Science Interviews

Interview

Sun, 23rd Oct 2005

The Useful Properties of Honey

Bee Wilson, historian, food columnist and author of The Hive

Part of the show Social Insects, Biting Bugs and a Potted History of Honey

Kat - So what first interested you in bees? What do you find so fascinating about them?

Bee - Well I have to admit that I absolutely love honey, and I am a food writer. It seems quite silly someone called Bee writing a book about bees. That was actually part of it. As a child I was often given little presents with pictures of Winnie the Pooh and honey on them. As I got older, I suddenly realised that there's a huge amount of sentimentality for bees that doesn't really exist for any other insect. We certainly don't feel it about wasps or ants. When I grew up and became a historian, I found out that we used to think, and still do think, all kinds of weird passionate things about bees that again I don't think apply to other insects.

Kat - They are fascinating animals. We've heard a little bit about how insects are useful, but could you talk a little bit about honey? Does honey actually have any useful properties?

Bee - It tastes delicious and therefore makes us feel good! It is a sugar, but it's probably a bit better for you than refined sugar because it has a slightly different composition of glucose and fructose in it. Over the years, all kinds of claims have been made about honey. People have said that it could cure baldness if you smeared it on the top of your head, that it could cure infertility, and all kinds of other things. A lot of it is rubbish, but it turns out that there are quite a lot of things it can do. It's been used for years as a wound dressing, and scientists in New Zealand are working on that. They are especially looking at manuka honey, which comes from a tree that is the same as the one we call tea tree, and that has been proved to have higher antibacterial properties than other honey.

Kat - Does it have the chemicals from the tree in the honey, because you get different types of honey, such as heather honey, don't you?

Bee - You do. They smell different and they have different textures. Heather honey is amazing. It's called fixatropic, which means it has the same consistency as non-drip paint. It's all to do with the different chemical make up of different nectars.

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