"A saccharine secretion deposited in the honeycomb by Apis mellifica, Linné"—(U. S. P.).
Class: Insecta. Order: Hymenoptera.
Source and History.—The Apis mellifica, or honey-bee, belongs to the order Hymenoptera, of the class of insects. In the wild state it dwells in the hollows of trees in large communities, consisting of males, females, and neuters. Honey is a saccharine matter secreted by the nectariferous glands of flowers, which is collected by the working bees, and deposited in their crop or honey-bag, from which it is ejected when the insect reaches its hive. The taste, odor, and quality of honey varies according to the age of the bees and the character of the flowers from which it is gathered. The presence of pollen grains in honey mostly permits the identification of the flowers from which the honey is taken. There is no doubt but the secretions of the crop of the insect, somewhat alter the properties of the honey received into it from the nectaries. It is established, for example, that these secretions contain a ferment which readily converts cane sugar and starch into invert-sugar. Virgin honey is the best kind, and is procured by dripping honey-comb from a hive of young bees before they have swarmed. Honey of a superior quality is obtained by allowing it to ooze from the honeycomb. After the first honey is thus procured, by subjecting the honeycomb to compression, an inferior variety may be expressed; or it may be obtained by fusion in the vapor-bath. Although a large amount of honey is supplied in our own country, yet a great quantity is also imported from some of the West Indian islands. A plea for California honey was made by J. E. S. Bell, in Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1888, p. 126. The best honey is stated to be produced from linden flowers. On the other hand, certain poisonous plants, especially of the natural order of Ericaceae, yield poisonous honey, the toxic principle very likely being andromedotoxin (see interesting paper by L. F. Kebler, Proc. Amer. Pharm. Assoc., 1896, p. 167).
Description.—The U. S. P. describes honey as "a syrupy liquid of a light-yellowish to pale, yellowish-brown color, translucent when fresh, but gradually becoming opaque and crystalline, having a characteristic, aromatic odor, and a sweet, faintly acrid taste"—(U. S. P.). (See Mel Despumatum.) The specific gravity of good honey, on the average, is 1.425; it should not be lower than 1.375 (U. S. P.). In a great measure it is soluble in water, not so readily soluble in alcohol; hot alcohol dissolves it, but on cooling deposits crystals of grape sugar.
Chemical Composition.—According to J. König (Die Menschlichen Nahrungs- und Genussmittel, 3d ed., 1893, p. 784), the average composition of 100 parts each, in 183 samples of honey analyzed, was as follows: Water, 20.6; nitrogenous matter, 0.76; laevulose (fruit sugar), 38.65; dextrose (grape sugar or glucose), 34.48; cane sugar (sucrose), 1.76; (maximum in one single instance, 12.91; the beehives in this case were situated near a cane sugar manufactory); gum, 0.22; pollen and wax, 0.71; non-sugar substances, 2.82; ash, 0.25; phosphoric acid, 0.028. Thus it is seen that the bulk of the sugar is present as invert sugar (equal molecules of dextrose and laevulose) with laevulose somewhat preponderating. Most of the genuine honey therefore, is decidedly laevo-rotatory. Still, a possible increase in cane sugar, which is dextro-rotatory, or of dextrin-like bodies (sometimes as much as 4 per cent), in natural honey is liable to change the optical rotation to the right. Pure honey, upon standing becomes semi-crystalline, crystals of dextrose (C6H12O6+H2O) being deposited. A peculiar property of invert sugar, which is made use of in analysis by optical methods, consists in the fact that its optical rotation, which is to the left, becomes zero at a temperature of 87.2° C. (189° F.). Honey, diluted with water, is susceptible to the vinous fermentation, without the addition of yeast; if yeast be added, it forms the alcoholic liquor called mead; the presence of albuminous bodies in honey facilitates fermentation; if nitric acid be allowed to act on honey, oxalic acid results. Honey also contains formic acid, which the bees deposit in the honey in order to preserve it.
