Special appreciation of honey bees has been recorded in literature for thousands of years.
Honey collection is an ancient activity. Humans apparently began hunting for honey at least 8,000 years ago, as evidenced by a cave painting in Valencia, Spain. The painting is a Mesolithic rock painting, showing two honey-hunters collecting honey and honeycomb from a wild bee nest. The figures are depicted carrying baskets or gourds, and using a ladder or series of ropes to reach the wild nest.
So far, the oldest remains of honey have been found in Georgia. Archaeologists have found honey remains on the inner surface of clay vessels unearthed an ancient tomb, dating back to some 4,700–5,500 years ago. In ancient Georgia, honey was packed for people’s journeys into the afterlife. And more than one type, too – along for the trip were linden, berry, and a meadow-flower variety.
In ancient Egypt, honey was used to sweeten cakes and biscuits, and was used in many other dishes. Ancient Egyptian and Middle Eastern peoples also used honey for embalming the dead. The fertility god of Egypt, Min, was offered honey.
Pliny the Elder devotes considerable space in his book Naturalis Historia to the bee and honey, and its many uses. In the absence of sugar, Honey was an integral sweetening ingredient in Roman recipes, and references to its use in food can be found in the work of many Roman authors including Athenaeus, Cato and Bassus. Some of these are collected in the book Roman cookery.
Honey was also cultivated in ancient Mesoamerica. The Maya used honey from the stingless bee for culinary purposes, and continue to do so today. The Maya also regard the bee as sacred (see Mayan stingless bees of Central America).
Some cultures believed honey had many practical health uses. It was used as an ointment for rashes and burns, and to help soothe sore throats when no other practices were available.
In Hinduism, honey (Madhu) is one of the five elixirs of immortality (Panchamrita). In temples, honey is poured over the deities in a ritual called Madhu abhisheka. The Vedas and other ancient literature mention the use of honey as a great medicinal and health food.
In Jewish tradition, honey is a symbol for the new year, Rosh Hashanah. At the traditional meal for that holiday, apple slices are dipped in honey and eaten to bring a sweet new year. Some Rosh Hashanah greetings show honey and an apple, symbolizing the feast. In some congregations, small straws of honey are given out to usher in the new year.
The Hebrew Bible contains many references to honey. In the Book of Judges, Samson found a swarm of bees and honey in the carcass of a lion (14:8). In Old Testament law, offerings were made in the temple to God. The Book of Leviticus says that “Every grain offering you bring to the Lord must be made without yeast, for you are not to burn any yeast or honey in a food offering presented to the Lord” (2:11). In the Books of Samuel Jonathan is forced into a confrontation with his father King Saul after eating honey in violation of a rash oath Saul made (14:24-47). The Book of Exodus famously describes the Promised Land as a “land flowing with milk and honey” (33:3). However, the claim has been advanced that the original Hebrew (דבש devash) actually refers to the sweet syrup produced from the juice of dates. Pure honey is considered kosher even though it is produced by a flying insect, a nonkosher creature; other products of nonkosher animals are not kosher.
In Buddhism, honey plays an important role in the festival of Madhu Purnima, celebrated in India and Bangladesh. The day commemorates Buddha‘s making peace among his disciples by retreating into the wilderness. The legend has it that while he was there, a monkey brought him honey to eat. On Madhu Purnima, Buddhists remember this act by giving honey to monks. The monkey’s gift is frequently depicted in Buddhist art.
Read more: Honey in ancient times (wikipedia)
“Eat honey, my son, for it is good;
honey from the comb is sweet to your taste.
Know also that wisdom is like honey for you:
If you find it, there is a future hope for you,
and your hope will not be cut off.”