Flashback Friday: Honey

Gift of the bee, ambrosia of the gods, tonic of the sages.
Flashback Friday: Honey
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From the May, 1977 issue of High Times comes Lynn Geller’s and Bill Madden’s delicious ditty on the sticky sweet nectar of the bees.

There comes a time in every man’s life when charity, gallantry, noblesse oblige, if you will, overcome his natural sloth and bestir him out of bed: mission—to brew a cup of tea for his lady fair.

Normally, you let her fix her own damn tea, but tonight, say, it’s her birthday or something, you’re elected. Our true gentleman hops out of bed without further ado and looks for something to boil water in. The kettle bubbling, water is poured into a ceramic vessel and tea added, a bag or two, unless the female has progressed to that advanced state of addiction requiring fresh, exotic leaves to be cooked in a hemispheric contraption known as “the works’’ which must be washed anew for every cup. Eventually, the tea is brewed and stewed and ready to serve. There remains only the honey to be spooned in for that extra added ambrosial tang of flavor and goodness it alone can supply.

Now, the spoon, though an imperfect instrument for the task, is plainly the only thing that will do. Fightin’ tools like the knife and fork are helpless against “the blob,” and so are the eminently civilized sugar tongs. No, only the spoon, the oldest eating implement known to history, will do to shovel out the sweet, sticky, mucilaginous mess of amniotic bee vomit that woman in her madness craves. And, inevitably, a spidery line of treacle will spin itself between this loving spoonful as it flies through the air and the jar from which it comes, hanging between the lesser and greater lakes of honey like a paper thin bridge of ice above an arctic crevasse or a stalactite of drool from a baby’s chin.

Unlike spaghetti, the honey will not drip away until an end appears and falls to earth, for this line has no beginning and no end. It is infinite, linked ultimately to all the honey in the world. It reproduces itself like a worm if severed or truncated. Soon it is on your fingers, then the spoon, then the cup, then the sheets, and soon your whole apartment is anointed with slimy, slippery, slithery killer bee coonze. The only way out of the swamp is to grease your chute the second the slime hits your palm and let your queen bee deep-throat it before her tea gets cold. Even then, you’ll be left with the kind of sticky fingers that drove Lady Macbeth to drink.

Well, lads, it’s for your own good. As your lady knows best, a right diet of the right kind of honey is the very thing for long life and hard cock, among other benefits. Never mind that the queen of the health food hive, Adelle Davis, had a walloping dollop every day and died of bone cancer; forget about the Hun of Honey, Bernarr MacFadden, screaming out his last days in a padded cell; skip the Dick Cavett rerun from the night millionaire natural cookbook publisher J. I. Rodale keeled over dead—live on tape—in the middle of a filibuster against white sugar. Forget about all that and take a tip from the holy Hebrew Talmud, where ’tis written, “honey is one sixtieth of Manna.” The apic aphrodisiac soothes tired bones, pinks the cheeks, puts the lead back in the old pencil and moves bowels made of stone. It cures snakebite. Yes, my friends, it cures snakebite… now, who’ll be the first to buy a bottle?

Not only will honey make you a better person, it even gets you high, under certain uninsurable circumstances. Jamaica’s so-called “ganja honey,” excreted by Rastafarian bees who do their thing in the island’s fabled fields of honey, are warranted to do the work of a dozen spliffs. This commodity, alas, is as hard to come by these days as Jamaican dope itself, and the prospects for domestic marihoney are no brighter: researchers at the University of Mississippi’s government-funded grass farm, which produces weed for scientific use, have been grazing bees in their fields for two years without coughing up a decent ounce of high-octane honey (on the other hand, the little fuckers have noticeably lost their urge to sting and often wind up as dazed pets who indiscriminately nuzzle up to the officials).

Easier to obtain, if you know your way around the Chinatowns of New York and San Francisco, is opium honey, an after-hive blend, distilled and imported by Hong Kong tongs and a few freelance connoisseurs with their eyes on the booming doper health-food market. Honey is money, always has been and always will be. Whatever the psychoactive content of the jizz, however, honey makes a fine packing-grease for psychedelic mushrooms and leaves a tasty resin when they are unloaded.

