Honey is a fragrant, sweet, sticky liquid made by honeybees. The bees collect nectar from a variety of plants, carry it to their nests and convert it to honey. Honey is easy for humans to digest because it has been pre-digested by bees in a special part of their stomachs, which contains enzymes that transform the sweet sap into honey. The liquid is regurgitated into the honeycombs, setting and thickening slowly.
Half a kilogram of honey contains the essence of approximately two million flowers, and a single bee might only produce around a teaspoonful of honey in its entire lifetime. The colour, fragrance and properties of honey are determined by the source of the nectar. Generally speaking, the lighter the colour, the milder the flavour and fragrance and vice versa.
We get some of our honey products from a local beekeeper in Hurn, Bournemouth. Our beekeeper keeps hives across Dorset, where the bees forage local heather and other delicious flowers. George, the honey man, has over 50 hives, containing approximately 15,000 bees per hive.
Depending on conditions, a bee can live from six weeks to six months, and each hive has its own queen. A queen can produce between 1,500 and 2,000 eggs per day, ensuring a consistent number of drones in the hive are producing honey throughout the year. Every bee starts out in identical egg chambers, but within a few days, some are selected to receive the famous ‘royal jelly’ to create a new queen.
Of all the insects, bees may perhaps be the most important. Their visits to flowering plants serve a crucial function of biotic pollination for plants unable to pollinate themselves, necessary for the production of fruits and vegetables. It is estimated that approximately one-third of human food sources comes from such plants, and honeybees are responsible for the majority of this pollination. Beekeepers remove some of the honey from the hives, leaving enough for the bees to sustain themselves. Many modern beekeepers move the nests around different flowering crops to produce different honey varieties throughout the year.
Evidence shows us that honey contains nutrients and antibacterial, antiseptic, antioxidant and antifungal substances. Left undiluted, honey is also self-preserving and will remain edible and usable for years, although it may crystallise (a natural process, which can be remedied by the application of a little heat).
Honey has been used as a skin ointment for over 2,000 years, and was often used to lighten skin and hair because it contains an enzyme that produces small amounts of hydrogen peroxide when diluted. This action is responsible for much of honey’s antibacterial effect and was called ‘inhibine’ before it was identified as hydrogen peroxide. The hydrogen peroxide content is negligibly active in pure, undiluted honey, but when diluted in water, it becomes more active and can serve almost like a mild, slow-release antiseptic. The other phytochemical substances in honey buffer the antibacterial action and make this a very safe way to help skin heal itself.
We’ve used English honey in our Flying Fox shower gel for its antibacterial and soothing properties.