People who were engaged in apiculture, a very useful activity in the ancient Russia, were called bortniks.
From thirteenth up to fifteenth centuries bortniks were villeins. Gradually bortniks-villeins disappeared and were substituted by free people, who served as beekeepers who took care of bee apiaries that belonged to the noble. They lived on the products that they harvested from the lands, that their master gave them. Bortniks lived on edges of the forests where apiaries were located. They worked either by themselves or in small groups, sometimes they hired casual workers. All the bortniks' settlements were unified and governed by a headman.
The ancient not only considered honey to be a product of high nutritional and wholesome quality, but also attributed to it an ability to prolong life of every person individually, to what there exist references in various textual sources. In connection with this view the Greek in the early historical period of their life, saw the reason for their gods' immortality only in the food of the gods: ambrosia, which consisted of honey and milk, and nectar, which was according to their beliefs, a ninefold extract of honey.
A young Jupiter who had been hidden on the Crete island from his envious and revengeful father, had been fed with honey and milk. That made him so strong and tough that when he grew up, he seized his father's throne. Honey was also a symbol of beatitude for the Greek, and that's why honey mixed with blood was the sweetest oblation. Honey always played an important role in all religious festivals and especially in funeral ceremonies. In the latter case our pagan ancestors also appreciated the value of honey, they put honey as an oblation on graves and even inside coffins. In early Christianity honey had a deep mysterious meaning and it was given to a newly christened as a symbol of renovation and spiritual perfection. In Russia honey hasn't lost its religious meaning and that's why it is used on Christmas Eve, on the eve of the greatest Christian holiday-Christmas and on funeral banquets.
The extent to which old Testament hermits appreciated honey is seen in the fact that Jesus' forerunner John the Baptist ate honey, as well as the prophets Elijah and Elisha according to the legends, given in foreign literature.
The writers of the ancient world left interesting notes about honey. Pythagorus affirmed that it was only due to honey that he could live to old age (ninety years), otherwise he would have died at the age of fifty when he was seriously ill. D
Democritus, having sensed the approach of death, didn't prevent his loved daughters from having fun of the festivities in honor of Ceres, goddess of the growth of food plants, prolonged his life by eating honey and inhaling its aroma. Aristotle, who gave special attention to bees in his works, also emphasizes life -prolonging properties of honey.
Honey enjoyed much popularity in the Middle Ages and our ancestors, who used honey in their meals, owe their robustness, health and stamina to honey. Honey was also used as a medicine for both internal and external diseases in the Middle Ages. And it has still been used in folk or domestic medicine nowadays, whereas in scientific medicine it is unfairly ignored, and you can find the so called purified honey at the drug store, which is certainly inferior in its medicinal properties as presents a sugary extract obtained from honey.
In former times honey was used everywhere and now we use sugar instead for the same purposes. There can be no doubts that honey is both as nutriment and as medicine surpassed sugar in quality. Honey is the product of delicate sap and its components are indispensable for our organism, because it consists of pure grape, vegetable and cane sugar with some admixtures of protein substances, ferrous compounds, essential oils and formic acid, that bees add to honey in order to make it solid. Whereas table sugar consists mostly only of one type of sugar-cane sugar - and always contains residues of chemicals which are used to purify sugar, but for various ingredients that manufacturers use to make their product look appetizing. Consequently, a harmful effect of table sugar on stomach, teeth, and gastrointestinal tract is obvious.
But it would be naive to expect that consumers instead of using table sugar to which they are used to and which is affordable would return to using honey, on the top of that some people can't tolerate its specific taste and oversweetness. Nevertheless taking into account its indubitable medicinal properties, we should do our best in order to encourage the consumption of honey for maintaining our physically disordered organisms. Honey is highly nutritional and digestible, as it is assimilated completely. It enlivens a body, as it is absorbed by blood cells, without burdening them with indigestible remnants; it gives energy that makes muscles strong, body -nimbleness in movements, refreshes nerves, cheers up, broadens intellectual horizons and gives sound sleep. To certain extent honey affects the body as alcohol in small quantities, but the latter influences blood cells as an irritant, without toning up them, and that's why after some excitation of nervous system that gives feelings of gaiety and exhilaration, a person feels physical and emotional breakdown. Honey consumption has wholesome consequences, as they are based on actual strengthening and enlivening, but not on a temporary excitation and stimulation of the nervous system. In all cases of unsatisfactory malnutrition, accompanied by weakness and puniness, nervous apathy honey can be very effective. The same concerns old age, characterized by flabbiness and weakness of muscles, the deterioration of bodily functions. As is well known Brown- Secar has made the old some injections to enliven them, but the results of this method are still being discussed: some affirm them, the others deny. We don't advise that the old look for enlivening in Paris. It's better to go to our apiaries, that will be cheaper, safer and more pleasant.
