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Honey is produced from the nectar of plants mainly secreted by glands in flowers. Bees and plants have a long evolutionary relationship, with colony development intimately linked to plant flowering periods. Nectar is a solution in water of various sugars, which may comprise up to 87% of the total weight of honey. What gives honey its unique properties are 181 different minor components it contains that have been discovered so far - some of which are unknown anywhere else. The exact composition of honey depends on the plant sources from which it derives and no two honeys are identical. The proportion of different sugars in the honey will affect the physical property of granulation, which is a natural process of crystallisation of the supersaturated sugar solution once it is harvested from the hive.

Honey bees and other social bees that store a surplus of honey transform the nectar into honey by adding enzymes, changing the sugars into a simpler form, reducing the water content and storing it so that it will keep and does not have to be consumed immediately. For honeybees this transformation and storage of nectar allows them to survive across a wide range of habitats and climatic conditions making the honeybee one of the earth's most adaptable species.

Honey is a valuable product often used as a foodstuff by humans. It is an energy rich, easily digestible foodstuff that people understand and enjoy. Because of this, it is especially valuable for children and the elderly or people who are sick and may have lost their appetite. A nourishing recipe is honey mixed into a porridge made of maize meal and ground peanuts. Honey has also significant medicinal properties and use. In many countries it is essential for use with traditional and herbal medicines, and there is now increasing interest in the use of honey in conventional medicine. Honey is valuable for burns and wounds and will help healing, especially leg ulcers, bed sores and other festering sores, and reducing the smell from advanced fungating cancers because of its antibiotic and debriding effect. It can be used to alleviate conjunctivitis - two drops will dissolve in the fluid of the eye and act as an antibiotic. It will also relieve sore throats, constipation, coughs and colds and gastritis.

Because of its high concentration of sugar honey is hygroscopic, absorbing water readily under certain environmental conditions. Honey with a high water content is likely to ferment. Honey also picks up taints and bad flavours very easily so correct handling and storage of the honey is essential. The geographical origin of honey can be checked by analysing the pollen it contains. Pasteurising and ultra filtration of honey, used by commercial producers to prevent honey from granulation, removes pollen along with the chance of identifying the source and naturalness of the honey and also removes much of its subtle nutritional and medicinal value.

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  • Language English
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  • Author Bees for Development
  • Publisher Bees for Development
  • Published Date October 2016
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