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Volume 27 Issue 4
November/December 2021

Raw Honey: Nature’s Sweet Superfood

Editorial

Raw Honey: Nature’s Sweet Superfood
by Megan Maier
Megan Maier


I’m always so amazed and satisfied at the end of the growing season that we have been able to stock our pantry, cold cellar, and freezers with nutritionally-dense vegetables and meat, and also one of my favourite staples: raw honey. Raising honeybees is an interesting and challenging endeavour. Insects are unlike the other animals we steward on our ranch and there is a lot to learn! These amazing creatures turn nectar from flowers into deliciously sweet, nutritious honey. They are superorganisms with a complex social or colony life. We started raising honeybees six years ago and have slowly expanded to 28 hives. My husband, Nathan, and I and some of our children are involved in working with the bees and extracting and bottling the honey. Our bees forage on the flowers on the pasture land on our ranch and the surrounding area. Bees are known to fly as far as 12 km in search of food sources so they get a variety of nectar sources.1 And two times per summer season we extract or harvest this wonderful product called honey.

Why is raw honey sometimes called a superfood? Honey is a natural sugar alternative and is essentially concentrated nectar. It’s one of the only true natural sweeteners that contains nutrients, enzymes, minerals, antioxidants, and amino acids. It has an indefinite shelf life as there is a small amount of hydrogen peroxide naturally in it, which inhibits microbe growth. Honey was man’s first sweetener, and the ancient Egyptians wrote references to honey dating back to 5,500 BCE! Even in the Bible, God promised to bring the Israelites out of the wilderness into the promised land—“a land flowing with milk and honey!” While the Egyptians and Israelites would have eaten raw honey, most honey you find in grocery stores now is pasteurized, meaning it’s processed with high heat to kill the unwanted yeast and remove the crystallization. The downside of this is it also gets rid of beneficial nutrients. Not only that, but the CFIA, after testing samples of imported honey in grocery stores, found some to be adulterated honey. This means is it is honey that has had rice syrup or corn syrup added and then it is filtered to resemble real honey. The good news is they are cracking down and seizing it and stepping up their inspection of honey coming into the country.2 If you want to ensure that you buy pure raw honey, find a trusted local producer and start enjoying the benefits raw honey has to offer. Raw honey is not processed, but rather extracted from the hive, taking the honey the bees don’t need, and spun out into a clean tank, then lightly filtered to eliminate any major impurities. It’s then bottled and ready for sale.

Have you ever heard the term “honey healthcare?” One of the many health benefits raw honey offers is that it is a good source of antioxidants that can help protect your body from cell damage due to free radicals. Also, research has shown raw honey has antibacterial and antifungal properties that can kill unwanted bacteria and fungus and actually aid in the healing process, reduce scarring from burns and cuts, and help resolve infection. Incorporated into wound dressings, honey rapidly cleans pus or dead tissue from the infected wounds, kills bacteria, suppresses inflammation, and stimulates the growth of new tissue.3 The pharmaceutical companies are even catching on to the fact that honey is effective medicine for suppressing coughs and sore throats. The advertisement I saw recently was a Vicks Dayquil product that boasts real honey in its cold and flu and cough medicines. So next time you get a cold, consider ditching the cough syrup and reach for honey instead to reduce sore throats, reduce coughing, and relieve pain, as the antiviral properties could have you feeling better faster. Some allergy sufferers have found relief from seasonal pollen symptoms by eating local honey, as the honey may contain small amounts of pollen and by consuming it you can build up an immunity to the allergen. It also can help with digestive issues as it’s considered a pre-biotic that can nourish good bacteria in the intestines.

Honey is also lauded as a beauty product, renowned for its moisturizing properties, and can be used as a skin cleanser to ward off acne or work as an exfoliant. Honey is a humectant (it attracts moisture from the atmosphere), meaning that, if you use honey-based beauty products on your skin or hair, the thin honey coating helps to attract and retain moisture.3 I recently started using honey and water in my face cleansing routine and my skin is more balanced and less dry than before.

Creamed honey actually has the same wonderful benefits as raw honey, if it is made using raw honey. To make creamed honey, the crystallization process is controlled by taking a seed or starter creamed honey at a ration of 1 part to 10 parts raw honey and carefully mixing or whipping it so the crystals remain small and the texture becomes smooth and spreadable. We’ve also created naturally flavoured creamed honey, namely cinnamon and chocolate creamed honey, so you can enjoy the benefits of cinnamon and cocoa deliciousness mixed with the goodness of honey. It’s a matter of personal preference what kind of honey you choose to use as all raw honey will naturally crystallize unless it is creamed. If you prefer liquid honey or want to soften your raw honey to make it spreadable, you can place your honey container in warm water for a few minutes.