Adulterations and Tests.—Honey is occasionally adulterated with flour or starch, especially the inferior kinds, in order to give it a white appearance. If the honey be thin and slow to crystallize, it is probably adulterated with water. Honey is also liable to be adulterated by the addition of solution of cane sugar, or of glucose syrup. The presence and quantity of cane sugar may be established by determining the reducing power of the honey in question upon Fehling's solution before and after inversion with diluted hydrochloric acid. An increased reduction after inversion is due to the presence of cane sugar. The aforenamed adulterants are recognized by the following official tests: "When recent honey is diluted with 2 parts of water, the resulting liquid should be almost clear, not stringy, and should have a specific gravity not lower than 1.100 (corresponding to a specific gravity of 1.375 for the original honey). Honey has a faintly acid reaction toward litmus paper. If 1 part of honey be dissolved in 4 parts of water, a clear or nearly clear solution will result, which should not be rendered more than faintly opalescent by a few drops of silver nitrate T.S. (limit of chlorides), or of barium chloride T.S. (limit of sulphates). If 1 volume of honey be diluted with 1 volume of water, and a portion of this liquid gradually mixed with 5 volumes of absolute alcohol, it should not become more than faintly opalescent (as compared with the reserved portion of the solution), and should neither become opaque, nor deposit a slimy substance on the inner walls and bottom of the test-tube. And when honey is incinerated, in small portions at a time, in a platinum crucible, it should not leave more than 0.2 per cent of ash (absence of glucose and foreign inorganic substances). On boiling 1 part of honey with 5 parts of water, the resulting solution, when cold, should not be rendered blue or green on the addition of iodine T.S. (absence of starch)"—(U. S. P.).
Dr. O. Haenle (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1890, p. 445), employs dialysis and subsequent polarization of the residual liquid to prove the presence of glucose syrup in honey; the residue is optically active if glucose (which always contains dextrin-like bodies) is mixed with the honey in question. Yet, genuine honey, being of variable composition, may contain, as stated before, large quantities of dextrin as a natural constituent. In this connection, see the elaborate researches on the chemistry of honey, by 0. Künnmann and A. Hilger, in Forschungsberichte, 1896, pp. 211-226.
In testing honey for chlorides, an excess of chlorides present may in some cases be accounted for by the gathering of honey from flowers grown in "salt marshes" (see L. F. Kebler, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1895, p. 27). The so-called Eucalyptus honey of Australia, for which its discoverer, D. Guilmeth, and his followers, claimed the virtue of containing large amounts of eucalyptol, proved to be a misrepresentation. (Compare Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1887, p. 471, and 1891, p. 517.)
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Honey is nutritious, antiseptic, diuretic, and demulcent. Used in urinary affections, and as an addition to gargles, lotions, injections, etc. A very excellent preparation for coughs, especially during febrile or inflammatory attacks, is composed of honey, olive-oil, lemon juice, and sweet spirits of niter, each 1 fluid ounce, to be taken several times a day, in half fluid-drachm or fluid-drachm doses. Honey sometimes enters into the formation of cataplasms for diminishing the lacteal secretion, and for the treatment of fissured nipples, carbuncles, and boils. Several preparations, as honey of borax, honey of rose, etc., are used as local applications in aphthous sore throat and mouth, and to local disorders of the female genitalia. It is said that the Indians make an infusion of the honey bee, and give 1 gill of it every half hour, in strangury, suppression of urine, etc. (see Apis), and it is further added, that this infusion has the power of destroying the sexual propensity. The latter statement requires confirmation. A tincture of honey bees is made by collecting a quantity of the living insects in a vial, agitating them roughly so as to irritate them, and while in that condition they are to be covered with alcohol; in a few days it will be ready for use. In small doses, several times a day, this is a highly useful remedy in many diseases of the bladder and kidneys, as well as in some uterine affections (see Apis). Some practitioners assert that it will produce abortion in the pregnant female, if its use be too long continued, or when employed too freely. Though extensively used as a food, honey occasionally causes, in susceptible individuals, unpleasant head symptoms, and more often flatulent colic of a peculiar character, and will sometimes produce diarrhoea.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.