Among many families in Cairo, a spoon of honey is a suggested remedy for almost everything. It is offered to children before school for energy and around exam time for a brain boost and doled out by the spoonful to children in the winter. Although younger generations may laugh off this little tradition, we thought there must be some merit to a remedy so many take so seriously.
We investigated the power behind this fabulously sweet and richly delightful food–one that has been referred to for a multitude of things from a term of endearment to the favorite food of Winnie the Pooh.
It is hard to determine exactly how long honey has been consumed, but there are some indicators that shows its first existence in Egypt. It is thought that ancient Egyptians used honey in cooking in addition to presenting it as gifts to their gods. Honey was also used for the same purposes in the Greek and Roman empires and in ancient China. Honey’s ability to cure diseases is mentioned in both the Bible and the Quran, where there is a Surah called Al-Nahl (The Bees).
Besides the beneficial values mentioned in religious texts, “Many scientific researches have proved that honey is one of the most important natural remedies for various diseases,” said Dr. Afaaf Azzat, nutrition expert at the National Center for Social Researches. Honey is a rich source of vitamins A, C, D, E and K as well as calcium, manganese, iron, sodium, and potassium.
Azzat explains that children are more vulnerable to catching colds due to their weak immune systems and that taking a spoon of honey more than once a day helps to reduce irritation and chest inflammation. According to Azzat, honey also soothes sore throats and relieves pain when you swallow. "Add one to two tablespoons of honey to hot tea to kill the bacteria and relax the vocal cords," Azzat recommends.
Azzat advises that infants younger than one year old should not take honey because it supports botulinum toxin, which babies' immune systems are not built up to fight. This could cause botulism, a form of bacterial intoxication that paralyzes the muscles.
Honey is also an effective remedy for cough. According to Azzat, it is essential before bedtime as it relieves nighttime cough and helps children sleep better.
Unlike dextromethorphan, which is a cough suppressant drug, honey is high in antioxidants and has no antimicrobial effects. “Mixing lemon juice with a tablespoon of honey– preferably buckwheat honey–was found to be the best way to speed up recovery,” Azzat said.
Shahinaz Marzouq, a 33-year-old mother, said that her mother used to give her a spoon of honey with drops of lemon on it every morning. “Though i didn’t like it so much when i was young, i got used to it. And now, I am doing the same with my seven-year-old girl because she always gets ill in winter. After several months, I saw its positive effect on her immunity,” Marzouq added.
Adding black seed, also known as nigella sative, to a spoon of honey on a daily basis can benefit health. Black seed is known for its ability to strengthen the immune system due to its rich nutrients, vitamins and minerals including copper, zinc and pyridoxine.
Beeswax is also sometimes used in antibiotics to produce more natural drugs with fewer side effects.
Azzat recommended mixing hot water with beeswax to promoting better digestion. “While hot water detoxifies the body, beeswax treats digestive disturbances,” she explained.
Honey can help cure wound infections as it is a natural antiseptic. According to Azzat, it has the ability to kill bacteria as well as reduce inflammation and burn scars. Wound care medicines which contain honey's antimicrobial substances are considered the best treatment for different types of skin damage.
Honey also makes a great substitute for sugar. Throughout the manufacturing process, sugar loses its vitamins, protein, and enzymes. Nutrition expert Dr. Amad Sobhy noted that these indispensable substances are found in raw honey, which does not contain any chemicals.
Both honey and sugar have the same two basic sugar units: glucose and fructose. However, “Honey has fewer calories than sugar so is healthier as it provides an adequate supply of glucose that helps maintains normal blood pressure,” Sobhy said.
He added that honey is fully utilized by the body and easily absorbed into the blood circulation, "This burns fats, which eventually achieves stable insulin levels."
Perhaps our parents knew what they were talking about after all.