Demand for honey today is higher than in ancient times. All sacred scriptures have discussed its merit. Chinese, Greek and Roman accounts also provide us innumerable benefits of honey. Ancient Egyptians used honey as a preservative. When King Edward I of England died in 1307 and later was exhumed in 1774, his hands and face were well-preserved, attributable to the fact that they had been coated with a thin layer of wax and honey.
Indian sacred scriptures compiled around 1500 B.C. also contain references of honey. Hindus believed that eating honey would enable them to maintain good health. According to Hindu faith, Krishna has been depicted as a bee.
There were 20,000 hives in the Attica region of ancient Greece to which people traveled great distances to benefit from the honey, believing it would improve their health and help them recover from illness.
Welsh and Celtic folklore has abundant references to the sweet substance. At one point in their history, the Welsh paid their taxes with honey.
A remarkable thick liquid, honey has occupied a prominent place in traditional medicine throughout world history. Ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Chinese, Greeks and Romans used honey to treat wounds and intestinal diseases.
Honey frequently is mentioned in the works of poets and writers, especially by Oriental and classical writers. To them, honey represented all things sweet and pleasing to the taste, mind and heart.
Like bees, honey was a symbol of spirituality as well as poetic inspiration. It was looked upon as supernatural nourishment – the food of the saints, carried by bees even to the divine throne. Honey is mentioned widely throughout the Bible, as quoted below:
• “Then their father Israel said to them, ‘If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift - a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds.” (Genesis 43:11)
• “I Am the Rabb (Lord) of your father, the Rabb of Ibrahim (Abraham), the Rabb of Ishaq (Isaac) and the Rabb of Yaqub (Jacob).” At this, Musa (Moses) hid his face, because he was afraid to look at the Rabb. The Rabb said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey – the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.” (Exodus 3:6-8) Milk and honey were dietary staples for the semi-nomadic Israelites of biblical times, so Palestine indeed would be a promising home, abounding in goats and swarming with bees.
• Suleiman (Solomon) says, “My son! Eat honey for it is good.” (Proverbs 24:13)
For many reasons, honey was one of the most popular foods among Old and New Testament peoples. It became a symbol of abundance and divine blessing; therefore, tidings were given as “a land of milk and honey,” as the promised goal to Bani Israel.
Tradition says that when Kind David made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem with the Ark, he brought honey cakes with him as a treat. “And he distributed to all gatherings of Israel, both men and women, to everyone a ring-shaped cake of bread, a date cake and a raisin cake.” (2 Samuel 6:19)
In every part of the global village are towns, mountains, lakes and rivers associated with honey, which was associated with everything holy, agreeable and beneficial. It is nearly impossible to trace the origin of customs and traditions. Only rarely was honey use omitted during birth rites. Among Babylonians, Iranians, Egyptians and Hebrews, honey and milk were the first foods to touch a newborn’s lips.
In Hindu birth ceremonies, after a male infant is born and the umbilical cord severed, the father touches the son’s lips with honey from a golden vessel and applied with a golden spoon while giving the child its name.
The Qur’an and Hadith refer to honey as a healer of disease. The Qur’an says, “Bees were inspired through inborn advice by the Rabb, instructing: ‘Make hives in mountains, in trees and in that which they (humans) build. Then eat of all the fruits and follow the ways of your Rabb submissively. There comes out from within (their bodies) a drink of various hues (honey), in it is healing (effect) for humans. Verily in this is a sign for the people who consider it.’” (Surat 16, Ayaat Nos. 68-69).
A Hadith says, “Honey is a remedy for every physical illness and the Qur’an is a remedy for all mental illness; therefore, I recommend to you both as remedies, the Qur’an and honey.”
Another Hadith reported that a man approached Rasulullah (pbuh) and requested medicine for his brother who was suffering a stomach disorder. Rasulullah (pbuh) advised, “Let him drink honey.” He approached again and Rasulullah (pbuh) responded the same. The man returned again, saying, “I have done that.” Rasulullah (pbuh) then declared in crystal clear terms, “Allah has said the truth, but your brother’s stomach has told a lie. Let him drink honey.” He drank it and was cured.
