Beekeepers know their readily-available honeycomb is a yummy treat with a number of health benefits. If you aren't an apiarist, you can still indulge in honeycomb by ordering the product online or by getting it from a health-food store. Some jars of honey are sold with honeycomb right inside.
Honeycomb contains raw honey, which is unfiltered and unprocessed so it contains numerous compounds that boost your wellness. And don't hesitate to eat the entirety of the beeswax and any other compounds — the whole honeycomb is what offers the full set of benefits.
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Honeycomb consists of hexagonal beeswax cells that are covered in raw honey as well as some propolis and royal jelly. The honey and other compounds have numerous bioactive components that support good health, and the wax is antimicrobial.
What Exactly Is Honeycomb?
Honeybees make honeycomb to store their honey and pollen and sometimes use it to house their larvae, too. Honeycomb consists of dozens of hexagonal waxy cells that hold onto sticky, unfiltered raw honey. You can eat it with your fingers, stir it into vanilla ice cream, spread it over crusty toast or serve it as an accompaniment to fresh fruit.
Worker bees have wax glands through which they secrete beeswax to create the honeycomb. The wax is synthesized from honey sugars so it has a crystalline structure, suitable for construction in the hive, explains a paper in _Frontiers in Pharmacology _published in 2017.
Benefits of Beeswax
Beeswax is edible and used in some food products as a thickener and as packaging, such as for the wax around cheese. It's also a valuable ingredient in cosmetics, candles and industrial products due to its hydrophobic properties. Some medications use beeswax as a thickener, binder or drug carrier.
Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Natural Sweeteners
Beeswax has antimicrobial properties against a number of bacteria and fungi. The Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine published research in September 2016 reporting that beeswax can heal inflammation, burns and bruises when applied topically.
When ingested, beeswax may be effective in fighting the specific bacteria of Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella enterica, Candida albicans and Aspergillus niger. Beeswax works in conjunction with honey to effectively inhibit growth of these bacteria, making honeycomb — the combination of honey and beeswax — an especially potent health product.
When you've sucked out all the honey and other components in the honeycomb, the wax may even be chewed as a gum.
Benefits of Honey
The processed honey you buy in a bear-shaped bottle has nothing on raw honey in honeycomb. The raw honey isn't processed or heated, preserving the multitude of organic acids, amino acids, vitamins, phenols and multiminerals present in the product, explains research published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity in 2017. Raw honey is also rich in bioactive components, such as phenolic acid, flavonoids and certain enzymes.
Raw honey has a bit more texture and granularity than processed honey. It's a natural and effective treatment for a number of conditions, including:
- Diabetic foot ulcer
- Oral health
- Cough and sore throat
Raw honey can alleviate the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a mucosal infection in which your stomach acid kicks back into your esophagus or even into the lungs. You experience regular heartburn, inflammation and acid regurgitation. Raw honey coats the esophagus and stomach lining, so gastric juices and food residue can't flow back up into your throat.
Read more: The Dangers and Benefits of Raw Honey
Raw honey is also effective in the treatment of other stomach and digestive ailments. Dyspepsia, or abnormal intestinal function, can cause pain, bloating, nausea and heartburn and lead to the development of cancer. Gastritis is diagnosed when you experience irritation and inflammation of the lining of the stomach wall.
Honey can effectively address symptoms of both of these conditions due to its antibacterial properties and protective effects. Raw honey from honeycomb may also reduce recovery time from gastroenteritis — the stomach flu — and minimize cases of viral diarrhea as effectively as pharmaceuticals.
Natural honey also exerts cardioprotective effects that include dilation of blood vessels and improvement of cholesterol and lipid levels. The antioxidants in raw honey decrease the ability of platelets to form clots and increases levels of HDL cholesterol — the healthy type that promotes heart health.
Properties in raw honey and honeycomb may also have anticancer effects. The research in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity noted that a special type of Tualang honey exerts cytotoxic effects on breast cancer cells and not on nonmalignant breast cells. Honey may also have effects against cancerous liver cells and colorectal cells, curbing inflammation of the malignant cells.
Other Good Stuff in Honeycomb
While honey and beeswax are the major parts of a honeycomb, it may also contain propolis and royal jelly that contribute to its healthful benefits.
Propolis, explains Frontiers in Pharmacology, is a resinous substance used to build the hive. It's like bee glue that holds their structures together. Propolis contains compounds that are antioxidant, antimicrobial, anticancer, antiviral and anti-inflammatory. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine published research in March 2018 showing experimental studies supporting the beneficial effects of propolis and its related compounds in the treatment of gastrointestinal diseases.
Regular ingestion of propolis may also reduce glycemic levels in people who have Type 2 diabetes, according to a small study of 66 patients with Type 2 diabetes published in the March 2017 issue of the Journal of Integrative Medicine. The study participants who consumed 900 milligrams of bee propolis for 12 weeks also experienced some decrease in specific lipid levels.
Royal jelly is secreted from honeybee salivary glands and is a highly nutritious compound that feeds the queen and larvae as they develop into worker bees and drones. It, too, has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Royal jelly is protective for reproductive health, neurodegenerative disorders, wound healing and aging.
The Journal of Dietary Supplements published reviewed research about the benefits of royal jelly in a September 2018 issue and found that it has many beneficial effects on biological systems and may have therapeutic applications for diseases including diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and cancer.
Although raw honey may have a number of valuable nutrients, it should be avoided by pregnant women and children younger than 12 months old. In July 2012, BMJ Case Reports published a report on a 3-month-old girl who was diagnosed with infantile botulism, showing that unpasteurized honey can pose a risk of botulism poisoning in infants.
- Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity: "Honey, Propolis, and Royal Jelly: A Comprehensive Review of Their Biological Actions and Health Benefits"
- Frontiers in Pharmacology: "Therapeutic Properties of Bioactive Compounds From Different Honeybee Products"
- Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine: "Beeswax: A Minireview of Its Antimicrobial Activity and Its Application in Medicine"
- Journal of Dietary Supplements: "New Findings on Biological Actions and Clinical Applications of Royal Jelly: A Review"
- Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "Propolis and Its Potential to Treat Gastrointestinal Disorders"
- Journal of Integrative Medicine: "Effects of Bee Propolis Supplementation on Glycemic Control, Lipid Profile and Insulin Resistance Indices in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized, Double-Blind Clinical Trial"
- BMJ Case Reports: "Infant Botulism Following Honey Ingestion"