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The Ancient Beekeepers of the Nile and the Many Health Benefits of Honey

Written by Isabella Boston.


Honey is a thick, sweet liquid produced by bees and extracted from the nectar of flowers. It has been used for centuries for its many health benefits and was the world’s primary sweetener up until sugar was made available in the sixteenth century.


Beekeeping by Nina de Paris Davies (MET, 30.4.88)

The first known records of beekeeping and honey dates to ancient Egypt in 3,500 BCE[i]. The practice was used by all classes of people, indicating that it was mastered on a very large scale. Evidence suggests that the Egyptians organized sophisticated systems for honey manufacturing, including special rafts that moved the beehives up and down the Nile River keeping proximity to seasonal flowering plants while allowing the bees to pollinate. The hives were made from Nile mud or pipes of clay which was oftentimes stacked on top of another and later stored in pyramids. At each new location, the hives were released at the nearby flowers. Once the flowers died, the bees were transported further down the Nile and released again. In doing this, the bees migrated the entire length of Egypt. This tradition is still practiced to this present day.


Honey was a valuable resource to the ancient Egyptians. It served many diverse purposes and was an essential part of life. Citizens used the golden liquid as a sweetener in food, an antibiotic for healing wounds, and as wax to seal their sarcophagi. In fact, some mummies were embalmed in honey to help with the preservation of the body and jars of honey were left in tombs as offerings to the dead so they would have something to eat in the afterlife; During the well-known excavation of King Tutankhamun’s tomb[ii], archaeologists discovered a container of honey and even consumed it. Since this commodity never spoils, and much to their amazement, it still tasted good!


It is believed that Egyptian witches and magicians conjured spells using beeswaxed figurines to make a person suffer or die. In certain ceremonial offerings, known as the “Opening of the Mouth”[iii], priests used special instruments to place honey into the oral and eye cavities of a statue of a god, mummy, or king. They believed this practice would allow the spirits to eat, breathe, and see for all eternity. Other rituals indicated Egyptians may have believed the souls of man took the form of a bee and continued living after life.


Bee-related hieroglyphs.


Even though the ancient Egyptians were the first to master the art of honey production and storage, they were not, however, the first to capitalize off the hard work of the honeybees. Early cave paintings dated from the 1920’s suggests the ancient Spaniards were robbing beehives approximately 5,000 years before the Egyptians had built their honey empire. One cave painting discovered in the Cuevas de la Arana of Valencia depicts an image of a person collecting honey from a hive. This figure, now known as the “Man of Bicorp”,[iv] seems to be climbing up a vine while combatting enraged bees to possibly gather their honey. Although this is not as impressive as the elaborate beekeeping of the Egyptians, it is an important part in the history of apiculture.


Benefits of Raw Honey


Raw honey has the most health benefits when compared to regular honey. It is even used in some medical facilities to treat wounds. The honey sold in most stores have been pasteurized. The heat during this process kills unwanted yeast, improves texture and color, and can extend shelf life. However, many of the important health benefits and nutrients are lost in the process. If you want to enjoy the benefits of raw honey, just make sure you buy it from a trusted source and producer.


Here are some of the health benefits of raw honey:


  • Fights inflammation of the brain: The polyphenols in honey may combat inflammation[v] in the hippocampus[vi], the section of the brain responsible for memory.

  • Soothes sore throat and a cough: Honey is an old and trusted remedy for throat pain and the suppression of a cough. Although more research is needed, a 2021 review of studies[vii] indicated honey may be the best form of care in the improvement of upper respiratory tract infections. Another study done in 2016[viii] suggested the anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties are effective in curing a sore throat.

  • Aids in digestive issues: Honey is oftentimes used to treat digestive problems such as diarrhea. It may also have the potential to treat Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria, a known source of stomach ulcers.

  • Contains phytonutrients: Phytonutrients are compounds in plants that protect them from harm, such as warding off insects or shielding the plant from ultraviolet rays. The phytonutrients in honey have antioxidant properties as well as antifungal and antibacterial protection. It is also believed to be the reason raw honey has anticancer and immune-boosting benefits. However, processed regular honey can eradicate these valuable nutrients.

  • Heals Wounds: A review of studies done in 2018[ix] concluded that honey contains antimicrobial properties. A 2017 study indicated honey, royal jelly, and propolis may contain health benefits for wound healing and microbial inhibition. However, it is not a good idea to treat your wounds with store-bought honey, because it is not “medical grade”, inspected, and sterile like the honey used for research. Always consult your physician before using honey as a medical remedy.

  • Contains antibacterial and antifungal properties: Medical studies[x] have concluded the propolis in raw honey contains antibacterial and antifungal properties. The effectiveness for both treatments, topical and internal, is significant depending on the honey, but certain types are being studied for the therapeutic treatment of Candida-associated infections.

  • Contains nutrition: Depending on its origin and other factors, raw honey’s nutritional value can vary. Basically, 21 grams or one tablespoon of raw honey holds 17 grams of sugar and 64 calories. Honey contains the following micronutrients:


  1. Calcium

  2. Magnesium

  3. Manganese

  4. Niacin

  5. Pantothenic acid

  6. Phosphorous

  7. Potassium

  8. Riboflavin

  9. Zinc


Raw honey is also a source of differing amounts of enzymes, acids, and other valuable compounds.


  • Is a good source of antioxidants: Raw honey contains as many antioxidants as vegetables and fruit; Antioxidants are molecules that protect your body from cell damage caused by free radicals which are linked to serious illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease and can also cause faster aging.


Raw honey may also contain bee propolis and bee pollen which may provide extra benefits. A 2017 medical review[xi] indicated raw honey may contain potential protective properties for the gastrointestinal, respiratory, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. It may even aid in the treatment of cancer.


