Category Archives: Honey

Honey, Healing and Hayfever

Many hayfever sufferers find a daily dose of local honey to be helpful in controlling their symptoms but how can this bee?

Composition of Honey

Honey is a complex mixture of sugars dissolved in no more than 20% water. So long as the water content is below 20% honey is not readily metabolised by bacteria or fungi including yeast.

The sugars make up 97% of honey excluding water. The 3 main ones are dextrose, levulose and sucrose but there are also other lesser known ones such as kojibiose, isomaltose, nigerose, ab trehalose, gentiobiose, laminaribiose, meleziotose, maltotriose, turanose, 1-kestose, panose, maltulose, isomaltotriose, erlose, theanderose, and O-a-D-glucopyranosyl-(1->6) -O-a-D-glucopyranosyl-D-fructose… the list goes on through about 25 or more in total.

The remaining 3% comprises minerals, trace elements, vitamins, proteins and enzymes and pollen.

So what exactly is responsible for the healing?


Apart from being a healthy alternative to sugar it has curative benefits including antibiotic properties which can be effective in treating sore throats, skin complaints and open wounds such as ulcers. There is also some evidence to show that if honey is applied to burns it will help them to heal. I personally know a beekeeper whose daughter was badly burned as a child. The surgeons told him his daughter’s arm would be scarred for life. He was the son of a long line of beekeepers and did not accept this; he knew a recipe for a burns remedy including honey and beeswax and he applied this remedy to his daughter’s burns daily. The result was that the child’s wounds healed without scars in a few short weeks.

The observable antibiotic activity in honey is mostly due to the activity of the enzyme glucose oxidase which is probably the most important enzyme in honey – it originates in the pharyngeal glands of bees so it is added by the bees and therefore must have some purpose. Its effect is to oxidise glucose to gluconic acid a reaction which launches a two pronged attack on bacteria. The creation of gluconic acid contributes to the background acidity of honey which in turn has a preservative effect by suppressing the growth of bacteria. But there’s more – a by-product of this reaction is hydrogen peroxide which is a powerful antibiotic. The reputation of honey as an antibiotic is due mostly to the action of hydrogen peroxide.

Glucose oxidase can withstand temperatures up to 60 degrees centigrade after which it will become permanently denatured and no longer chemically active – effectively a dead molecule. Mass produced honey is routinely heated to over 75 degrees to pasteurise it. Pasteurisation is not necessary so long as honey is ripe. Beekeepers know this and only warm the honey sufficient to run it through a fine cloth to remove debris. Pollen and colloids pass through the cloth.

Manuka honey, which is a produced in New Zealand by bees foraging on the Leptospermum scoparium, has an additional active ingredient methylglyoxal and it seems to have more pronounced antiseptic activity than other honeys. However, recent studies in Sligo have produced comparable results using Irish honey and in Scotland, honey from Portobello Community Orchard has been found to have antibacterial activity similar to that of Manuka.


Hayfever is a terrible thing to bear if you have it. Some people believe that a daily dose of a tablespoon of local honey will help, the rationale being that the honey contains the pollens of the local flora and therefore if it is eaten regularly – the exposure will de-sensitise them. Some people swear by it although there is little scientific evidence to prove it. It is worth a try, it can do no harm and at the very least – it’s something nice to eat.

However, if your hayfever comes on late in the summer the chances are that you are allergic to grass pollens in which case no amount of honey will help as grasses are wind pollinated and not visited at all by bees.

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What is honey anyway?


Nectar is the raw material for honey and is what the bees collect from flowers. It consists mainly of an aqueous solution of sugars, nitrogen compounds, minerals, organic acids, vitamins and aromatic substances. Sugars and water make up the bulk, with 1% or 2% containing the remaining ingredients.


The three main sugars present in nectars are:

  • Sucrose;
  • Glucose;
  • Fructose.

Nectars from different flower species vary both in the concentrations of total sugars, which may be anywhere in the range of 5-80%, and in the proportions of the different sugars present. The total sugar content of a nectar can be analysed and the amounts, types and proportions of the different sugars present can be quantified; together they are known as the sugar spectrum of a nectar. Plant species and sometimes plant families can be characterised by their sugar spectra. Honeybees are quite fussy about the nectars they will gather and it is thought that they are not only influenced by the concentration of total sugar, but are also interested in aspects of the sugar spectrum of a nectar. It is thought that they prefer a mixture of sugars rather than a single type.

The rest

  • Nitrogen compounds including: amino acids e.g. proline, glutamic acid and lysine; proteins (including some enzymes and hormones of plant origin) and amides.
  • Minerals include: potassium, sulphur, calcium, chlorine and iron.
  • Honey tends to be slightly acidic. Organic acids include: acetic, butyric, gluconic, malic, succinic.
  • Vitamins include: thiamine, riboflavin, pyridoxine, nicotinic acid, pantothenic acid, folic acid, biotin, meso-inositol and ascorbic acid or ‘vitamin C’.
  • Nectar also contains some pollen and more is added and ingested by the bees who are of course covered in the stuff. There may also be spores and microorganisms some of which are harmless and some of which are not.
  • Some nectars also contain substances that stop pollen from germinating and may also contain things that are harmful to bees or humans or both.