Honey will even get you drunk. The world’s oldest cocktail, mead, is in fact the one and only tried-and-true honey high. Ancient Greek priests “raved in holy frenzy” when they got a few gourds of fermented honey aboard, and mead was the true brew of the Middle Ages from His Majesty on down. Chaucer and Shakespeare used to swill it like water, and Vikings looked forward to guzzling lakes of it come Valhalla. Medieval mead distillers, called beemasters, were members of royal courts, and they guarded their recipes like Garbo’s phone number.

As a result, most of the mead secrets have disappeared, but the basic formula—leaving out the full moon shining over your shoulder and other alchemical approaches—involved boiling raisins in a honey-and-water solution, with maybe a nice piece of beer-soaked bread thrown in. An ounce of brandy, an ounce of salt of tartar and spices completed the brew, which was then left to ferment in a warm cellar or in the sun. After two months, the barrel was sealed for several years, the span of time varying according to individual taste. Eventually it was opened and a good time was had by all.

Mead recipes varied from nation to nation, and there seem fo be infinite variations on the basic recipe. An ancient Greek formula called for 36 ingredients. Pliny recommended five-year-old rainwater. Some beemasters used spring water or mulberry juice; others added egg whites to the froth. Spices ranged from nutmeg to thyme and fruits were various as well. In later days, whiskey was added to hasten fermentation.

According to Charles Butler’s The History of the Bees (1623), even Good Queen Bess was not above a snort of the beeswax. The mead recipe below is, according to Butler, “that which our renowned Queen Elizabeth of happy memory did so well like”:

First gather a bushel of sweetbriar leaves, and a bushel of thyme, half a bushel of rosemary and a peck of bay leaves. Seethe all these (being well washed) in a furnace (not less than 120 gallons) of fair water; let them boil the space of half an hour or better; and then pour out all the water and herbs into a vat, and let it stand until it be but milk warm: then strain the water from the herbs, and take to every six gallons of water one gallon of the finest honey, and put it into the boorne, and labor it together half an hour: then let it stand two days, stirring it well twice or thrice each day. Then take the liquor and boil it anew: and when it doeth seeth, skim it as long as there remaineth any dross. When it is clear, put it into the vat as before, and there let it be cooled. You must then have in readiness a kive of new ale or beer, which as soon as you have emptied, suddenly whelm it upside down, and set it up again, and presently put in the mead, and let it stand three days a-working. And then turn it up in barrels, tying at every taphole (by a pack thread) a little bag of beaten cloves and mace, to the value of an ounce. It must stand half a year before it is drunk.

Another good thing about honey, once you acquire the knack of it, is that it tastes immeasurably better than the white sugar that is used to season just about all our food and most of our coffee and tea. Honey, you see, is a compound natural sugar, breaking down in the taste test-tube to three simple sugars: levulose, or fruit sugar; dextrose, or grape sugar; and sucrose, or cane sugar. Sucrose is the hardest sugar to metabolize, and dextrose runs a close second. Levulose is paradoxically both the sweetest of all and the least dangerous. The renowned Tupelo honey has the highest levulose content and the lowest dextrose and is therefore highly touted in some quarters as a practical sweetener for stabilized diabetics. The reasoning behind this is that less honey is needed to sweeten (a justification for honey use in general as well).

The dreaded white sugar, on the other hand, is 99.95 sucrose and death not only to diabetics, but, over a period of years of use, to just about anybody. White sugar robs the body of B vitamins, disrupts calcium metabolism and has a deleterious effect on the human nervous system. It also makes you fat as a pig and rots hell out of your teeth.

Now, honey does not have a high mineral or vitamin content, but taken daily as a substitute for sugar, it can have a distinct positive effect. The darker honeys, particularly Scottish Heather honey, are higher in minerals. Because bacteria does not grow in it, honey has long been used as dressing for open sores and wounds. It is hygroscopic, taking up moisture and retaining it readily, helping to break up congestion. Hence the old honey and lemon treatment for common colds.

That’s not all! Honey is a sovereign remedy for:

Lushes: honey is a diuretic, can help detoxify drunkenness.

Tight assholes: honey has a mild laxative effect and is easier on the stomach than sugar.

Meth freaks: warmed with milk, honey has a soporific effect.

Limp dicks: honey is an aphrodisiac. You’ve got to eat heaps, natch.

Cadavers: King Edward I of England, buried in 1307, was rinsed in a thin layer of honey and wax, which kept his handsome face and hands intact until he was exhumed in 1774.

