There are a couple of very important reasons for writing about honey this month. First, I am a partnered beekeeper. That means I help a friend with her hives whenever needed and she co-ops a honey share to me. The apiary is across the street from my home. My own hives will be added in the near future.
The other reason for writing on this subject is because a few months ago, I gave someone a jar of "the gold" and later found out it was only partially consumed then thrown out. It was discarded because it had crystallized and they didn’t think it was still good. It’s time for some education on the subject.
The art of beekeeping has been practiced for more than 4,000 years and wild honey harvesting is noted as far back as 15,000 years ago. Archeologists have found containers of honey in Egyptian tombs, more than 2,000 years old, to still be edible.
Bees help the multi-billion dollar fruit and vegetable industry thrive and are responsible for producing 40 percent of the food we eat. Wow, you say! We need pollinators!
According to Dennis Barclift, head of the plant protection and apiary unit of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, there are more than a million registered beehives in the United States.
Let’s first examine honey.
One tablespoon of honey contains 17 grams of carbohydrates and only has 64 calories (0 grams of fat). That means honey is a great energy booster. It contains 16 grams of sugar, so it’s a great alternative sweetener. Unprocessed honey is just about the purest, most natural food you can eat.
Honey as a flavor-enhancer is another way to commandeer its culinary values. Try it in barbecue sauces or as a glaze for lamb, poultry or pork. Use honey as a glaze on winter squash, sweet potatoes, grilled peaches, roasted red tomatoes or roasted bell peppers. Mix honey with balsamic vinegar for a great light salad dressing. Add honey to your favorite frozen yogurt recipe. There are tons of recipes online listing honey as a featured ingredient.
Honey has medicinal value, too. It has been used for centuries as a cure for ailments from stomachaches and sore throats to infectious open wounds and burns. Its enzymatic benefits include antimicrobial properties.
Dr. Malia Fincher, Biological and Environmental Sciences at Samford University, explained some of the scientific reasoning behind the healing properties of honey, it "is used as a topical treatment for infected wounds" and "can be effective on antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria like MRSA" (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). (The staph skin infection that has been in the news lately.)
She further stated, "Honey is an excellent cough suppressant" and "has been reported to be more effective on burns than silver sulfadiazine."
The antibacterial/antimicrobial properties of honey are largely due to the osmotic effect of its high-saturated sugar content. When honey is applied to an infected wound and the dressing is changed frequently, the infectious tissue is quickly cured.
Fincher went on to say, "Beekeeping is a growing hobby with more and more young people getting into it."
She is pleased with the increase in interest, but expresses concern over the inevitable introduction of the Africanized honeybee stating, "I hope the public doesn’t panic when it happens."
Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting in on the film screening of "Queen of the Sun" with the folks of the Jefferson County Beekeepers Association. Sallie Lee, Urban Regional Extension Agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, was there to share some insight on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), another major concern with beekeepers around the world. I asked her if CCD is a syndrome or a disease caused by a particular pathogen. She said there are theories leaning both ways, but the science is incomplete at this time to prove either way.
Lee expressed, "… a combination of stresses, pesticides and nectar sources … environmental conditions" could all be playing a factor in the disorder.
Lee plays a major role in the all-new "Trees for Bees" program. Watch out for more valuable information about this.
In chatting with Barclift, I asked about the state of his department after all of the budgetary cutbacks.
He said, "The Apiary Unit is intact and they are all doing their jobs the same as before."
He added, "Rural honey harvests are at about 50 percent of what they were last year."
Bee populations are growing and thriving largely due to the fact "bees are adapting to our environmental conditions." He also said mites aren’t as heavy in colonies this year.
If you are making your last honey harvest now, be sure to do it before the season progresses beyond warm. You should never disturb your bees after the weather gets cold. Also, be sure to leave enough food for them to survive the winter. If there doesn’t appear to be enough stored honey in the colony, make sure you feed them throughout the winter.
Now, for the solution on crystallized honey … loosen the lid on the jar and place it in a pan of water. Be careful not to let any water enter the jar. Gently heat the pan of water to about 140°F. That will dissolve the crystals and your honey will be clear again. Be careful not to overheat the honey. For the record, the fact honey is clear or crystallized is only an aesthetic feature. It’s all good and good for you!
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