distance).
Royal Jelly is the substance fed to the queen and hive larvae. If a new queen is required (they usually die of exhaustion) then one larva will continue to be fed on just the special food, which effectively turns it into the next queen. Royal Jelly is now regulated by the Food Standards industry and sold as a nutritional supplement, aimed at promoting immune system support. That great children's fiction author Roald Dahl also liked to scare the pants off adults, writing some stories for The Twilight Zone etc. One memorable story was about a beekeeper who fed his less-than-thriving newborn daughter some milk laced with Royal Jelly from his hive. It turned out he'd been taking some himself before her conception, unbeknown to his wife, to make him more fertile. In the end, the baby morphs into a giant grub, with the proud human/daddy-bee looking on. Eek!
Nectar is very important in the role of honey-making. It's the fabled 'food of the gods', a sweet liquid which flowers produce to attract bees and other insects like butterflies, which act as pollinators. If you want to know what it tastes like yourself, remove the flower of a nectar-producing plant, and suck the oozing sweetness from the removed stem. Remember to do your research first as some plants are poisonous.
If you wish to attract insects to your garden to commence the process for honey-making, then you'll need to plant nectar-producing flowers and herbs. Some which will flower in the evening rewarding you with a fragrance-filled garden are: Evening primrose; Night-scented stock; Stitchwort and White campion.
Aconite; Alyssum; Aubretia; Flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum); Grape hyacinth (Muscari botryoides); Ice plants; Primrose; Sweet violet (Viola odorata); Wallflower; Wood anemone.
Buddleia (butterfly bush); Heather; Lavender; Lavatera; Linaria (purple toadflax); Sea holly; Verbena.
Marigold; Golden rod; Honeysuckle; Meadow saffron; Michaelmas daisy; Sunflower; Valerian.
The science of looking after honey bees is called apiculture, derived from the Latin word apis meaning 'bee'.
The Apiarist (or Apiculturist)
Beekeepers are conspicuous by their garb. They cover every exposed bit of skin and carry smoke-billowing equipment to make the bees drowsy, so they can harvest the raw honey. Beekeepers will bring their hives to places where particular types of flower grow, such as clover or heather, to give a particular flavour to their honey. Specialist honey is marketed all around the world.
If you keep bees, there is a superstition that you should 'tell the bees' any important news going on in your house - births, deaths, weddings, visitors, etc - because otherwise they can get offended and leave. This is especially important if the beekeeper dies - the bees have to be told right away, and you have to find a replacement beekeeper (who should be formally introduced to the bees) or they'll pine and die.
I eat my peas with honey
I've done it all my life
It makes the peas taste funny
But it keeps them on the knife!
Honey is versatile enough that it can be spread straight from the jar. It doesn't need to be refrigerated. Try it on a buttered scone or a slice of toast. Make a soothing drink for a sore throat with a spoonful of honey and hot water, allowed to cool. Also recommended is warm milk and honey. Do not feed honey to infants under one year of age because their intestines are too immature to cope with the C botulinum spores present in honey, resulting in constipation and listlessness1. Warnings of the danger are printed on the label of every jar of honey for sale in the UK on the orders of the Food Standards Agency.
Honey can be used to make cakes, smoothies and ice cream. You can add it to yogurt and sweeten a fruit salad. You can purchase honey in different flavours, which compliment certain foods: try Chestnut or orange blossom honey with Roquefort cheese.
Honey is an excellent glaze, which brushed on pork and gammon makes a deliciously crisp skin for crackling, and a marinade for food like salmon and chicken. A quick, easy and tasty one to try is honey and mustard marinade.
Traditionally the holiday after a couple have exchanged vows at their wedding, the honeymoon is the time spent alone so the couple can get to know each other a little better. It's possible the name derived from the aphrodisiacal properties of honey brewed into mead, that medieval folk knew all about, and the romantic qualities of moonlit walks holding hands with the recipient of your affection.
The Land of Milk and Honey
The phrase 'land of milk and honey' is mentioned in the Book of Exodus in The Bible as the destination where slaves dreamed of freedom. Nowadays the terminology is more likely used when talking about the past, particularly by the older generation.
A 'honeypot' is a term used to describe a place to which many people are attracted (for example, a particularly beautiful spot in the countryside). A honeypot is also a computer system set up especially to be attractive to attackers - it appears to be an unprotected way to get into a network or at data, but is, in fact, well defended and just a way to monitor attacks on systems.
Honey, I'm Home!
In today's politically-correct society some endearments are banned from usage. However, it's a strange person who objects to being referred to as 'Honey'; although it depends on who is uttering the phrase. If you're as popular as Elvis in your social life then calling everyone 'Honey' can be advantageous, because you're never likely to be accused of calling someone by the wrong name.