Honey is a great alternative to table sugar and can help zap those sugar cravings. Our ancestors likely ate around one tablespoon of honey (60 calories), which is quite low compared to today’s average sugar intake of one cup (774 calories) per day-yikes!4 If you want to substitute honey for sugar in some of your baking, take into account that honey contains moisture, so reduce the liquid content in the recipe accordingly. Substitute one cup of sugar with one cup of honey and reduce the liquid by a ¼ cup or just reduce the honey to ¾ of a cup instead. My family loves to use a spoonful of honey to sweeten their herbal tea, and we spread cinnamon honey on toast in the morning. Many of my customers use it in their coffee. Additional ideas include adding honey to plain yogurt to sweeten it, whisking it into homemade salad dressings or sauces, making granola bars or energy bites, using it in a smoothie or on top of oatmeal, or glaze your carrots with it. The possibilities are endless and delicious!

Though honey is the main resource that our honeybees produce, I need to talk about a wonderful product that also has wonderful health benefits: beeswax. Beeswax is secreted by honeybees and used to build comb for brood-rearing and the storage of pollen and honey in the hive. The secreted wax scales are molded into the hexagonal cells of the honeycomb. In the extraction process, the capping needs to be scraped off to release the honey, and these beeswax bits can be gathered, melted, and filtered before being used in a variety of applications from cosmetics to candles. My favourite use for beeswax is making beautiful 100% beeswax hand-poured candles to burn when the temperature lowers in the fall and winter. It’s great if you need to bring a cozy warm ambience into your home as the days shorten. Beeswax is not only environmentally friendly, but great for our health. It’s got a naturally light and sweet honey fragrance and has a longer burn time than other waxes such as paraffin wax. Anecdotal evidence suggests that burning beeswax candles can improve allergy and asthma symptoms because, like air purifiers, beeswax candles release negative ions that neutralize the particles from air pollutants, rendering them harmless.

Supporting local beekeepers by purchasing honey and beeswax products not only has benefits to your health, but also to our entire food system and environment, as we rely on bees to help grow one-third of all the food we eat.5 As a local beekeeper and farmer, we rely on our wonderful customers to keep us in business, and we will continue to be proud of our contributions to the local food system! Here are a few recipes that make use of honey!


RECIPES


Quick Energy Bites

1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 or 1/3 cup raw honey
1/3 cup nut butter (peanut, cashew, or almond)
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
2 tbsp shredded coconut
additions or alternatives:
mini chocolate chips
raisins
chopped dates
hemp seeds
chia seeds

Instructions

  • Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl except for the coconut (may need to soften honey by putting jar in warm water).
  • Place bowl in fridge or freezer for 15 minutes.
  • Get bowl from fridge and roll the mixture with your hands into small bite-sized balls.
  • Roll each energy bite in shredded coconut.
  • Serve and enjoy or refrigerate for up to two weeks.

Rack of Lamb with Thyme and Honey Glaze

From The Beekeeper’s Bible

2 (1 to 1 1/4 lb) racks of lamb (grass-fed)
1 tbsp olive oil
3 red onions, peeled and thinly sliced
sea salt and black pepper, freshly ground
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (or rosemary)
4 tbsp raw honey
1/4 cup vegetable stock

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400ºF.
  • Heat the oil in a skillet (cast iron) over medium heat until sizzling, then add onions and cook gently for 10 minutes until softened but not brown. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Spoon the onions into a roasting pan and place the lamb on top. Score the fatty side of the lamb with a sharp knife.
  • Place the thyme and 3 tbsp of the honey in a small saucepan and heat gently for 1–2 minutes, then brush the mixture over the lamb. Sprinkle with 1 tsp salt.
  • Roast for 20 minutes, then add the 1/4 cup vegetable stock and roast for another 10–15 minutes.
  • Take out of the oven and transfer the lamb to a cutting board and cover with foil. Rest for 5 minutes.
  • Pour the warm pan juices and onions from the roasting pan into a small saucepan. Stir together and heat over low heat, adding a little more stock and remaining honey to create a sauce.
  • Carve the lamb into chops, spoon the sauce over and serve.

Honey and Berry Smoothie

(two servings)

1/4 cup honey
1 1/4 cups milk
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1 cup fresh (or frozen) raspberries
3/4 cup fresh (or frozen) blueberries
1 1/4 cups strawberries roughly chopped
1/2 banana
6 ice cubes (less if using frozen fruit)

  • Place all the ingredients (except the ice) in a food processor or blender and process for 20-30 seconds until smooth.
  • Add 2 ice cubes and blend again adding more milk if needed.
  • Place 2 ice cubes in each glass and pour the smoothie. Serve immediately.

Megan and Nathan Maier operate their family ranch, Prairie Flavours Ranch, near Preeceville, SK, with their five children using regenerative and holistic management practices. They raise pastured poultry, turkey, and eggs, grass-fed beef and lamb, honey and vegetables. Like and follow along with their adventures on Facebook and Instagram @prairieflavoursranch. They sell their products through The Farmer’s Table www.farmerstable.ca and Cool Springs Ranch www.coolsprings.ca.

References:

  1. Http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/agriculture-seafood/animals-and-crops/animal-production/bees
  2. Arnason, Robert, Honey market heats up, Western Producer, July 1, 2021
  3. Jones, Richard, The Beekeeper’s Bible, Abrams, 2011
  4. www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/children’s-health/feeding-children/zapping-sugar-cravings
  5. University of California-Berkeley. “Pollinators help one-third of the world’s food crop production” Sciencedaily, 26 October 2006. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061025165904.htm
 

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