Humans have had a honey bee in their bonnets since the dawn of civililization. Honey received excellent reviews from the Koran, the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Yellow Emperor of China’s Classic of Internal Medicine, the I Ching, the Code of Manu and, as mentioned, the Talmud. Honey was a household item before there were households. A cave painting in Valencia, Spain, depicts a caveman stealing honey from a wild bee nest. Ancient Grecian references to “fossilized bee jam” have been found.

King Tut was sweet on honey centuries before Christ, the Crusades or Columbus were a twinkle in the mind of Ra. Egyptians used honey in every aspect of life, including death. It was eaten, drunk, accepted as payment of taxes and bartered for the bride as part of the wedding contract. References to bees and a booming Egyptian honey industry appear in hieroglyphic carvings, on obelisks and sarcophagi, in the royal tombs and even on the Rosetta stone. One of the papyri in the Louvre Egyptian collection seems to be the lunch menu from an Alexandrian restaurant. The dessert special was honey.

Convinced that a honey-drenched corpse couldn’t fail to reincarnate, the pharaoh’s embalming team used honey for dressing mummies and usually sent some away with the dead, laughing at the notion that you can’t take it with you. You can, and it lasts, as two important archaeological discoveries confirmed. The American explorer T. M. Davis found a jar of still-liquid honey in an Egyptian tomb. Davis ascertained that the honey pot had been hermetically sealed and stashed for 3,300 years. Eerier still was the discovery of a small child preserved in another jug of honey, and looking good, all things considered. Hi, kid.

Early Egyptian traveling salesmen on the Nile began the tradition of the “wandering beekeeper barge,” which has survived to this day. Honey merchants can still be seen navigating the river in search of fresh flowers for their swarms to suck.

While the Egyptians hunted flowers, Greek philosophers feverishly pursued eternal youth, which, then, as now, involved a diet or potion, and most Greek recipes called for “the magic elixir’’—honey.

The Greek gods and goddesses enjoyed sipping a cool nectar over a helping of ambrosia, both made with honey. Nectar and ambrosia were said to secure immortality, as well as prevent corruption and decay. Zeus himself was raised on honey, fed to him by a little nymph named Mellita (Greek for bee), and old Greek coins feature Zeus heads and bee’s tails. The young Zeus used a hypnotic honey draught not unlike today’s Quaalude to zonk his father to dreamland before snuffing the old man.

Your mortal Greeks followed the lead of the gods. They considered honey “the crowning dish of all feasts” and threw it in eats, drinks and snacks. Homer called honey “the food of kings,” and legend has it that his wet nurse had breasts of honey. To the Greek in the street, honey was money, used for trade in place of coins. Athletes at the original Olympics drank it as a quick refresher between hurls of the discus.

Greek physicians prescribed honey medicines for stomach problems, respiratory troubles, urinary infections, skin diseases, as a cleanser for the eyes (it was held that honey enhanced vision and begat prophecy) and as an antiseptic in surgery. Hippocrates himself recommended honey for any number of ailments, but advised his patients to use it sparingly because it induced excessive urination. Greek doctors also believed that menstruating women turned honey sour and urged that intercourse be shunned when honey alcohol was fermenting.

Typically enough, the Romans stole apiculture—the art of large-scale beekeeping—from the Greeks. Romans used honey in much the same manner as the Greeks and Egyptians, but added a few new tricks. Roman newlyweds were fed a bedtime snack of honey, milk and poppy. Apparently it did the trick.

Latin writers were big honey fans. Vergil, the poet laureate of bees, glorified honey in the fourth book of his Georgics: “I sing of honey, the heavenly ethereal gift.” And in The Aeneid Vergil praises “sweet-scented honey, fragrant with thyme.” Pliny, the Roman historian and author of the 37-volume History of Nature, devoted many chapters to honey, “which the bees collect from the sweet juices of flowers, so beneficial to health.” He studied longevity and concluded that a honey habit was prerequisite. Centuries ahead of his time, Pliny held that proper diet is the proper treatment for mental illness and touted hydromel (a honey and water combo) as the solution for assorted insanities.

Roman doctors favored burned bees mixed with honey as a cure-all. Such offbeat concoctions were popular medicine. Consider that as late as the seventeenth century apothecaries sold a curative powder made from pulverized mummies. The powder’s popularity at one point caused a run on royal corpses in Cairo. Tombs were plundered to keep up with the craze. Arabs, by the way, still use it to prevent gangrene, but then they also use camel shit for cooking.