People Named Honey
Honey is used as a Christian name for girls, it can even be extended, for example, one of the daughters of Bob Geldof and Paula Yates is called Peaches Honeyblossom. Some people even have Honey for their family name, eg, the writer John Vincent Honey, editor Michael Honey, actor Varnum Honey, cameraman James Honey, actor Tyger Drew-Honey, actor Bert Honey and actress Amy Honey. The name Honey is a frequent choice in novels and film, eg, Honey Ryder was the moniker for Ursula Andress in the James Bond film Dr No. Honey is also a popular pseudonym for dancers, strippers and sex-artists of the X-rated entertainment industry.
A 'honey trap' is a colloquialism for something (or someone) set out to tempt, then trap the unwary. Popular in fiction, some aspects of human nature allow the trick to be played in real life. Businesses have been set up by entrepreneurs eager to satisfy the curiosity of a suspicious wife. Honey traps don't just involve sex, the offer of megabucks can be just as tempting.
An example of a honey trap on TV was in an episode of Touched by an Angel when PI Maury Hoover (Stacy Keach) covertly videoed men responding to a young woman he employed to seduce them, then blackmailing them.
An episode of The Thin Blue Line was called 'The Honey Trap' - no detective work required to guess what it was about.
There are so many literary references to honey it would be impossible to mention them all, so here's just a few:
- Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt
- Do Bees Poop in the Honey? by Londis Carpenter
- Fire, Snow and Honey (Voices from Kurdistan) edited by Gina Lennox
Fire, Snow and Honey is a collection of stories from the people of Kurdistan. It includes history, local culture including music and poetry, home-grown food and favourite legends and fables. There are life stories from centenarians, and young adults describe what it's like living with genocide, deportation and enforced homelessness.
Song and Music
- 'Honey Come Back' – Glen Campbell
- 'Honey' – Bobby Goldsboro
- 'A Taste of Honey' – Acker Bilk
- 'Money Honey' – Elvis Presley
Honey in Film
- Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree
- Milk and Honey
- The Honey Pot
- Bees and Honey
- Blood and Honey
- Bitter Honey
- Hat Check Honey
- No Money...No Honey
- Tahiti Honey
- Honey I Shrunk The Kids (and all the sequels)
Antonio Banderas' character in the 1999 film The 13th Warrior is telling the Vikings that as a Muslim he's not allowed to drink the fermentation of fruit or grains, so they get him drunk on mead:
[Herger proffers a drinking horn containing mead.]
Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan: I can taste neither the fermentation of grape nor of wheat.
Herger the Joyous: [laughs] Honey...it's made from honey!
Chinese Honey Import Ban
In 2002 the European Union imposed a ban on Chinese food imports due to worries about the use of growth hormones, antibiotics and unregulated veterinary drugs. Following 'significant improvements' in drug controls and new regulations brought in by the Chinese government, the EU lifted the ban2 in 2004, allowing trade in honey to resume.
Colony Collapse Disorder
In autumn 2006 it was noticed that honey bees in the US were abandoning their hives and dying en masse. By early 2007, 24 states across America were affected. The new condition was given a name: Colony Collapse Disorder. Recent imports of cheap honey from South America lowered demand for honey production so apiculturists had turned to migratory pollination — a multi-billion dollar industry. Transporting bees to be rented out to varying fruit-producing states has proved a lucrative move with fees more than doubling within three years. Mobile colonies are the worst affected — some apiaries have lost 90% of their bees, leading some researchers to believe the bees could be suffering from stress. American beekeepers have been replenishing their stock of bees from Australia, where the condition is not an issue, indicating that the problem is a northern hemisphere one. Understandably the US Government is worried and has set up a special task-force to investigate the losses.
It is one of the most alarming insect diseases ever to hit the US and it has the potential to devastate the US beekeeping industry. In some ways it may be to the insect world what foot-and-mouth disease was to livestock in England.
– Professor of Entomology Diana Cox-Foster of Penn States University.
Losses have also been reported in Europe. The British Beekeepers Association says 99% of their beekeepers are hobbyists who cannot afford to replace their depleted stock of bees. The loss would have a knock-on effect: the British apple industry would face devastation if there were no bees to pollinate. Apiculturist Alison Benjamin has written a book about the devastating prospect and called it A World Without Bees. National Geographic broadcast a programme in February 2008 entitled Silence of the Bees which is repeated as and when. Some farmers are promoting organic farming as the way to avoid 'beepocalypse' as the phenomenon has been dubbed.
Imagine a country lane. Hawthorn hedgerow on either side, clouds scudding overhead, apple blossom drifting gently by, the only noise the gentle hum of honey bees and the chirping of birds. What could be a more idyllic vision of British country life? Then fast-forward ten years. The hedgerow is deteriorating, the birds are silent, the orchard is disappearing and the countryside is changed. Why? The hives are empty. Their once-buzzing occupants mysteriously vanished.
– BBC News Magazine writer Finlo Rohrer.
What has happened to all the bees??
– The Doctor from the BBC TV series Doctor Who