This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Drayton (Boughs and Branches).
Our ancestors concocted from honey boiled with water and exposed to the sun, (after adding chopped raisins, lemon-peel, and other condiments), a famous fermented drink called mead, or (when the finer honey is used) metheglin, combining certain herbs so as to confer special flavours. In The Closet Opened, of Sir Kenelm Digby, knt. (1645), is given a recipe for the metheglin of Sir Thomas Gower, then Marshal of Berwick. "Five gallons of Honey to be poured into forty of small ale, and while still warm to be stirred exceedingly well with a clean arm till they be perfectly incorporated." Likewise the old Teutons prepared a Honey wine, and made it a practice that this should be drunk for the first thirty days after marriage by a newly wedded pair, from which custom has been derived the familiar honeymoon, or the month after the wedding. Sometimes hops and yeast were also employed for making mead. In the present day, cottage beekeepers about Hampshire, and elsewhere, compound a homely sort of mead from odd pieces of comb, with refuse honey, and from the brood left therein after having taken their bees in the autumn.
This ferments of itself by reason of the pollen in the combs; and the Honey beer, or Hum, as the cottagers call it, has been found to contain a valuable curative principle derived from the poison of bee stings, and proving of specific use against dropsical effusions, erysipelas, and nettlerash, also for certain forms of sore throat. Cases can be reliably adduced of a lasting cure thereby to cardiac dropsy, which was extreme, likewise of hydrocephalic effusion in children, and of dropsy from suppressed action of the kidneys. The sting of a bee or wasp will sometimes inflict a shock on the heart, even fatal in its results, by rapid absorption of the poison. The stinging secretion ejected from the poison gland of bees is chiefly formic acid (which is known to exercise considerable antiseptic effects). This is found to be present in well-preserved honey, but not in freshly gathered nectar: evidently it has been added by the bees to help preserve the honey. The said sting-poison contains three principles, one convulsive, one stupefying, and one which excites inflammation; thus the extraordinary fact appears that the poison embodies two ingredients, one of which is opposed to the other.
When a person is stung within the throat by a bee or a wasp, the best thing to do is to chew an onion, keeping the pulp at the back of the mouth, and swallowing it slowly; thereby swelling of the throat becomes prevented. Calverley describes in humorous lines the "bottling of wasps," by a gardener: -
"He hath found an old bottle, I cannot say where, He hath bound it with skill to the back of a chair, Full of mild ale so balmy, and sugar so brown, And he'll trap them by dozens, I'll bet you a crown".
As to "Mum" or "Hum," writes Harrison (1600) in his History of England, "there is a kind of swish swash made also in Essex, and divers other places, with honeycomb and water, which homely country wives putting some pepper among, and a little other spice, call "mead." Very good in mine opinion for such as love to be loose-bodied at large, or a little eased of the cough; otherwise it differeth as much from the true metheglin as chalk from cheese. Truly it is nothing else but the washings of the combs when the honey is wrung out, and one of the best things that I know belonging thereto is that they spend but little labour and less cost in making of the same, and therefore no great loss if it were never occupied." Hum was so named, most probably, from its causing a buzzing, or humming, in the head.
"Lord, what should I ail! What a cold I have over my stomach; would I had some Hum! "
Fletcher (The Wildgoose Chase).
In the thirteenth century a certain mixture of Honey and water was used for applying to "a stynkynge wounde, to be washed with, that is honey and water sodden together with mirre".
When England was Roman Catholic, a superior mead was brewed from pure new honey, beekeeping being then a profitable business owing to the demand for the beeswax wherewith candles might be manufactured for the religionists; honey was therefore plentiful, and could be readily had for making the best liquor. Then came the Reformation, bringing discouragement and depression to the apiary; and beer from barley was in vogue, the mead being superseded. But the cottage mead is to-day just what it was when Wamba the son of Witless had it for his supper. For making superior "white mead ": To every gallon of water put a pint of the best Honey, and half a pound of loaf sugar, stir in the whites of eggs - three or four to the gallon, - beat to a froth, and boil it as long as any scum arises; when it is cold, work it with yeast, and to each gallon put the juice and peel of a large lemon; stop it up when it has done working, and bottle it after ten days. An old and musical name for mead was hydromel. More recently as we read -
"When the young players get to Islington They fondly think that all the world's their own: Where many a man at variance with his wife With soft'ning mead, and cheese-cake ends the strife".
Art of Cookery, 1708.
Beeswax consists chemically of myrosin, cerolein, and cerotic acid. Mrs. Earle quotes Dr. Dabbs, of Shanklin, concerning the cure of troublesome corns with beeswax. An old wife when on her deathbed communicated to the said doctor this wonderful cure, for which she had obtained a local notoriety in the Isle of Wight. "For curing karns," said she, "you takes beeswax, and you drops it hot right on the karn, and covers 'un; then yo' puts on a bit of swealed rag, and lets 'un set for fower days; then you pulls 'un out after you've a soaked your foot in water hot enough for ye to bear; and when ee's out you'll see a big hole where 'ee was." It may be observed that Dr. Haig has shown that simplicity of diet will do much to prevent, and cure corns.
To prepare a Honey Cake: Take half a breakfastcupful of brown sugar, one breakfastcupful of rich sour cream, two breakfastcupfuls of flour, and half a teaspoonful of carbonate of soda in powder, adding honey to taste. Mix the sugar and cream together, dredge in the flour with as much honey as will flavour the mixture agreeably; stir well, that all the ingredients may be thoroughly mixed; add the carbonate of soda, and beat the cake well for five more minutes; put it into a buttered tin, and bake for from half to three quarters of an hour ; it may be eaten warm. For making Honey Cakes at the Cape: One and a half pounds of flour, half a pound of sugar, three quarters of a pint of honey. Boil the sugar and honey together; add one teaspoonful of cloves, and two teaspoonfuls of cinnamon pounded; then remove these from the fire; add half an ounce of potash, and one tablespoonful of brandy; mix the flour with half a teaspoonful of soda; then mix the hot syrup and flour well together, working the dough thoroughly with the hands, and roll out thinly. Put into a buttered pan, and bake in a slow oven for from half to one hour, and cut into squares. Preserved citron cut into strips, and mixed with the dough, improves the flavour.
These cakes will keep for some time.
Honey, as explained by Dr. Hutchison, is richer in sugar than any malt extract, and is preferable thereto, besides being cheaper. To be used for medicinal purposes "kowno" honey, produced in the linden forests of Lithuania, is the most famous.