From being drizzled on your breakfast to infused in your beauty products, honey is worth its weight in gold.
Golden, lustrous, delicious. Honey has been steeped in Middle Eastern culture for centuries. Pharaohs and nobles were the first known beekeepers, as the precious fluid was cherished by the Ancient Egyptians. Pharaonic papyrus contains countless prescriptions featuring honey for the treatment of wounds and diseases. It is believed that Queen Nefertiti and Cleopatra used it for its beautifying properties, bathing in honey and milk and slathering the golden elixir onto their faces.
To make honey, worker bees collect flower nectar, storing it in their “honey stomach”, or crop, which is separate from the digestive system. Once back at the hive, the workers transfer the nectar from bee to bee, each time lowering the water content and changing the chemical composition with special enzymes in their mouths. Eventually, the nectar is deposited into a honeycomb. To further increase airflow and lower the water content, the bees fan their wings next to the honeycomb. When the nectar has turned into honey, the honeycomb is sealed with beeswax and stored as a food source for the cold winter. Depending on the strength of the hive, a surplus of honey can be harvested by humans.
Originally published in the April 2019 issue of Vogue Arabia
Honey is returning to the spotlight, with beauty brands drawing upon its legendary properties. “I learned the craft of beekeeping and honey harvesting at a young age,” says Negin Mirsalehi, creator of honey-infused haircare brand Gisou. “We used my father’s Mirsalehi honey for many purposes, not just to eat but also to soothe sore throats and heal cuts and scrapes. Honey was also the key ingredient in the hair and skincare products my mother made.” Mirsalehi launched Gisou in 2015, with her honey-infused hair oil selling out within three months. It’s continued to be a bestseller. “Honey is full of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, which all help to keep the scalp and hair healthy and prevent hair breakage. It’s also a natural humectant – it attracts moisture in the air, making hair stronger and healthier,” she says.
These merits also translate to skincare. Reem Al Khalifa, founder of Bahrain-based botanical beauty oil company Green Bar, infuses many of her products with honey. “It’s good for exfoliation and cleansing because it’s antibacterial,” she says. “It has cleansing and hydrating properties, so it’s ideal for people with acne or very dry skin. They are the ones who will feel the most benefit with honey. Our honey mask is also good for pigmentation, because of the immune-modulation effect.”
Not all honey is created equal, though. “You can classify some of the properties by what the bees eat and the healing properties of those plants,” explains Khalifa. “For example, darker honey is good for people who tend to be anemic because it’s richer in iron. Light honeys are believed to have amazing properties for the skin.”
Honey has health benefits, too, says Riath Hamed, founder of Balqees Honey, which produces Yemeni honey, considered some of the finest in the world. “Honey is a natural source to boost your immunity, thanks to its 200 health-promoting enzymes and nutrients.” To ensure maximum benefits, it’s important to use raw honey. Many commercial honey products have been pasteurized, which affects the taste and vitamin and mineral content. “Raw honey is guaranteed straight from the hive, so it’s the most potent you can buy,” Hamed says.
Since people can’t recreate honey, it’s important to ensure the sustainability of harvested hives. “We let the bees guide our beekeeping practices,” explains Mirsalehi. “We strive to mirror their natural life cycle and to minimize intrusion to the colony.” Some companies aren’t so ethical. “In a few countries, particularly in the US, beehives are rented out and moved around among crops, which has a severe impact on bee colonies,” shares Hamed. This, partnered with the introduction of genetically modified crops and agrochemicals, is leading to a severe decline in the bee population. “The only way forward is to go back to traditional methods of farming and low intervention beekeeping,” Hamed says. “Honey should be something we value and treasure, not a commodity.”
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