The best perk of living in the Methow Valley is the gift of knowledge people share with each other. Years ago, Randy Lewis shared his “golden cream” recipe, a beverage he discovered while visiting friends in Turkey. As snow piled up underneath the eaves and a cold damp fog rolled in to obscure the trees, I remembered Randy’s recipe of warm cream with honey and spices.
As I pulled the honey down from the shelf, I thought about the jars of sealed honey found in Egyptian tombs, as fresh as the day they were sealed thousands of years ago. My phone must have read my mind, because as I scrolled while sipping a cup of golden cream, I came across a Smithsonian article, “The Science Behind Honey’s Eternal Shelf Life,” written by Natasha Geiling and published in August 2013.
The article identified two main components of honey that ensure a long shelf life: sugar and acid. The main component of honey — sugar — is hygroscopic, meaning “absorbs moisture.” As long as honey is sealed, it will not absorb moisture. In this absence of water, microorganisms do not grow. The acid in honey kills any remaining microorganisms.
According to the National Honey Board, the acidity of honey has an average pH level of 3.9. The acidity comes from the floral sources that provide over a dozen amino acids and aliphatic and aromatic acids that flavor the honey. The bees act as tiny, winged alchemists to further transform honey’s anti-bacterial properties. Bees collect nectar into their crop, or honey stomach, for transfer back to the hive. The honey stomach contains an enzyme that breaks down the nectar into gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide.
Perhaps the ancient Egyptians included jars of honey with the dead to sweeten the deal with Osiris, a gift to sweeten culinary delights and also treat wounds and illnesses. At first glance, smearing a sticky gob of bee vomit over an open wound sounds daft. But given the hygroscopic and antibacterial properties of honey, the idea makes sense.
In a peer-reviewed article published by the National Institute of Health, Dr. Arne Simon and others detail successful wound treatment with honey in pediatric cancer patients. Their paper, titled “Medical Honey For Wound Care,” describes hydroscopic honey drawing moisture out of a wound while releasing hydrogen peroxide. The findings confirmed anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of medicinal honey.
I thought of this as I sipped my mug of golden cream with turmeric, cinnamon and ginger — all known anti-inflammatory spices. When Randy sent over his recipe, he said, “the health benefits are incredible.” I pulled down Rosalee de la Foret’s beautifully illustrated book, “The Alchemy of Herbs” and read each chapter on these spices as I savored my afternoon mug of warm spiced milk.
I was surprised to learn turmeric alone is not easily absorbed by the body — it needs pepper and oil to release the healthy compounds. Rosalee includes a recipe for Warmed Golden Milk in this book (she makes hers with milk and ghee), along with the method to prepare turmeric for maximum health benefits. Using knowledge from both Randy and Rosalee, I prepared a lovely concoction of coconut oil, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, black pepper, honey and soy milk.
Rosalee’s book, “Alchemy of Herbs” can be found at Trail’s End Bookstore. Ancient Egyptian honey can be found in King Tut’s tomb.