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.
The name Honey has been derived from the Hebrew word ghoneg, which means literally "delight." In the Book of Genesis it stands stated that the pleasant Land of Canaan, where Abraham dwelt, was "flowing with milk and honey." Rumilius Pollio, who enjoyed marvellous health, and vitality, in ancient Rome, was presented when over a hundred years old to the Emperor Augustus, who enquired what was the secret of such wondrous longevity. Pollio answered, "Interns melle, exterus oleo," the eating of honey within, and anointing by oil without. Such Honey is the nectar of flowers, partaking closely of their flavours and odours, whilst varying in taste, colour and scent, as well as in medicinal attributes, according to the species of plant from which it is gathered. Pure Honey consists, when collected from the comb of beehives, partly of crystallised glucose, which sinks to the bottom of the jar, and partly of a liquid portion above, which is fruit sugar, or laevulose, almost identical with the brown syrup of the sugar cane, but less easy of digestion.
The glucose is analogous to grape sugar, all ready for direct absorption into the blood, after being eaten, whereas cane sugar must be first masticated in the mouth with the saliva, and become converted somewhat slowly into honey-sugar before it can be similarly utilized for the wants of the body. In this way the immediately nutritive properties of Honey beyond those of cane sugar are made manifest; and it can be understood with equal readiness why grapes, identical with honey in the matter of their sugar, have a speedy effect to meet the outgoings of waste by fever, or fatigue, straightway with reparative elements ready made, instead of by a roundabout conversion, as with cane sugar. The odour of honey is due to a volatile oil, associated with a yellow colouring matter, melichroin, which is separated by the floral nectaries, and becomes bleached on exposure to the sunlight. A minute quantity of an animal acid lends additional curative value of an antiseptic nature to honey. Pure Honey contains of glucose about twenty parts in one hundred, but being deficient in lime, and in iron, it cannot be considered a perfect food; nevertheless, mothers would certainly be wise to make a free use of it in the nursery, and it should appear more constantly on the general breakfast table.
Essentially it is a solution of dextrose, and laevulose, with volatile oils, and occasionally some cane sugar. Virgin honey is that which flows spontaneously from the comb when the cells are uncapped from the hive. Wild honey is the product of bees in their wild state, or when not kept by man. King Solomon said in his wisdom, "hast thou found it? Eat no more than is sufficient, lest thou surfeit; for it is not good to eat much honey" (Proverbs xxv. 16).
It was Aristoeus, a pupil of Chiron, who first gathered Honey from the comb; and this was the basis of the seasoning of Apicius; whilst Pythagoras, who lived to be ninety, took latterly only bread and honey. Tacitus tells that our German progenitors gave credit for their long lives, and their great strength, to the mead, or Honey-beer, on which they regaled themselves. "Whoever wishes," said an old, and classic maxim, "to preserve his health should eat every morning before breakfast young onions with honey".
"There was an old man of Kilkenny Who never had more than a, penny: He spent all that money in onions and honey, That knowing old man of Kilkenny".
Seeing that good honey contains heat-forming sugar, which is so very quickly assimilated and taken up into the blood, some combination therewith of other food less easily absorbed is generally desirable; otherwise the digestion may be upset by too speedy a surfeit of bodily caloric, and energy. Thus the bread and honey of time-honoured memory is a sound form of support, as likewise the traditional milk and honey of the Old Testament Canaan. Such a food may be prepared by taking a bowl of new milk, and breaking into it some light whea,ten bread, together with some fresh white honeycomb. The mixture will be found both pleasant, and light of digestion. As a heat producer by way of food, one pound of honey is equal to two pounds of butter; and it may sometimes be beneficially substituted for cod-liver oil, when this cannot be tolerated by the patient.. In coughs and colds Honey makes a useful adjunct to other expectorants, whilst being at the same time helpfully laxative. Samuel Pepys tells in his diary (1660), "Rode to Huntsmore, and here I lay; took a spoonful of honey, and a nutmeg, scraped, for my cold, by Mr. Bowyer's direction." Nevertheless, when it is old, honey will at times cause indigestion through an excessive production of lactic acid in the stomach, and some superficial soreness within the mouth will ensue; it being at the same time familiarly known that honey (particularly if mixed with some borax), will quickly cure a state of thrush in the mouth ensuing through other derangement of the health.
In a Song of Sixpence, as asked for by Sir Toby Belch, (Twelfth Night), "The Queen was in her parlour Eating Bread and Honey".
"Mel mandit, panemque, morans regina culina, Dulcia plebeia non comedenda nuru".
(Black currant jelly in teaspoonful doses is useful for a child when suffering from thrush and a sore mouth. The fruit possesses a volatile bitter oil, residing chiefly in the skins, this oil giving its aromatic flavour to the berries.) A plain cake of currants, or seed, made with Honey in place of sugar, is a pleasant addition to the tea-table, and a useful preventive of constipation. Among the ancient Germans, Honey from the sacred ash was the first food put to the lips of a new-born babe. Likewise in the Scotch Highlands, at the birth of a child, the mother will take a green stick of ash, one end of which she thrusts into the fire, and while it is burning she will receive in a spoon the sap which oozes out from the other end of the stick, and will give this to the infant as its first food. Such is the kind of honey secreted by plants. Another sort is the product of leaf hoppers, or plant-lice (especially the Pulvinaris) which extract the sweet sap from the trees, and elaborate it within themselves into honey dew, or honey rore.