Being essentially of floral origin, and a vegetable product endowed
with curative properties, Honey may be fairly ranked among Herbal
Simples. Indeed, it is the nectar of flowers, partaking closely of
their flavours and odours, whilst varying in taste, colour, scent,
and medicinal attributes, according to the species of the plant from
which it is produced.
The name Honey has been derived from a Hebrew wor
which means literally delight. Historically, this substance dates
from the oldest times of the known world. We read in the book of
Genesis, that the land of Canaan where Abraham dwelt, was
flowing with milk and honey; and in the Mosaic law were statutes
regulating the ownership of bees.
Among the ancients Honey was used for embalming the dead, and it
is still found contained in their preserved coffins.
Aristoeus, a pupil of Chiron, first gathered Honey from the comb,
and it was the basis of the seasoning of Apicius: whilst Pythagoras,
who lived to be ninety, took latterly only bread and Honey.
Whoever wishes, said an old classic maxim, to preserve his
health, should eat every morning before breakfast young onions
Tacitus informs us that our German ancestors gave credit for their
great strength and their long lives to the Mead, or Honey-beer, on
which they regaled themselves. Pliny tells of Rumilius Pollio, who
enjoyed marvellous health arid vitality, when over a hundred years
old. On being presented to the Emperor Augustus, who enquired
what was the secret of his wondrous longevity, Pollio answered,
Interus melle, exterus oleo, the eating of Honey, and anointing
 At the feasts of the gods, described by Ovid, the delicious
Honey-cakes were never wanting, these being made of meal, Honey,
and oil, whilst corresponding in number to the years of the devout
Pure Honey contains chemically about seventy per cent. of glucose
(analogous to grape sugar) or the crystallizable part which sinks
to the bottom of the jar, whilst the other portion above, which is
non-crystallizable, is levulose, or fruit sugar, almost identical with
the brown syrup of the sugar cane, but less easy of digestion. Hence,
the proverb has arisen of oil the top, of wine the middle, of Honey
The odour of Honey is due to a volatile oil associated with a yellow
colouring matter melichroin, which is separated by the floral
nectaries, and becomes bleached on exposure to the sunlight. A
minute quantity of an animal acid lends additional curative value for
sore throat, and some other ailments.
Honey has certain claims as a food which cane sugar does not
possess. It is a heat former, and a producer of vital energy, both in
the human subject, and in the industrious little insect which collects
the luscious fodder. Moreover, it is all ready for absorption
straightway into the blood after being eaten, whereas cane sugar
must be first masticated with the saliva, or spittle, and converted
somewhat slowly into honey sugar before it can be utilised for the
wants of the body. In this way the superiority of Honey over cane
sugar is manifested, and it may be readily understood why grapes,
the equivalent of Honey in the matter of their sugar, have an
immediate effect in relieving fatigue by straightway contributing
power and caloric.
Aged persons who are toothless may be supported almost exclusively
on sugar. The great Duke of  Beaufort, whose teeth were
white and sound at seventy, whilst his general health was likewise
excellent, had for forty years before his death a pound of sugar
daily in his wine, chocolate, and sweetmeats. A relish for sugar
lessens the inclination for alcohol, and seldom accompanies the
love of strong drink.
With young children, cane sugar is apt to form acids in the stomach,
chiefly acetic, by a process of fermentation which causes pain, and
flatulence, so that milk sugar should be given instead to those of
tender years who are delicate, as this produces only lactic acid,
which is the main constituent of digestive gastric juice.
When examined under a microscope Honey exhibits in addition to
its crystals (representing glucose, or grape sugar), pollen-granules of
various forms, often so perfect that they may be referred to the
particular plants from which the nectar has been gathered.
As good Honey contains sugar in a form suitable for such quick
assimilation, it should be taken generally in some combination less
easily absorbed, otherwise the digestion may be upset by too speedy
a glut of heat production, and of energy. Therefore the bread and
Honey of time-honoured memory is a sound form of sustenance, as
likewise, the proverbial milk and Honey of the Old Testament. This
may be prepared by taking a bowl of new milk, and breaking into it
some light wheaten bread, together with some fresh white
Honeycomb. The mixture will be found both pleasant and easy of
Our forefathers concocted from Honey boiled with water and
exposed to the sun (after adding chopped raisins, lemon peel, and
other matters) a famous fermented drink, called mead, and this was
termed metheglin (methu, wine, and aglaion, splendid) when
the finer  Honey was used, and certain herbs were added so as
to confer special flavours.
Who drank very hard the whole night through
Cups of strong mead, made from honey when new,
Metheglin they called it, a mighty strong brew,
Their whistles to wet for the morrow.
Likewise, the old Teutons prepared a Honey wine, (hydromel), and
made it the practice to drink this for the first thirty days after
marriage; from which custom has been derived the familiar
Honeymoon, or the month after a wedding.
