Melithi Honey

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The history of Apitherapy


It would be wrong to claim that the history of Apitherapy begins ever since the primitive man began consuming the bee products and accept their venom. The first written testimonial for the use of the bee products for therapeutic purposes dates back in 2100 BC and it refers to a recipe, written in cuneiform script on a Sumerian clay plate, that was found in the Euphrates valley. This recipe refers to the use of honey for external purposes in combination with other substances for the cure of an infection.

7 Egyptian papyri date between 1.900 and 1.350 BC. They contain a large number of prescriptions using honey and wax, for the cure of many ailments. The most important among those papyri is “Ebers” (1550 BC) a medicinal booklet that includes 147 prescriptions for remedies applying honey for external use, 102 applying honey for internal use and several more that have to do with the use of wax. Ancient Egyptians also knew of and made use of propolis, which they called “black wax”. They prepared the well-known “kyfi”, a sort of essence or aroma that contained honey and which was used for medical and witchery purposes.

Many of the uses of the bee products in the Egyptian medicine and mostly those which refer to its internal (via the mouth) usage are repeated in Ancient Greek and Roman texts. Ancient Greeks and Romans used the bee venom, besides the honey, propolis and wax; several alcohol drinks with a honey basis were produced for medical purposes: “hydromeli” (water+honey), “oxymeli” (vinegar+honey), “oinomeli” (wine+honey), “omfakomeli” (grape juice+honey) “melikraton” (milk+honey) were also recommended for certain treatments by Hippocrates, Dioskourides, the Medicine School of Knidos and Galinos.

We can find information on Apitherapy in the Greek papyri that were discovered in Egypt. Honey seems to be a component of ophthalmological recipes, especially the honey produced in Attica is the one recommended as an ointment for the eyes, as well as in treatments for the mouth, skin, gynecological problems, otitis and nasal infections. Other medicinal recipes recommend the use of Attica of Pontian Honey, while honey from Crete and Theangela is listed in the Materia Medica. Egyptian honey on the other hand was not that appreciated. According to Plinius, the “miraculous” Cretan honey was considered an excellent medical product, while according to Ailianos the Pontian honey, which is referred to as “mainomenon meli” (mad honey) is the cure for epilepsy. It seems that centuries before the modern research proved its properties, the ancients already knew that certain kinds of honey do have much better results than others, when used for medical purposes.

In 200BC and later, in China, written testimonials of medical prescriptions include many of the bee products (honey, pollen and venom).

During the Byzantine and meta-Byzantine years, honey, wax and of course the beverages produced with a honey basis were extensively used in medical practice by the most prominent doctors of those times, like Oreivasius, Nikolaus Myrepsos, who recommends the Attica Honey in certain prescriptions, Ioannis Actuarius and later Isaac Taxiotis and Dionysios Pyrros. In the Medieval and Renaissance Western countries, Apitherapy was also used and even Charlemagne was cured from gout, with the help of bee venom.

We should not forget how popular medicine, at least in Greece, uses honey, wax and propolis very often and in various cases, such as wounds, burns, arthritis, skin ailments, stomatitis, colds, cough, oral thrush, to mention only a few.

Giorgos Mavrofrydis

Archeologist, Beekeeper