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

with honey.

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

with oil.

[257] 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 bottom.

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 [258] 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 [261] 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 [260] 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

[261] 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 [262] 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

run thus:--

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.