Health benefits and traditional uses of honey
Honey is an organic natural substance that is produced from the nectar of flowers by Apis mellifera and is a sweet, flavorful liquid. It contains sugars, small quantities of proteins, enzymes, amino acids, minerals, trace elements, vitamins, aroma compounds, and polyphones. It is widely accepted as food and medicine by all generations, traditions and civilizations, both ancient and modern. Honey is heavily used by Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, and Pakistan in their traditional medicinal systems. It is used as a remedy for burns, cataracts, ulcers, diabetes, wound healing, etc. Many researchers have scientifically validated most of the traditional claims (e.g., usage for diabetes, diarrhea, inflammation, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular diseases) for honey using scientifically controlled experiments. We conclude this review by exposing the benefits and traditional usage of the honey, especially in Ayurveda medicinal system.
TRADITIONAL USES OF HONEY
Over 4000 years ago, honey was used as a traditional Ayurveda medicine, where it was thought to be effective to balance thethree humors of the body. The ancients of Vedic civilization considered honey as one of nature’s most remarkable gifts to mankind. In pre-Ancient Egyptian times, honey was used topically to treat wounds . Honey is known as Madhu or Kshaudra in Ayurveda scriptures and is one of the most important medicines used in Ayurveda. Synonyms of bee’s honey in Sanskrit are Madhu, Madvika, Kshaudra, Saradha, Makshika, Vantha, Varati, Bhrungavantha, and Pushparasodbhava. It is called Meepeni in Sinhala and Thein paani in Tamil . The ancient Greeks believed that consumption of honey could help one to live longer. Modern research indicates this substance does possess unique nutritional and medicinal properties. Bees honey is categorized into different types in Ayurveda medicinal system. According to Susruta Samhita of Ayurveda, there are eight different types of honey . Sushruta Samhita is an ancient Sanskrit text on Ayurveda medicine and surgery. It describes ancient theories on human body, etiology, symptoms, and therapeutics for a wide range of diseases.
- Pauttika: It has dry, hot and potency properties. Pauttika honey is formed from poisonous flowers and leads to vitiation of Vata, Pitta and Rakta (blood)
- Bhramara: This type of honey is described as heavy, which means not easily to digest. It contains slimy and excessively sweet properties
- Kshaudra: This type is known as light, which means easily to digest. It has cold and anti-obesive properties
- Makshika: It is the best honey and especially used for the management of cough and asthma
- Chatra: It has a sweet taste after digestion. Chatra honey also heavy, which means not easily to digest. It has cold and slimy properties. It is given as a remedy for bleeding disorders, leukoderma, urethritic discharges, and worm infestations
- Ardhya: It has a pungent taste after digestion. Ardhya honey is good for eyes, eliminates vitiated Kapha and Pitta Dosha
- Auddalaka: It has bestowed taste and beneficial for voice. It also used as remedy for skin diseases. As Ardhya honey, it has a pungent taste after digestion
- Dala: It is dry and controls vomiting and diabetes mellitus.
According to Dash and Charaka Samhita  which is an ancient Sanskrit text on Ayurveda medicine and surgery, there are four different types of honey such as Makshika, Bhramara, Kshaudra and Paittaka. Makshika is the best type of honey and color is similar to sesame oil. It is produced by reddish variety of honey bees. Bhramara honey is produced by the Bhramara type of bees. It is heavy and white in color. Kshaudra honey is brown in color and produced by a small type of honey bee. Paittaka honey is produced by a large type of bees, and the color is similar to ghee .
There are two types of honey according to the Ayurveda properties which are named as Navina madhu (fresh honey) and purana madhu (old honey). Navina madhu: Honey that is fresh or recently collected is Navina madhu. It gives nourishment. Honey which is newly collected from bee hive increases body weight and act as a mild laxative. Purana madhu: When honey becomes old (approximately after 1 year of honey collection) is called purana madhu. It is drier than navina madu, act as a good adsorbent and reduces fat.
In Ayurvedic system of medicine, the properties of honey are Madhura (sweet) and Kashaya (astringent) in Rasa (Madhura is predominant Rasa and Kashaya is less predominant Rasa), Ruksha in Guna (property), and Sheetha in Veerya (potency). Immature honey leads to aggravations of Tridosha (this is the central concept of Ayurvedic medicine, the theory that health exists when there is a balance between three fundamental bodily substances called Vata, Pitta and Kapha. The functional aspect of the body is governed by these three biological humors. Every individual has a unique combination of these three. Vata can correlate with Air or Nerve System Humor, pitta can correlate with the Fire Humor and kapha with Water Humor) and mature honey restore this three dosha in its equilibrium state. Newly formed honey increases the body weight and old honey decreases the body fat and thus body weight .