Generally speaking, honey used internally influences beneficially mucous membranes of the organism and softens and refreshes skin. Consequently a healthy organism should take honey in order that it may live a full life, renew, and refresh constantly. A sick organism cannot do without honey because it helps to recover the lost strength by natural means, by forces of an organism, restore the balance and stimulate other medicines to cure an organism. Thus for example, in the case of anemia and sickness that appears in young women, ferrous compounds would be more effective if they are taken with honey, not with sugar, with bread crumb, licorice or some other extract. Out of doubt, these medicines would be still more effective if patients additionally to those small amounts of honey in the medicine took large portions of honey in order that an organism's functions may be vitalized.
Honey is especially useful in the case of chest disorders, accompanied by cough, heavy breathing, subnormal secretion of mucus, for treating stomach and intestine catarrh, haemorrhoids, scrofulous swellings and rash, chronic skin diseases, hypochondriasis and insomnia.
As far as honey is extremely important for hematopoiesis, we strongly advise to give it to children, who become strong and healthy and at the same time are protected from epidemic diseases, which often attack children at tender age. Unfortunately, some folk people, intelligentsia among them, are prejudiced against honey, saying that it causes scrofula in children. On the contrary, honey can cure scrofula as it stimulates hematopoiesis and helps against the profound weight loss (cachexia). It would be very thoughtful of loving mothers to give their children honey in all forms instead of sweets, sugar, jam, butter that sometimes can be rancid.
In normal state of health, a spoonful of honey should be taken three times a day in large quantities: for example in the morning with bread or with boiled milk, after dinner or supper with tea or water, and before going to bed. Honey taken after meals facilitates the digestion and absorption of food. In the case of disease when the general resistance and reproduction of an organism is reduced honey should be taken in smaller doses, but oftener, for example half a teaspoonful, with cool boiled water.
It is necessary to note that honey has a beneficial influence on an organism if it is completely devoid of any admixtures, in sale it's hard to find pure honey. Buying honey in white clear honeycombs can guarantee high quality of honey. Black honeycombs are not very good, because in wax cells, where bees have been bred many times, there are remnants of cocoon, and pupae's excrement under them. Comb honey is inconvenient because together with honey pieces of wax foundation get into stomach and that is not good for health. Creamed honey can't be also considered pure, because some careless beekeepers let pieces of wax and fermented pollen that gives an unpleasant astringent taste to honey get into honey. Honey centrifuged by the extractor from the cells is much better. Some rational beekeepers let centrifuged honey pass through a sieve and then let it settle. If there are some pieces of wax in honey, they are forced out on the surface, according to buoyancy. Then the surface layer is removed and honey becomes almost perfectly pure. Such type of honey only careful and rational beekeepers can make and it can be called wholesome. Забрушенные Comb honey crystallizes, granulates or turns to sugar very soon after it has been collected. If it is thinned or mixed in, it is not so quick to crystallize. Good honey after having been heated stays fluid long and turns into sugar only under the influence of low temperatures. In some honey, granules are big in others small, but the size of granules doesn't influence the quality of honey. There is a very small amount of liquid between them. Although a turned into sugar honey is an indication that honey is good, adding flour, chalk, or fine cereals can cause sometimes crystallization. Such a falsification can be easily detested by putting a small amount of honey into warm water. Honey will dissolve in some time and foreign admixtures will be easily seen.
Good honey can be stored for years in a cool and dry place in closed barrels without losing its wholesome properties, whereas honey with foreign admixtures or thinned is subject to spoiling, fermentation, and turning sour.
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English translation © Irina Yelsukova