SLOGGING THROUGH knee deep, fine-as-sand soil, sweating under the noonday sun, panting with the sweet thrill of making it to the top and boy weren’t those sandwiches going to taste good . . . the hike to the summit of Mt. St. Helen’s was arduous but worth it. We had just settled on the edge of the crater, mountains stretching up and down two states like the vertebrae of a huge slumbering earth monster, when your friendly neighborhood law enforcer tripped over to our picnic site.
“Hi folks. Beautiful day, isn’t it? Can I see your permit?”
Uh. Yeah. Permit . . . yes, my hiking date had mentioned that we were supposed to have one to be up here, but . . .
“Well . . .”
And out of nowhere came a pint-sized stripy superhero, flying smacko! into my arm.
The bee buzzled off and I was left shouting ow! while ranger lady worried about band-aids and anaphylactic shock, hiking permit totally forgotten. I’m grateful to bees for more than a sting, of course (though in all probability my little hero wasn’t a honey bee). Honey, often called the “food of the gods,” is truly one of the most miraculous and delectable foodstuffs we get to eat. Thinking about the process of how honey is made—basically by bees sucking up nectar and then having other bees suck the nectar from their stomachs and “chew” it before spreading it into the combs—one might not be inclined to want to ingest it. What other products chewed by bugs do we eat? But the delicious syrupy goldenness of it, flavored uniquely by season and flower, is too good not to enjoy.
My favorite way to savor honey is on English muffins, corn bread, or a bowl of cereal, or occasionally right off the spoon. Raw, unprocessed honey is a superfood that provides antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, carbohydrates, and phytonutrients. Many commercial “big brand” honeys are pasteurized and even contain high fructose corn syrup. Heating honey can destroy its beneficial qualities, so while it’s often used in baking
and cooking, the most healthful way to enjoy honey is right out of the jar, or simply paired with other foods. Try a good blue cheese, with crisp rye toasts drizzled with buckwheat honey. Or pears and smooth, deep miticrema, a soft, sheep’s milk cheese from Spain, accompanied by lavender honey. True vanilla bean ice cream with raspberries and wildflower honey—what could be sweeter? And an idea I’d like to try: robust buckwheat honey drizzled over chili (never mind the cornbread!)
Ancient civilizations had varied ideas for this golden elixir, and used honey as embalming fluid (only for the elite), to make the honeycakes necessary to cross to the underworld after death (Cerberus was hungry), as an antibacterial agent to heal wounds and burns, a gold equivalent to pay taxes, and a secret weapon to defeat armies. “Mad honey,” made by bees from the nectar of laurels, rhododendrons, and azaleas, contained compounds that could put one alternately in an ecstatic trance or complete nervous system collapse. Hmmmm . . . seems there’s more to this substance that sweetening tea!
+ Honey was used to preserve the head of Vlad III Tepes, better known as Dracula, in route to the sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
+ Almost all bees we see gathering nectar are females.
+ The average person is not dangerously allergic to bee stings; in fact said average person can tolerate about 10 bee stings per pound of body weight. But maybe don’t try this at home . . .