Muhammad is on record as very pro-honey. When he reached the seventh heaven he looked up at Christ, who ordered the Archangel Gabriel to offer Muhammad a cup of honey. “Honey is a remedy for all diseases,” proclaimed the prophet: he even commanded his followers to eat it because it brought good luck. The faithful of Islam looked upon honey as a talisman and a medicine. The sixteenth chapter of the Koran is entitled “The Bee” and informs us that “There proceedeth from their bellies a liquor of various colour, wherein is medicine for men.’’ Mohammedans, forbidden to touch alcohol, took water with a honey chaser, a custom their spiritual brothers in Africa still practice.

Honey was popular with the divine set everywhere. Down Bombay way, the bee symbolized the god Krishna, whose nickname, Madhava, means “born in honey.” The Hindu Cupid rides a bee and carries a bow strung with a chain of bees, symbolizing the sweet sting of love. In Hindu weddings, the forehead, mouth, eyelids, ears and honey pie of the bride are anointed with honey. The Hindu moon is called Madhukara, “honey-giver.” The term honeymoon refers to the fact that the sweetness of marriage lasts one lunar cycle. An ancient custom dictated that the bride and groom take only honey and honey drinks during the first four weeks of married life.

Meanwhile, in Merrie Olde England, honey was as common as Druids. The Saxons and the Celts were big beekeepers long before Caesar’s legions arrived carrying their own beehives, just in case Britain was dry. Tickner Edwards, author of The Lore of the Honey Bee, tells us that “among the Anglo-Saxons, the beehives supplied the whole nation, from the king to the poorest serf, not only with an important part of their food but with drink and light as well.”

The early Druid bards called Britain “The Isle of Honey” or “The Honey Isle of Beli.” Welsh and Geltic legends runneth over with references to sparkling honey drinks. The chief Irish god, Mannannan, praised his Isle of Man as a paradise where “Rivers pour forth a stream of honey…. / Abundant there are honey and wine,/ Death and decay thou wilt not see.”

In Mannannan’s day, alcohol was already a national pastime in Ireland. The Saxons cooked up their ale from honey, or from the washings of honeycombs, and called the concoction “beor” (from beo—”bee”)—the granddad of our own beer, etymologically speaking. Many an old English pub featured a beehive on its sign and a jolly rhyme like: “In this hive we are all alive, / Good liquor makes us merry! / If you be dry, step in and try, / The value of our honey.”

Of course, it goes without saying that beer-wise, those medieval Germans were no slouches either. Munich, Danzig, in fact any with-it German burg boasted a brewery. And in Germany, as everywhere else on the international suds scene, honey was the last word in correct fermenting. No brewmaster worth his salt would ever have dreamt of using malt, considered a contemptible pollutant.

Some returning Crusaders strung out on refined sugar introduced it as a fermenting agent, a trick they picked up from the infidels. However, adulterating beer with sugar was soon proclaimed a serious crime, and perpetrators found themselves literally up shit’s creek. Eleventh-century records report that during the reign of England’s King Edward the Confessor “a knavish brewer of the City of Chester was taken around town in the cart in which the refuse of the privies had been collected.”

Now we have some idea of where honey came from, historically. But where does it really come from? That’s right! Bees.

My folks kept me in the dark about the birds and the bees, so I turned to the street. I attended The Honey Bee Festival at the Queens, New York, farmer’s market, where the vice-president of the Long Island Beekeepers Association opened my eyes. He gave a boffo demonstration complete with hive, bees, free honey and samples of bee-related products like beeswax candles and tape recordings of honeybee hums.

“Did you ever see anything prettier?” the V.P inquired, pointing to a perfect honeycomb the demo bees had made. We enthusiastically replied that we never had. Encouraged, he showed us a cross-section of a hollow tree—”The bee’s original home, like the cave was for man”—and a complete modern hive. We were amazed to learn that beekeeping is a national phenomenon—”even in the cities”—and that a massive grassroots amateur movement keeps bees, publishes newsletters, organizes meetings and even coins slogans—like “Honeylovers stick together!”

We also discovered that it takes three types of bees to found a colony: the queen, the drone and the worker bee. Together they can really churn out the honey. Bees visit at least 50 flowers to collect one five-thousandth of an ounce of nectar. Think of this in terms of pot, my friend. One pound of honey involves 30,000 or more foraging trips. There are 18,000 nectar-producing flowers, shrubs and trees that feed the bees, which, like most sane humans and geese, prefer warm, dry weather, so American beekeepers often take their hives south in the winter.