Nectar to Honey

J.W.White in The Hive and the HoneyBee says “to know the composition of nectar we need only to examine the contents of honey the only difference being the water content and the inversion of sucrose” if so, the converse must also apply and honey contains what nectar contains but without the water.

Honey is what bees make from nectar to store in honeycomb for use as food. Before it can be stored, the water content must be reduced to 20% or less to prevent fermentation. However, dehydration is not the only process involved in the production of honey. In addition the bees make chemical changes via the use of several interesting enzymes and here things get complicated…

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Scottish Flummery Recipe

According to Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary of 1901 Flummery is an ‘acid jelly made from the husks of oats’ and water but it has since come to mean ‘an empty compliment or anything insipid’. A recipe for traditional Flummery seems to bear this out, with its description of a rather flaccid, glutinous dish, resembling porridge but with the oats carefully removed. Continue reading Scottish Flummery Recipe

Cooking with Honey

In the beginning there was honey…

Honey has been a sought-after commodity since ancient times. Although there were always medicinal applications, its primary use was as a sweetener for other foods, and of course for its own sweet sake. As such, it enjoyed luxury status for aeons and the hazards and pain primitive man was prepared to risk, shinning up trees and breaking into wild hives, especially before he discovered the efficacy of smoke is extraordinary. However it is easier to understand when we realise that the only real alternative sweeteners, certainly in this part of the world, were wild carrots, parsnips and get this… crab apples!

Then there was sugar… Continue reading Cooking with Honey

Sloe Wine Recipe

Sloes are good this year – just managed to pick 9lbs in less than half an hour.

Here’s a recipe for sloe wine with honey:


  • 3lb sloes;
  • 3.5lb honey;
  • 1 gallon of water;
  • red wine yeast;
  • yeast nutrient.


  • Pick through the sloes and remove stalks, leaves etc;
  • Wash the fruit;
  • Boil the water;
  • Pour boiling water on the fruit then mash with stainless steel masher;
  • Cover and leave for 5 days stirring daily;
  • Strain off the fruit and pour the liquor over the honey, stir till dissolved;
  • Add the yeast and nutrient;
  • Cover again and leave for a week while ferment dies down a bit;
  • Pour into demijohn, fit airlock and leave till ferment is finished;
  • Siphon off the lees and leave for a year;
  • Pour it down the lavatory.

Update 30.1.14 – this wine is now fermented out, it is crystal clear rich crimson in colour and very drinkable – if a little sweet.

Copyright ©, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Honey and Blackcurrant Wine Recipe

Mead flavoured with fruit is known as Melomel. I’ve got 6 blackcurrant bushes in my garden; I planted them in 2004 as cuttings. Each year now, in July I make between 10 and 30 gallons of wine from the currants they give me. Instead of sugar I use some horrible honey I bought in haste – I’m drinking my mistake. If you’re out there Frank – you know who you are – cheers!

If you have a wine hydrometer, you won’t need me to tell you how to use it and you can be more precise about how much honey you want to add.

Here is the recipe:


  • 3lb blackcurrants
  • 3.5lb honey
  • 1 gallon water
  • Red wine yeast and nutrient
  • Pectic enzyme


  • Mash the fruit in food grade plastic bucket. Do not use metal – I use a plastic bottle full of water as a pestle;
  • Boil honey and water in a large pan, remove scum and pour still boiling over the fruit;
  • Cover with a cloth;
  • When cooled to blood heat add pectic enzyme as per instructions on container and leave for a day;
  • Next day add the wine yeast and yeast nutrient, stir and cover;
  • Keep covered in a warm place, stirring once per day, for 5 days;
  • Strain into a demi-john, fit airlock and leave till it stops fermenting and wine clears;
  • Syphon off sediment into a clean jar;
  • Drink it.


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Ivy Honey

Winter is coming but when the temperatures is up – 14 degrees C   or so – the bees will continue to work the ivy (Hedera helix) especially in sunny intervals. It flowers between September and November – even December in  a very mild year. They can take quite a crop from the ivy and it is great fodder for the winter. You will know if your bees are working it because there will be lots of yellow pollen going in which will give the bees a great boost Click here for a pollen load picture or click the photo below for a close up. Standing by the hives the reek of the ivy honey can be very strong. Continue reading Ivy Honey

Honey Ginger Biscuits Recipe

This is the best biscuit recipe I know and it never fails:


  • 4oz self raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1.5oz granulated sugar
  • 2oz butter
  • 1.5 oz honey


  • Preheat oven to 190 deg C or 170 deg fan oven;
  • mix together flour, ginger and bicarbonate of soda;
  • rub in the butter;
  • add sugar and honey;
  • work the honey into the mixture with the back of a spoon, it will take time but keep at it, till you have a stiff paste;
  • form 16 balls and set, well spaced, on greased baking sheets;
  • bake for 11 minutes.

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