Smarter in 60 Seconds: Honey
Honey is one of the oldest medicines in the world. Its use by humans is depicted in 10,000-year-old Stone Age paintings, and it was being prescribed 2,400 years ago by the Greek physician Hippocrates in cures for pain, fever, cough, and sore throat. The “Father of Medicine” probably didn’t understand the mechanisms involved, though. Honey’s antibacterial effect was first discovered in 1892 by the Dutch scientist B. A. van Ketel. Honey has been found to inhibit growth of some 60 species of bacteria in addition to a number of species of fungi and viruses. The degree to which the antibacterial properties are present depends on the type of honey, with some being far more potent than others. Ma-nuka honey, which is produced by bees in Australia and New Zealand from the nectar of the ma-nuka bush, has much higher levels of the antibacterial component methylglyoxal (MG) than other varieties of honey. Bees make MG by converting another compound, dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which is present in high concentrations in the ma-nuka bush’s flowers. In some cases this honey has aided recovery from significant infections that resist conventional treatment.
How long does honey keep?
In 2003, workers building a pipeline in the Black Sea nation of Georgia discovered an ancient tomb that—along with human remains and other artifacts—contained ceramic vessels stained with honey. The find was sensational because the tomb was 5,500 years old, making the honey 2,000 years older than the previous record-holder found in the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun. As in Egypt, the ancient Georgians apparently put honey in tombs for the journey to the afterlife. But the find also demonstrated that the storage life of honey is practically unlimited. Reason: Honey’s low ph and high sugar content, which draws moisture out of microbes, mean organisms that spoil food can’t survive.
How busy are bees really?
There’s a lot of truth behind the old saying that someone is “as busy as a bee.” The inhabitants of a beehive have to visit about 2 million flowers to produce a single pound of honey, and that involves traveling a total of around 55,000 miles. The average worker bee makes only about one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime, but there’s strength in numbers: A healthy beehive can house 50,000 of the industrious insects. In any case, we owe bees a great debt of gratitude: Honeybees pollinate around 80% of the fruits, vegetables, and seed crops that the U.S. produces each year.