This could be the healthiest item in your cupboard…

Search at the back of your kitchen store cupboard and you’d be surprised at what may be lurking there. If something is long past it’s best before date, it is probably unwise to consume it, but that doesn’t mean you need to throw it away.  Lots of everyday ingredients can be used for numerous other health and beauty purposes, which can be incredibly beneficial and saves on unnecessary wastage.

One of these ingredients is HONEY

Honey has long been known for its healing and medicinal properties; from Cleopatra, who was said to bathe only in asses milk and honey to keep her youthful looks, to Poppea, wife of the Roman Emperor Nero, who applied a lotion made from milk and honey to her face for very much the same reason. Today, honey is still very much widely used by large cosmetic companies, but the benefits can be achieved at home for the fraction of the price of shop brought products and with the knowledge that the ingredients are completely natural.

Honey bees gather nectar from flowers and plants and carry it to the hive or nest, where the worker bees prepare it for storage by adding enzymes. When the water content of the nectar evaporates and the enzymes get to work, the remaining nectar is turned to honey. There are over 35,000 beekeepers in Britain, but owing to our unpredictable climate the season is very limited.  Britain produces approximately 4,000 tonnes a year, however we consume over 25,000 tonnes, which means a lot of the honey available on supermarket shelves has been imported from areas of the world that have longer production seasons.

There are lots of different honey variations, dependent on which flowers the bees have gathered nectar from. Honey native to Britain includes: Apple Blossom, Borage, Cherry Blossom, Hawthorn, Heather and Lime Blossom. The flavour of each honey variant will be every so slightly different and some experts believe that some may be more beneficial to our health than others. Manuka honey is produced in New Zealand, where bees gather nectar from the flowers of wild Manuka bushes. This honey has a very distinct flavour and a dark appearance. Manuka honey, in particular, is thought to contain high levels of antibacterial properties, which can help heal a range of conditions, such as external skin infections, it can help fight throat infections, reduce gum disease, aid memory, increase energy levels, improve general well-being and reduce feelings of anxiety.

Let’s take a more detailed look at what exactly you can use honey for:

Aid Digestion

It was the Romans, who first used honey as a mild laxative to help aid digestive disorders, but throughout the ages honey has also been used as a treatment for diarrhoea. Surely, it can’t help with both of these conflicting problems? Well, the theory is that honey is believed to aid the destruction of certain bacteria within the gut by acting as a ‘preserving’ agent. Research has shown that these bactericidal properties can also work well when treating digestive problems, such as peptic ulcers.

A Good Nights Sleep

Honey contains several amino acids, including tryptophan. Like sugar, honey will cause a rise in insulin within the body. This rise in insulin allows the tryptophan to enter the brain more easily, where it is converted firstly into serotonin and then into melatonin. It is this melatonin that will ensure you get a good nights sleep, as this particular hormone is responsible for regulating sleep and wake cycles.

Soothe Coughs and Colds

Think of all the throat lozenges, cough mixtures and cold remedies you can buy in the shops and you’ll know that many of them either contain honey or are sold as honey and lemon flavoured. Well, that is simply because honey is so effective at relieving the symptoms of colds, coughs, sore throats and flu. So, why spend money on shop bought remedies when you can buy a jar of natural honey. Coughs can be eased by taking two teaspoonfuls of honey and is particularly beneficial at night time. For a sore throat, combine two tablespoons of set honey with four tablespoons of cider vinegar and a pinch of salt, then gargle for immediate relief. Or mix honey and lemon juice with hot water to make a soothing drink, which has traditionally been used to ease the congestion of a cold for years.

Reduce Allergic Reactions

Although, there has been no scientific proof about the effectiveness of honey as a natural vaccine, research is very much ongoing and case studies are certainly building the case for it. Dr. Matthew Brennecke, from the Rocky Mountain Wellness Center in Fort Collins, Colorado explains, “A common theory is that honey acts like a natural vaccine. After repeated exposure, you should build up these antibodies and the body should become accustomed to their presence so that less histamine is released, resulting in a lesser allergic response.” Basically, because honey contains small amounts of pollen, if the body is exposed to these small amounts, it will over time create an immune response to it and start to produce antibodies to fight against the pollen. People who suffer from seasonal allergies, such as hay fever, can expect to experience significant relief from their symptoms simply by taking a few teaspoons of honey each day.  The key thing to remember though, is that the honey must be raw and as local as you can possibly get it, as this will ensure that it contains the same pollen to which a sufferer is allergic.

Treat Cuts, Wounds and Burns

Owing to its antibacterial properties, honey is a fantastic natural antibiotic that can be safely used both externally and internally. Honey has been used for its medicinal properties for well over 2,000 years and works by absorbing
moisture from around the wound, which helps prevent the growth of bacteria and speeds up the healing process.

Sugar Replacement

We are forever being told that our modern diets contain too much sugar, so with this being the case, honey makes a fantastic, natural sweetener. Honey typically tastes sweeter than sugar, so you can use a lot less of it. You will need to experiment with the amounts when you substitute sugar for honey in a recipes, but we would suggest trying half the amount. A word of warning though; honey should not be given to children under the age of 12 months, as it may contain spores of Clostridium botulinum bacteria , which can contaminate the honey. This contamination can lead to infant botulism and may also produce a toxin inside the body that can cause muscle weakness and breathing problems. As the digestive system begins to mature, it is able to cope with these spores and honey consumption is no longer an issue.

Natural Beauty Product

There are numerous ways in which you can use honey in your beauty routine. Make like Cleopatra and bathe in a mixture of honey and lavendar essential oil. The ultimate relaxing experience that soothes and moisturises and leaves you smelling good enough to eat. For a cleansing facial, mix 2 tablespoons of milk with 2 tablespoons of honey, cover your face and leave for ten minutes before washing off. The honey will attract dirt away from the pores, whilst cleansing even the most sensitive of skin types.  Use on it’s own, or mixed with your favourite herbs for a gorgeously scented moisturiser that will work wonders on your dry spots, particularly great on elbows, hands and lips!

Such a seemingly simple substance, yet with so many powerful properties that provide incredible benefits both in terms of health and beauty, honey should take pride of place in not only your kitchen cupboard, but also in your bathroom cabinet. This sweet, golden elixir can only continue to be produced if we help the bees by protecting their natural environment. For more information about bees and beekeeping visit the British Bee Keepers Association.