When they first hear the Ayurveda rule “Don’t heat honey”, it comes as quite a shock for most people. Nearly everyone has put honey in their tea or followed recipes using honey as a “healthy” substitute for sugar.
But if you’ve hung out around Ayurveda even briefly, you have been cautioned not to cook honey. So what exactly is the problem with heating honey? And, how can you use honey for health effects? Here’s the skinny on honey, it’s properties when you can warm it when cooking it becomes toxic.
Special qualities of honey you didn’t know
As always, we have to start with understanding the qualities and actions of any substance. (Without defining this, how are you going to know whether it is reducing your condition or worsening your condition?!)
Qualities of Honey
Taste: Honey has primarily a sweet taste, and secondarily an astringent taste. When you’re looking to figure out whether the quality of honey is excellent for medicinal uses (and even pure at all) it’s the astringent that should come through.
Dry as dominant quality: And, it’s the astringent that gives honey its drying healing effect, for example, honey can be used to draw out impurities of the skin in face masks and create the ‘pulling together’ that makes it so effective for wound healing. Its astringency along with the fact that honey is definitely heating is the magic combination for reducing Kapha (yes, despite the sweet taste!) In terms of other significant qualities, honey is light to digest.
Doshic effect: PK reducing (particularly liquid-type P), increases Vata (especially dry V)
- Used as a “vehicle” (anupan) for administering medicines
- Used in conditions to
- improve eyesight
- break up hard masses
- reduce excessive thirst
- improve skin diseases & bleeding
- diabetes and other urinary tract conditions
- relieve vomiting & diarrhea
- relieve a cough, and colds & difficulty breathing
To highlight a couple of these, honey is frequently used in Ayurveda as an anupan, or substance to carry a dosage of herbs to the desired location. A very common use is ‘scraping’ or its ability to break up stagnant tissue. And the drying, heating features of honey cannot be overestimated
How to know whether honey is good quality:
Medicinally Ayurveda uses ‘runny’ honey specifically from very small bees native to parts of India. In Europe and the Americas, our best bet is to go to a local farmer’s market, taste test to find the most astringent-tasting type on offer (that gives a drying sensation in the mouth), and go for clear, runny without any sediments. You can also do a test by dropping it in water – it should drop to the bottom and stay together rather than dissolving into the water immediately. You should also favor raw honey that has not been treated to high temperatures during processing.