Honey’s miraculous properties were discussed in the Qur’an and the Hadith some 1,400 years ago. Amongst Indian Subcontinent Muslims, the most respected family member puts ghutti, prepared with honey, into an infant’s mouth as its first food and holds honey over its head to ward off evil spirits.
When the Egyptian Pharaoh ordered all male Hebrew children drowned in the Nile, Jewish mothers were forced to give birth to their children in fields. Musa’s mother (AS) concealed the future divine guide for three months. It would not be surprising if he also was raised on honey, which might account for his wisdom, eloquence and farsighted powers. Rasulullah (pbuh) used to eat honey early in the morning, at noon and during the afternoon when his stomach was empty.
Honey has played an important role in birth, wedding and funeral ceremonies of most ancient nations and many primitive races to this day. The significance of the word honeymoon is very interesting, as according to ancient custom, the bride and groom eat and drink honey during the first four weeks of their married life. Islam describes Jannat (Paradise) as a promised place where the faithful will enjoy canals of milk and honey surrounded by Hurries (virgins).
Al-Shaikh Al-Raees, Abi Ali Sina (Avicenna), has provided many medicinal formulas in his work that include honey and beeswax among the ingredients. Regarding honey, he advises that it:
- Helps a runny nose
- Cheers you up
- Makes you feel fit
- Facilitates food digestion
- Gets rid of gas
- Improves appetite
- Nearly a provision to retain youth
- Improves memory and sharpens wits
- Loosens the tongue
- Has beneficial effects upon deep and infected ulcers
- When taken for a cold, the patient should stay in bed or at least at home, as honey causes one to sweat a great deal.
- Linden honey is a particularly good diaphoretic
- Has been used since time immemorial for lung diseases
- Considered effective when mixed with rose petals and taken before noon in early stages of Tuberculosis
- Rids a wound of its stench
- Prevents one from going blind when spread on the eyeball
- Heals mouth sores
- Causes urination
- Eases bowels
- Soothes coughs
- Heals poisonous bites and bites from mad dogs
- Has a good effect on deep wounds
- Is a remedy for the lungs and inner joints
- In chronic coughing cases, honey and hazelnuts facilitate expectoration
- Several spoons a day act as an internal disinfectant
- Those who use their voices should take two teaspoons in warm milk to soothe their throats
Honey benefits as discussed by experts
Countless travelers have found that honey works when nothing else does to end the distress of traveler’s diarrhea.
- It has power to improve mood and stimulate the part of the brain responsible for learning.
- It has the ability to attract and absorb moisture, making it remarkably soothing for minor burns and helps prevent scarring.
- Memory of those with senile dementia greatly improves after consuming glucose, a form of sugar found in honey.
- It helps kidneys and intestines function better.
- Recent studies have proven that athletes who took honey before and after competing recovered more quickly than those who did not.
- When taken with rose oil, honey cures animal bites and opium effects.
- For ulcers, honey should be dissolved in warm, boiled water and taken 90 minutes to two hours before meals or three hours afterward – preferably two hours before breakfast or midday meal and three hours after the evening meal. When taken just before meals, honey stimulates gastric juice secretion.
- Those with nervous conditions or suffering exhaustion are recommended to drink a glass of water in which honey and juice from half a lemon have been dissolved or eat two tablespoons of honey before going to bed.
- Lemon juice and honey is a good remedy in cases of hypertension, insomnia and nervous conditions. Dissolve a spoonful of honey in a glass of water and add juice from half a lemon for a pleasant and nutritious beverage.
- A teaspoon of honey before bed is recommended for babies cutting teeth, as it reduces the amount of phosphorus in the blood, thus easing pain.
- Two tablespoons of honey prevent bed-wetting, as it causes dehydration and reduces the amount of calcium in the blood.
- Taken regularly instead of supper, two tablespoons of honey help insomnia cases.
- It is advisable to give patients a teaspoon of honey two or three times a day, but the total dose should not exceed 30 to 40 grams daily.
- Applied to someone infected with lice, honey will kill both the lice and the eggs.
- Honey provides an important part of energy the body needs for blood formation, as it helps in cleansing, regulating and facilitating blood circulation. It also functions as a protection against capillary problems and arteriosclerosis.
Dr. Qazi Shaikh Abbas Borhany is an attorney at law in Karachi, Pakistan and a member of the Ulama Council of Pakistan.
The information in this article is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for medical advice.