Honey hunting is as old as humanity. A few decades back, people (my father and I included) used to go out in the fields, forests, riverbanks on honey hunting and collecting sprees. It was much delight, most of the time, that they returned home with buckets full of honeycombs laden with the delicious honey. These were generously shared with neighbours.
Gone are those days. With the increase in the “hunters” and decrease in the habitat of the bees – deforestation, removal of stone walls and assault by an amalgam of mites, pests, pathogens, toxic chemicals (pesticides, herbicides) – there has been a steady decrease over the years in the number of bee hives in nature. The domestication and hive beekeeping by man has fortunately maintained the population of bees at a certain level for pollination and the supply of the valued food -honey.
Honey is the substance made when the nectar and sweet deposits from plants are gathered by honeybees, modified and stored in the honeycomb. Bees look for tiny drops of nectar from flowers. They slurp the nectar into their “honey stomachs”. By the action of enzymes present therein the sugars are broken down. Back to the hive, the bees regurgitate the goop and fan it with their wings to evaporate the water. The resultant gluey substance is honey.100 g of honey is made by the visit to some 2 million flowers.
Honey is acidic and has a low water content making, it suitable for long-term storage without any preservative. It contains sugars (fructose, glucose, maltose and sucrose) and traces of proteins vitamins, and minerals. Its glycemic index ranges from 31 to 78 – the glycemic index (GI) is a number associated with a particular type of food that indicates the food’s effect on a person’s blood sugar level. The number typically ranges between 50 and 100, where 100 represents the standard, an equivalent amount of pure glucose. That’s the reason people take honey as a sweetener when they are on a diet plan. Besides being an energy source par excellence and a sweetener in various recipes, cakes and biscuits, honey has been used from time immemorial in the treatment of ailments.
Everybody knows about the mix of ginger juice and honey as a relief from cough, cold and congestion. Some people even add few drops of lemon juice and pure ghee to the mixture to relieve severe cough and colds.
The consumption of mixtures of honey and cinnamon/cardamom/milk for various ailments like heartburn, bronchitis, constipation, liver problems, intestinal cramps, urinary problems, gallbladder issues, decreased appetite, sleeplessness, sore throat and mouth, irritable bowel syndrome is a current practice and well documented in the Indian (Aryurveda) and Chinese traditional medicine systems. People in many ancient civilizations, including the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and Indians, drank milk and honey to preserve their youth and remain agile. The mixture was referred to as “the elixir of life.”
Honey is a prebiotic and act as food for probiotics – the beneficial bacteria that grow and develop in our intestines and digestive system. The bacterial balance in the digestive tract is important. It eliminates a number of irritating conditions, including constipation, cramps, bloating, while preventing the development of detrimental bacterial growth and fighting obesity.
On account of its antimicrobial and cleansing properties honey is used topically for skin care. These properties are enhanced when mixed with milk. Equal quantities of honey and milk mixed in water is a popular bath in spas throughout the world.
Honey is used for religious purposes as well. In Hinduism honey is one of the five elixirs of immortality (panchamrit).Honey is poured over the murtis of deities in a ritual called abhishek.
Other than the honey, bees wax has a demand in cosmetics. The bees have yet another very important role in nature. They cross pollinate flowers, doing it unknowingly. In fact while visiting flowers to collect nectar for the production of honey pollens stick to their hairy body. When they visit another flower some of the pollens drops off, fertilizing the plant. The cross-pollination allows for diversity in species as genetic information from different plants is combined and the produce – flowers or fruits – are in a better state and resistant to diseases.
Honey is food and has therapeutic and religious uses. Bees are very good pollinating agents. The population of bees needs to be maintained and a reasonable level of self-sufficiency in honey can safely be achieved. It is difficult to restore the hives of wild bees. It would therefore be wiser to take a fresh look at the apiculture, create apiaries and boost the honey production, in both Mauritius and Rodrigues.
We may then become the land of Honey.
- Published in print edition on 31 July 2015