Why Honey is considered a medicine in Ayurveda
“चक्षुष्यं छेदि तृट्श्लेष्मदिषदिध्मास्रदित्तनुत् ॥
रूक्षं कषायमधुरं, तत्तुल्या मधुशकि रा ॥”
These Sanskrit shlokas (verses) on the subject of honey are from the ancient Ayurveda text called “Ashtanga Hridayam,” meaning the heart or essence of all the Eight Branches of Ayurveda. It is one of the main primary ancient root texts written in the 7th century BC.
In the ancient texts of Ayurveda , honey is considered a healing nectar. With its long list of health benefits and unparalleled healing potential, honey has been used as both food and medicine for thousands of years. However, it has the power to heal as well as harm depending on how it is used. Therefore knowing the best methods to take this healing nectar and when to avoid it are essential. Honey is more than just a natural sweetener. From improving eyesight to detoxification. Raw , unheated, unfiltered and unpasteurized honey has been regarded as a supreme medicinal sweet in Ayurveda for centuries.
Not all sugars are unhealthy, and some can actually bring health benefits if consumed in moderation. Apart from fructose and glucose, honey also contains antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. It is also considered lower on glycaemic index (GI) which means it slowly raises your blood sugar levels as compared to refined sugar.
Ayurveda explains another special quality of honey. Honey is also called "Yogavahi." It means a substance which has a quality of a catalyst to penetrate in the deepest tissue inside the body. Therefore, honey in Ayurveda is known as a food that acts as medicine when taken in small quantity, or as directed by the Ayurveda practitioner based on individual prakriti (individual constitution at the time of birth) and vikruti (current state of imbalances).
Ayurveda cautions us to not heat it.
“उष्णम च समग्रथं मधु: मारायत इति” - Ashthanga Hridayam
Ayurveda recommends that honey should never be heated. Here are some facts about heating honey that one must consider as a precaution to avoid any health problems. Its recommended not too add honey in a meal while cooking or adding in a steamy cup of tea/coffee or hot oatmeal etc. To use it one must wait till the steam is gone and the food is lukewarm.
“Honey enzymes originate from three major sources: plant nectars and secretions, honeybees, and excretions of plant-sucking insects. These enzymes can get altered when heated. They can also exert a toxic effect on the body. ” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/)
Therefore, if you want to get the real Ayurvedic benefits of honey, please ensure that you consume raw unfiltered, unpasturized honey which contains amino acids, minerals, enzymes, sugar and carbohydrates that are not destroyed. This is the reason why in Ayurveda raw honey is considered superior to all.
"Honey should not be heated rapidly, over direct heat. Basically, the hotter you heat it, the more potential for reducing nutritional value. Excessive heat can have detrimental effects on the nutritional value of honey. Heating up to 37°C (98.6 F) causes loss of nearly 200 components, part of which are antibacterial. Heating up to 40°C (104 F) destroys invertase, an important enzyme. Heating up to 50°C (122 F) for more than 48 hrs. turns the honey into caramel (the most valuable honey sugars become analogous to sugar). Heating honey higher than 140 degrees F for more than 2 hours will cause rapid degradation. Heating honey higher than 160 for any time period will cause rapid degradation and caramelization. Generally any larger temperature fluctuation (10°C is ideal for preservation of ripe honey) causes decay."
-John Skinner, University of Tennessee (https://bee-health.extension.org/)
As a carrier for herbs honey supports their swift absorption into circulation. Raw honey can be used to clear excess Kapha in the lungs and soothe the respiratory tract removing congestion. It helps to scrape away toxins (ama) and strengthens the digestive fire (agni). Mixed with warm milk, (not hot or boiling hot), honey calms the Vata dosha and builds ojas (vital energy, core essence). Sweet taste is considered cooling but honey has heating properties and can imbalance the Pitta dosha if taken more than needed. Those who have Pitta vikruti such as acne, exccesive sweating, psoriasis, eczema, indigestion, heart burn and diarrhea should avoid the use of honey due to its heating properties. People with a balanced Pitta can have smaller amount of honey.