Queen Elizabeth was particularly fond of mead, and had it made
every year according to a special recipe of her own, which included
the leaves of sweet briar, with rosemary, cloves, and mace.
Honey derived from cruciferous plants, such as rape, ladies' smock,
and the wallflower, crystallizes quickly, often, indeed, within the
comb before it is removed from the hive; whilst Honey from labiate
plants, and from fruit trees in general, remains unchanged for
several months after being extracted from the comb.
As a heat producer, if taken by way of food, one pound of Honey is
equal to two pounds of butter; and when cod liver oil is indicated,
but cannot be tolerated by the patient, Honey may sometimes be
most beneficially substituted.
In former times it was employed largely as a medicine, and applied
externally for the healing of wounds. When mixed with flour, and
spread on linen, or leather, it has long been a simple remedy for
bringing boils to maturity. In coughs and colds it makes a
serviceable adjunct to expectorant medicines, whilst acting at the
same time as sufficiently laxative. For sore throats it may be used in
gargles with remarkable benefit; and  when mixed with
vinegar it forms the old-fashioned oxymel, always popular against
colds of the chest and throat.
Honeywater distilled from Honey, incorporated with sand, is an
excellent wash for promoting the growth of the hair, either by itself,
or when mixed with spirit of rosemary. Rose Honey (rhodomel)
made from the expressed juice of rose petals with Honey, was
formerly held in high esteem for the sick.
Bee propolis, or the glutinous resin manufactured by bees for fixing
the foundations of their combs, will afford relief to the asthmatic by
its fumes when burnt. It consists largely of resin, and yields benzoic
Basilicon, kingly ointment, or resin ointment, is composed of bees
wax, olive oil, resin, Burgundy pitch, and turpentine. This is said to
be identical with the famous Holloway's Ointment, and is highly
useful when the stimulation of indolent sores is desired.
A medicinal tincture of superlative worth is prepared by
Homoeopathic practitioners from the sting of the Honey bee. This
makes a most valuable and approved medicine for obviating
erysipelas, especially of the head and face; likewise, for a puffy sore
throat with much swelling about the tonsils; also for dropsy of the
limbs which has followed a chill, or is connected with passive
inactivity of the kidneys. Ten drops of the diluted tincture, first
decimal strength, should be given three or four times in the day,
with a tablespoonful of cold water. This remedy is known as the
tincture of Apis mellifica. For making it the bees are seized when
emerging from the hive, and they thus become irritated, being ready
to sting. They are put to death with a few drops of chloroform, and
then have their Honey-bags severed. These are bruised in a mortar
 with glycerine, and bottled in spirit of wine, shaking them for
several days, and lastly filtering the tincture.
Boiling water poured on bees (workers) when newly killed makes
bee-tea, which may be taken to relieve strangury, and a difficult
passage of urine, as likewise for dropsy of the heart and kidneys.
Also of such bees when dried and powdered, thirty grains will act as
a dose to promote a free flow of the urine.
Honey, especially if old, will cause indigestion when eaten by some
persons, through an excessive production of lactic acid in the
stomach; and a superficial ulceration of the mouth and tongue,
resembling thrush, will ensue; it being at the same time a known
popular fact, that Honey by itself, or when mixed with powdered
borax (which is alkaline) will speedily cure a similar sore state
within the mouth arising through deranged health.
As long ago as when Soranus lived, the contemporary of Galen (160
A.D.) Honey was declared to be an easy remedy for the thrush of
children, but he gravely attributed its virtues in this respect to the
circumstance that bees collected the Honey from flowers growing
over the tomb of Hippocrates, in the vale of Tempe.
The sting venom of bees has been found helpful for relieving
rheumatic gout in the hands, and elsewhere through toxicating the
tender and swollen limbs by means of lively bees placed over the
parts in an inverted tumbler, and then irritating the insects so as to
make them sting. A custom prevails in Malta of inoculation by
frequent bee stinging, so as to impart at length a protective
immunity against rheumatism, this being confirmatory of the fact
known to beekeepers elsewhere, that after exposure to attacks from
bees, often repeated  throughout a length of time, most persons
will acquire a convenient freedom from all future disagreeable
effects. An Austrian physician has based on these methods an
infallible cure for acute rheumatism.
In Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Sir Toby Belch asks to have a
song for sixpence, the third verse of which has been thought to
The King was in his counting house
Counting out his money,
The Queen was in the parlour
Eating bread and Honey.
Mel mandit, panemque, morans regina culina,
Dulcia plebeia non comedenda nuru.
A plain cake, currant or seed, made with Honey in place of sugar is
a pleasant addition to the tea-table and a capital preventive of
All kinds of precious stones cast into Honey become more brilliant
thereby, says St. Francis de Sales in The Devout Life, 1708,
and all persons become more acceptable when they join devotion
to their graces.