For more than 8,000 years, humans have been sweet on the honeybee. Bees are the original alchemists and druggists. Capable foragers, they give preference to flowering herbs and plants known for having medicinal value to humans and animals. When their colony is ill, honeybees even self-medicate, consuming their hard-earned nectars, pollen and resins to keep disease in check. Humectant by nature, the golden liquid makes a soothing and healing salve for burns and wounds. Daily consumption of raw honey is thought to help alleviate allergies, as your body develops a tolerance to the traces of local pollen and other allergens. Honey can also strengthen your immune system, especially when trace amounts of another bee-made substance called propolis is in the mix.
As a new beekeeper, I found that the harvests I made from just a couple of hives far exceeded my expectations. With the abundance of what I had considered to be a very precious substance – which it is! – I felt a certain degree of freedom to use my homegrown honey in a broad assortment of applications. Many of the recipes featured in my new book The Rooftop Beekeeper: A Scrappy Guide to Keeping Urban Honeybees, including the ones below, came about in those elated days after my first 80-lb honey harvest on one fateful Brooklyn summer day…
Fresh Ginger, Herb & Honey Elixir
Makes 1 quart
Ginger and honey are a dynamic duo when combined in any recipe. Both aid digestion and assist our bodies in beating a cold. One of the easiest and most useful recipes in my repertoire is for a fresh ginger and herbal remedy sweetened with a touch of my local honey. A few hot mugs of this stuff will set you right when you’re feeling under the weather. I also recommend serving this over ice with a little splash of dark rum at the end of a long day.
1 quart water
½ pound of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 sprig of rosemary
3 to 4 sprigs fresh mint
¼ cup raw honey
1 lemon, sliced, for garnish
In a stock pot, bring water to a rolling boil. Add the grated ginger and continue to boil for 20 minutes. Pour ginger and water into a quart-size Mason jar or heat-safe pitcher. Add the herbs and honey. Cover the jar and let steep for 15 minutes. The ginger and herbs will settle to the bottom, allowing you to pour the elixir into mugs without a strainer.
Serve hot, or chill for two to three hours and serve over ice with a sprig of mint and a wedge of lemon.
Honey Infusions: Hibiscus, Vanilla or Pink Peppercorn
Makes an 8-ounce jar
While honey is a pretty stellar treat all on its own, you can have some fun experimenting with infusions to amp up its natural complexities. Many herbs and spices will work wonderfully for this recipe, so feel free to try the suggested flavors or get creative with your own combinations. The only rule with infusions is that ingredients should be dried, as anything containing water can cause the honey to ferment.
1 cup honey
1 tablespoon dried aromatic herbs or spices, such as hibiscus flowers, pink peppercorns, rosemary or lavender
1 vanilla bean or cinnamon stick
Fill the bottom of a double boiler with an inch of water. Add the honey to the top part and place boiler on medium heat. As the water reaches a low boil, check the temperature of the honey periodically. You’ll want to bring it to 185°F. Once the desired temperature is reached, reduce the heat to low and add herbs and spices, or a vanilla bean or cinnamon stick, to the honey. Simmer for about five minutes. Remove pot from heat and let stand for 10 minutes. While the mixture is still warm, strain out the herbs, spices, vanilla bean or cinnamon stick and any unsightly particles. Once cool, pour the infused honey into sterilized jars, cap and store in a cool, dark place, such as a pantry, for two to four months.
I like to serve these honeys to guests with their tea as an alternative to the “same-old” sugar cubes. Some of my favorite combinations are white tea with hibiscus-infused honey, oolong with pink peppercorn honey and Earl Grey with vanilla-infused honey.
Photos courtesy of Alex Brown.