Potential risks


Raw honey may contain harmful bacteria known as Clostridium botulinum[xii] which is especially dangerous for infants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that honey should not be given to a child younger than one year’s old.


Symptoms of botulism poisoning[xiii] in babies might include:


  1. Lethargy

  2. Poor feeding

  3. Paralysis

  4. Loss of head control

  5. Slow breathing

  6. Constipation

  7. Absence of gagging

  8. Weak cry


In adults: An initial short period of diarrhea and vomiting, followed by constipation, blurred vision, and muscle weakness may result after eating. If you are allergic to honey or bee pollen, you should also avoid it.


How to choose the right raw honey


The labels on honey jars can be confusing. You should look for honey that specifically states “raw” on the label or is produced from a trusted source or farm that does not pasteurize. There are many varieties of honey such as “natural,” “pure,” and “organic,” but none of these are stating the honey is raw.


You should also look for any artificial sweeteners or ingredients that may have been added. A few good places to shop for authentic raw honey are at the farmer’s markets, organic grocery stores, and health food stores.


How to store raw honey?


As indicated earlier, honey does not expire[xiv], but it can become contaminated under special circumstances. You should store honey in tightly sealed containers and away from extreme temperatures and light.


After some time, honey may begin to crystallize causing it to look sugary and grainy. This is completely normal and safe. If your honey starts to smell or change drastically in color, discard it immediately.

To sum it up, raw honey can be beneficial to your health when consumed in moderation and properly harvested by a reliable source. It can be a healthier choice to refined sugar in your diet, but it’s important to locate the right variety to receive the maximum health benefits.


You can enjoy honey with your favorite teas and hot beverages, breads and muffins, or drizzled over your morning fruits and hot cereals. The possibilities are endless, delicious, and fun!


Bon appetite!




*Fun fact: Did you know that after his death in 323 BCE, Alexander the Great was transported over 1,800 from Babylon to Macedonia in a large tank of honey?


Author Bio

Isabella Boston


Isabella Boston is a multi-talented writer and the Founder of Bella’s Attic Studio. She has several years of experience in content writing, copywriting, and social media strategies. She is the author of the romantic and rare memoir, Passion of Flames. Isabella is currently working to spread awareness on the dangers and inhumanity of human sex trafficking. She has special interests in fashion and beauty, health and wellness, and natural healing as it pertains to the body, mind and soul. When Isabella is not writing, she enjoys playing the violin, learning new languages (currently Italian), and reading books of substance.


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REFERENCES:

[i] Planet Bee Foundation. (2020, December 7). The sacred bee: Ancient egypt. Planet Bee Foundation. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from https://www.planetbee.org/planet-bee-blog//the-sacred-bee-bees-in-ancient-egypt [ii] King tut's Sweet Tooth. Office for Science and Society. (2017, May 31). Retrieved July 4, 2022, from https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-history/king-tuts-sweet-tooth [iii] Opening of the mouth. (n.d.). Retrieved July 4, 2022, from https://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt/religion/wpr.html [iv] Man of Bicorp. Juan William Chávez. (n.d.). Retrieved July 4, 2022, from https://juanwilliamchavez.com/section/371828-Man-of-Bicorp.html [v] Samarghandian, S., Farkhondeh, T., & Samini, F. (2017). Honey and health: A review of recent clinical research. Pharmacognosy research. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5424551/ [vi] Team, T. H. E. (2018, January 22). Hippocampus function, anatomy & definition | body maps. Healthline. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/human-body-maps/hippocampus#1 [vii] J;, A. H. A. C. L. (n.d.). Effectiveness of honey for symptomatic relief in upper respiratory tract infections: A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ evidence-based medicine. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32817011/ [viii] National Journal of Physiology, pharmacy and pharmacology role of honey ... (n.d.). Retrieved July 4, 2022, from http://njppp.com/fulltext/28-1478482106.pdf [ix] Cianciosi, D., Forbes-Hernández, T. Y., Afrin, S., Gasparrini, M., Reboredo-Rodriguez, P., Manna, P. P., Zhang, J., Bravo Lamas, L., Martínez Flórez, S., Agudo Toyos, P., Quiles, J. L., Giampieri, F., & Battino, M. (2018, September 11). Phenolic compounds in honey and their associated health benefits: A Review. MDPI. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from https://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/23/9/2322/htm [x] Pasupuleti, V. R., Sammugam, L., Ramesh, N., & Gan, S. H. (2017). Honey, propolis, and Royal Jelly: A comprehensive review of their biological actions and Health Benefits. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5549483/ [xi] Samarghandian, S., Farkhondeh, T., & Samini, F. (1970, January 1). Honey and health: A review of recent clinical research: Semantic scholar. undefined. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Honey-and-Health%3A-A-Review-of-Recent-Clinical-Samarghandian-Farkhondeh/1dd42d4d2a8a81325f8196f936277a6b99a16d40 [xii] Yetman, D. (2020, April 16). Botulism and honey: Infant and Adult Botulism. Healthline. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/botulism-honey [xiii] Moores, D. (2018, September 29). Botulism: Causes, symptoms & diagnosis. Healthline. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/botulism [xiv] Mandl, E. (2018, May 20). Does honey ever go bad? what you should know. Healthline. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/does-honey-go-bad

Author Bio

Isabella Boston

Isabella Boston is a multi-talented writer and the Founder of Bella’s Attic Studio. She has several years of experience in content writing, copywriting, and social media strategies. She is the author of the romantic and rare memoir, Passion of Flames. Isabella is currently working to spread awareness on the dangers and inhumanity of human sex trafficking. She has special interests in fashion and beauty, health and wellness, and natural healing as it pertains the body, mind and soul. When Isabella is not writing, she enjoys playing the violin, learning new languages (currently Italian), and reading books of substance.

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