In fact, when the first bees arrived in Boston (they were not native to America) in 1664, hot on the heels of the first Africans, they quickly buzzed off to the South and West where, like Satanists, they thrived and multiplied in California. According to Time magazine, “Of the 600,000 insect species known to man, the bee is the only relatively domesticated six-legged creature.” And now for some sex.

The expression “busy as a bee” applies only to the female worker bee. She works herself to death in one short season. During her humdrum life she must assume every menial position in the hive, starting as a maid and ending as a senile civil servant. She never marries but must provide for the children of others. After Her Majesty The Queen lays worker and drone eggs in the hive maternity ward, or the “brood comb,” the worker serves as wet nurse, feeding the larvae honey, pollen and royal jelly, a thick white cream formed in the glands of the workers’ heads. Larvae vying for the queen position get to eat royal jelly until they die or accede to the throne. For the lesser larvae, the royal jelly dose is cut off after three days, taking with it any hope that a plain little worker might become a sexy queen and get herself laid occasionally.

If young workers are dissatisfied with their lot, they have little time to foment revolution. Cinderellas with no Prince Charming in sight, they slave around the clock scurrying from one end of the hive to the other. Their graduation from the hive to the great outdoors represents little change—same hours, same pay; only the atmosphere is different.

Workers outside the hive must scout for nectar, often roaming as far as two miles from home at speeds up to 15 miles an hour. Should a scout find a worthy field, she makes tracks back to the hive and does a dance to alert her fellow honeysucking workers. This “bee dance” is no idle jig. It gives the low-down on the location of the nectar pasture in relation to the position of the sun. So precise is this little mambo that it allows for the time lapse from sighting to advance and predicts where the sun will be when the swarm arrives. While youth labors in the fields, the oldest workers (five or six weeks) guard the hive from brigand bees. This is their last duty before dying of exhaustion.

Conversely, the male, or drone, serves but one function, albeit a big one. Pimplike, he learns early in life how to obtain food and shelter from the little worker girls. Thus he prepares to fly well rested and well fed from the hive to meet his destiny as consort to the queen. Although only a handful of drones will actually perform their stud duty, each is equipped with the largest penis (relative to body size) of any creature in the world, so large, in fact, that erection and a quickie with the queen are almost always fatal.

Often the queen flies back to the hive after sex carrying not only a lifetime supply of sperm, but also a male member or two as a souvenir of the fray. For the drones who miss out on royal service, life is no great shakes either. A lackluster bunch, banned from the hive and unable or unwilling to feed themselves, they die of starvation in a matter of weeks.

The venereal life of the drone illustrates the ultimate justice of the universe. For while most guys would be proud to be hung like a bee, few would be willing to put up with his postcoital blues. By the way, the French are not averse to a mild bee sting, which they consider to be an aphrodisiac.

Early Egyptians worshiped the bee for its absolute allegiance to a monarch. The monarch, as it turns out, is a matriarch. One queen rules the hive, no questions asked. And no wonder, since the first duty of the queen upon emerging from the larval cell is to seek out and kill all possible contenders for the throne. This accomplished, she lounges for a few days, taking a well-deserved vacation and fattening up for her maiden flight (for lack of a better term). Although she may meet and mate with Mr. Right her first time out, usually she just cruises the drones.

Once it was believed that the queen had but a single flight of fancy before retiring to the hive for good to spend her days laying eggs, laying about and laying down the law for the rest of the bees. Now it is known that she may cat around a bit before opting for power over sex. Basically, however, two or three flings suffice. She collects enough sperm in her brief encounters to lay up to 5,000 eggs a day until she dies. While a-laying, she is attended by workers, who feed her that good royal jelly during breaks. An energetic queen may lay 1,500,000 eggs in her four-to-five-year life. In general, however, she will stop after a year or two to live out her reign as a figurehead, keeping up the morale of the ever-changing troops.

You too can enjoy many years of hale and hearty longevity on, according to some authorities, as little as a spoonful of honey a day. Your local natural-food store will be glad to supply you with many other encouraging facts as well. “Honey is a wonderful substance,” a Persian proverb says, “though it does not help the dead.” At any rate, it never killed anyone.

1 comment
  1. Gotta love the racist comment about Arabs: “Arabs, by the way, still use it to prevent gangrene, but then they also use camel shit for cooking.”

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