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January 28, 2009

Locavore Lore

Satisfy your sweet tooth with local honey

Raise your hand if you heard someone utter a New Year’s resolution related to A) being healthier in 2009, or B) enhancing a spiritual practice (yoga, meditation, etc.). There’s a bonus point if you heard both of them, and three cheers if you can claim them as your own.

I’ll happily own them if no one else does, because there’s no better way to start the year than working on both our inner and outer selves, especially when support for these mutually affirming aspirations can be found in the ambrosial abundance of our bluegrass bioregion.

The good news is that both of these noble intentions can be fulfilled, along with your other resolutions of supporting the local economy, helping Kentucky farmers, reducing your dependence on fossil fuels, cutting back on the number of chemicals you put in your body and eating in a more sustainable way, all by reaching for your highest intention: Become a locavore. Oh, and the icing on the cake is rather than giving up all sweets as part of your “eating healthier” vow, you can actually begin to fulfill that and all those other intentions through consumption of the sweet, delicious nectar of the pollination gods: local honey.

So how does ingesting honey accomplish all that?

First, let’s discuss the health benefits of this natural sweetener derived from flowers (those last five words form one of my all-time favorite phrases in the English language — everyone who knows me is aware of my insatiable sweet tooth and deep love for the natural healing potential in flowers, so the combination of the two sends me into blissful reverie). This liquid gold has been used since ancient times to treat a wide variety of ailments, such as healing wounds, soothing intestinal disorders, as an antibiotic, for general immune support and to treat a wide range of allergies. According to food scientist Dr. Paavo O. Airola, “Honey is a perfect food. It contains large amounts of vitamins, minerals, being particularly rich in vitamins B and C. It contains almost all vitamins and B-complex, which are needed in the system for the digestion and metabolism of sugar. Honey is also rich in minerals such as calcium, potassium and silicon, and some kinds may contain as much as 300 milligrams of vitamin C per 100 grams of honey.”

An excellent source of potassium, honey also contains thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine and ascorbic acid, as well as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and sodium.

Much of the reason for honey’s widespread use in healing is precisely because it’s packed with these vitamins and nutrients, and because the body easily metabolizes it — it enters the bloodstream slowly. All this and it comes in the form of a beautiful, aromatic, sensuously textured and delicious food. Yes, honey is a sweetener, so you probably shouldn’t consume it with abandon, but unlike refined sugar, which rushes into the bloodstream and jolts the pancreas into action, honey doesn’t give you the extreme rush and inevitable letdown that follows with other sugars.

Due to its high nutrient content, honey deserves super-food status, but if you’re consuming honey that’s locally produced, you’re giving your body an even greater gift. Raw, local honey has been used for centuries to address seasonal allergies, and I know many people who have found greater relief in this natural cure than in allergy prescriptions. It must be raw, because raw honey contains all the pollen, dust and molds that cause 90 percent of all allergies, and incorporating these environmental energies into one’s own system helps the body better manage when allergy season arrives. For those seeking to address environmental allergies with honey, the standard recommendation is 1-3 teaspoons per day, either straight or mixed into tea or any other ingestible substance.

Not only do our local honeybees produce a delicacy that is high in vitamins, a wonderful all-natural sweetener and a healthy alternative to some prescription medicines, they are also responsible for another locally produced wonder: bee pollen.

In an ideal world, I would dedicate this entire column to the delights of bee pollen, because it’s such an amazing and under-celebrated food. At 20 percent protein, gram for gram, it has five to seven times more protein than meat or eggs and contains 63 minerals, most of the B vitamins, 5,000 enzymes and coenzymes, and essential fatty acids. The percentage of revitalizing elements in bee pollen exceeds that present in both brewer’s yeast and wheat germ. Used to correct deficient and unbalanced nutrition, pollen is considered an energy and nutritive tonic in Chinese medicine.

Cultures throughout the world use bee pollen for a variety of applications, such as reducing cravings and ending addictions, improving endurance and vitality, extending longevity, aiding recovery from chronic illness, regulating the intestines and preventing infectious diseases. According to researchers at the Institute of Apiculture (beekeeping), “Honeybee pollen is the richest source of vitamins found in nature in a single food. Even if bee pollen had none of its other vital ingredients, its content of capillary-strengthening rutin alone would justify taking at least a teaspoon daily, as they are essential for a well-functioning system.”

However, one of the most important bee pollen facts is that it is rich in antioxidants known as flavonoids, such as myricetin, quercetin, rutin and trans-cinnamic acid. Myricetin helps white blood cells soak up the “bad” LDL cholesterol; quercetin is a natural antihistamine; rutin is best known as the remedy for varicose veins; and the body uses trans-cinnamic acid to make its own antibiotics, and this potent nutrient also powers the detoxifying processes of the liver.

If you’re still wondering how I’m going to connect upping your yoga practice or finally treating yourself to a daily mediation with local eating, look no further — bee pollen might be just the support you’ve (unknowingly) been seeking.

Ojas, one of the vital essences of life-force energy as understood by Ayurvedic healing, is the stored-up energy of the body that correlates with physical, mental, sexual and spiritual endurance. In my rudimentary understanding of this holistic approach, balance among ojas, prana and tejas (the other vital essences) is key — and increasing tejas and prana through the energy of many spiritual practices such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing and other exercises without increasing the ojas can lead to imbalance. Therefore, increasing consumption of live foods is important (a healthy body better supports a healthy spirit), and bee pollen is a fantastic source for building ojas.

Finally, not only are local honey and bee pollen incredibly healthy additions to your diet, they’re also available year round at most health food stores and local markets. So just when you might start fretting about the reduced availability of healthful produce in the winter time, you can give your immune system a honey-inspired boost until spring greens arrive.

One of the most rewarding parts of being a locavore is being able to give gratitude to those who produce your food, and it’s important to recognize the people, bees and plants that create this super-food. One diligent bee must work eight hours a day for one month to gather one teaspoon of pollen; each bee pollen pellet contains more than 2 million flower pollen grains, and one teaspoonful contains more than 2.5 billion grains of flower pollen. Chew on that during your next morning meditation.

So how much should you take? I think bee pollen is delicious and savor it au naturel, but some people prefer to mix it into something else (oatmeal, applesauce, etc.). Just be sure not to mix it into anything too hot, as this will destroy some of the healthful properties. The standard recommendation is 1-2 teaspoons per day for pollen or honey, though if you aren’t used to consuming many live foods, you might want to start slower with the bee pollen.

There are many varieties of local honey and pollen, so be sure to experiment and savor the subtle differences in flavor, aroma, texture and appearance. Hosey Honey, one of my favorite local producers, has created seasonal offerings that, when tasted together, present an exquisite and seductive journey for the palate. Not only are they delicious, but noting the subtle nuances amongst honey produced from spring flowers compared with honey from autumn flowers opens a window into greater appreciation for the intricacies between life cycles, the plant world, our personal choices and the interconnectedness of all life. How beautiful to expand our mental and spiritual understanding of the world through such gustatory revelry.

 

Honey-glazed Carrots

1 1/2 lbs. carrots, sliced in 1-2-inch sections

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 (or more) cloves garlic, chopped

2 (2-inch) pieces fresh ginger, peeled and diced

1 onion, diced

3-4 tablespoons honey

 

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add garlic, ginger and onion, and sauté, stirring until transparent, about two minutes. Add carrots and honey, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Serve immediately over fresh greens.