Kapha dosha (humor) is the Ayurveda category for body constitutions, those with kapha dosha are of larger proportions with robust frame. According to Sushruta samhita, actions of new and old bees honey have different properties. New honey has Vrumhana guna (nourishing properties) and it does not alleviate vitiated Kapha dosha and is a laxative. Old honey is Grahi (Water absorbents and bowel binders), reduces fat and obesity (Vaidya). It should also be kept in mind that fresh honey helps to increase body mass while old honey produces constipation and decreases body mass. Therefore, old honey is better to treat obese patients. According to Sushruta, mature honey eliminates vitiated Tridosha while immature honey vitiates Tridosha and is sour in taste. Honey should not be heated or consumed warm as it causes toxic effect but in Unani medicine, they use heated honey for some preparations. Cold honey should always be preferred.
Honey incorporates into the Madhura Ghana (sweet in taste) according to Ashtangahridaya samhita, one of the ancient Sanskrit texts on Ayurveda medicine. Although, it is in sweet taste it does not increase the kapha dosha. Therefore, it has kapha reducing property. It is the best Yogavahi substance, which means without changing its own properties; honey carries the effects of the drugs that are added to it. Therefore, honey enhances the properties and actions of the substances with which it combines .
Honey is very good for eyes and eye sight (vision), breaks up hard masses; it quenches thirst, balances kapha. It is useful to reduce toxicity, stops hiccups, for bleeding disorders, in urinary tract disorders and diabetes, skin diseases, worm infestations, bronchial asthma, cough, diarrhea and nausea, vomiting, cleanse the wounds, it heals wounds, helps in quick healing of deep wounds . Honey which is newly collected from bee hive increases body weight and is a mild laxative, honey which is stored and is old helps in metabolism of fat and scrapes Kapha. The ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Chinese, Greeks and Romans all used honey in combination with other herbs and on its own, to treat wounds and diseases of the gut . According to the Fundamentals of Chinese Medicine honey has balanced, sweet, non-toxic effects. It enters the lung, spleen and the large intestine meridian channels. Supplements the center and moistens the lung. Relieves pain and resolves toxins. Treats cough due to lung dryness; constipation due to dryness of the intestines; stomach pain; deep source nasal congestion, mouth sores, scalds and burns” properties ..
In Ayurveda, honey was used for nutritional and therapeutic purposes since many centuries both internally and externally. Honey is used as Anupana (is a fluid vehicle taken with or after medicine or eating and which aids or assists the action of main ingredient) with principal drug in Ayurveda clinical practice. It is externally used for the treatment of eye diseases, cutting and burning wounds. Internally used with other herbal preparations specially for respiratory disorders such as cough, asthma and phlegm with or without fever, as a treatment for thirst, vomiting and hiccup, for diabetes, decoctions prescribed with adding bee honey, for obesity specially use old honey, for diarrhea, bee honey added to fresh herbal juice or decoctions specially in traditional medicine. It is also used as a natural preservative and sweetener in many Ayurveda or in traditional medicines such as Navaratna kalka . It is also used as a vehicle along with some medicines to improve its efficacy or to mitigate the side effects of the other medicines it is mixed with. This is very common in traditional medicines in Sri Lanka specially used with pastes called Chandra Kalka in neurological disorders  and decoctions for diabetes mellitus . It is very clear that bee honey is helpful to alleviate the vitiated dosha in the body.
Number of compound drugs such as Vishnukranthi kalka (a paste which is recommended in Ayurveda for the treatment of peptic ulcers and the kalka is made by mixing the dry powder of the whole plant of Evolvulus alsinoides L. with cow ghee, bee honey and common sugar in a ratio of 1:2:2:1 w/w) mentioned in Vidyasagar et al.  for Annadrava shula and Parinama shula (which were correlate with gastric ulcers and peptic ulcers in Allopathic medicine) contain honey and they conferred good results. Ayurveda preparations with bees honey possess significant gastroprotective activity and it helps top romote healing of gastric or duodenal ulcers . Further honey may be helpful in preventing gastroesophageal reflux disease .
Use of honey in medications for diabetes is mentioned in Ayurveda since ancient times. Honey is normally added to the prepared decoctions. Bee’s honey is beneficial for diabetic patients in two ways. One is; honey being sweeter than sugar, one may need a much smaller quantity of honey as a sweetener and honey contain lesser calories than sugar. Further, by providing vitamins B2 , B4 , B5 , B6 , B11 and vitamin C, and minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, selenium, chromium, and manganese. The nutritional values of honey could be altered by feeding the bees with selective food .