This post was last updated on August 12, 2021 by Preethi Sukumaran
Much of the wisdom of traditional medicine is found in our culture and mythology around us, so sometimes it is worth our while to simply open our eyes and observe what is going on around us.
We often receive queries asking for for clarifications on the use of honey and the science behind the warm water-lemon-honey drink. This drink has been doing the rounds for many years now and is a favourite forward sent on smartphones and WhatsApp groups and usually is one of the many tips circulated to lose weight and cleanse your bowels.
Honey in Ayurveda:
Honey is a very revered ingredient in Ayurveda and is used as a base in many medicinal formulations. Honey is used as an anupa in Ayurveda – an anupa is a fat or a liquid which is used to deliver the herbs in the medicine deep into the body. Honey is a very common anupa in Ayurveda as is Ghee. The Anupa used changes depending upon the nature of the disorder that is being worked on , and what dosha is vitiated.
Honey is , for example, used in kapha based disorders where its sharp, light and slightly astringent qualities are used to deliver bitter and spicy medicines that are used to dissolve mucous buildup.
The Raj Nighantu’s description of honey:
The Raj Nighantu written by Sri Narhari Pandit in the 17th Century AD is one of the treatises we consult to understand the medicinal properties of herbs. The Raj Nighantu lists 8 varieties of Madhu (honey). These differences arise from the different kinds of insects that collect it. It is important to note that Madhu can be collected by a large variety of insects by foraging through different kinds of flowers and grains. Depending on which kind of insect collects it and from what source, the honey’s properties differ.
For example, the Raj Nighantu describes “Arghyam Madhura” – this is collected by big sized bees with a sharp sting called “arghya” so the honey collected by them is “arghya madhu”. Arghya madhu is yellow in colour and is considered good for the eyes. It also reduces kapha and pitta dosha.
However Pauttikam Madhu is collected by yellow or yellowish red coloured bees called Puttika – The colour of this honey is described as being close to cow ghee. This honey is dry, hot and can lead to a burning sensation in the body and can also cause Rakta-pitta disorder.
Properties of different kinds of honey:
Ayurveda also documents the differences between old and new honey – old honey is said to be astringent and “lekhana” which means that it can be used along with a good exercise programme to regulate weight. However, new honey increases obesity in the body.
Similarly, the properties of ripe and unripe honey are also very different. Ripe honey enhances taste and bodily strength.
Unripe honey, while helping remove ama, also leads to emaciation or extreme weight loss. When this honey is eaten with hot substances or in the summer, it can very quickly increase pitta in the body.
What kind of honey have you been eating everyday?
The bottom line of all of the above is this: do you know what kind of insect was used to collect your honey? What flower did this insect eat? Is it old or new? Is it ripe or unripe?
If on the other hand you are buying a bottle of commercial honey of unknown provenance, it is likely that it is a blend of different kinds of honey. In which case it may have a mixture of old and new honey, ripe and unripe honey and honey from different kinds of insects.
You should therefore take extreme precautions around this honey – do not consume it every day as you are unsure of its properties. Definitely do not add it into any hot / warm substance as it could have a lot of unripe honey it could increase pitta.
Why honey should not be heated:
The other reason honey would not be added into any warm / hot food according to Ayurveda is also very practical. The honey bee itself makes honey by sipping nectar from different kinds of flowers. This is then combined along with its saliva and brought to the comb where it is mixed with the saliva plus nectar of thousands of other bees. So even when we consume honey from one source of insects, this is itself a combination or a blend from thousands of other insects.
Do not heat honey or add it to warm liquids like tea
When honey is heated or added to a hot liquid / solid, the blended honey can break down to its individual components and we could be consuming nectar from unsuitable flowers which will be poisonous to the body. This is why we never add honey to tea or warm water or use it as part of the basting when we bake or grill vegetables / meat. It is not healthy and can be harmful.
Honey and Lemon in the Hindu religion:
Panchamritam offering to Lord Muruga – picture credit https://www.flickr.com/photos/mynameisharsha/
Panchamritam is a neivedyam / prasadam offered to Lord Ayyappa & Lord Muruga and is sometimes used as part of the abhishekam for the Goddess. Panchamritam is a fresh offering and is never cooked – its primary base is honey into which other kinds of sugar, ghee and fruits are mixed in.
Lemon and Chilli offering to the Shakti – picture credit – https://www.flickr.com/photos/meanestindian
All sour foods are considered high in Pitta. The Lemon is usually offered to the Mother Goddess as it is a symbol of her creative energy which is expressed as heat. The power of manifesting form from the formless is attributed to the Devi, and this process increases heat around the Devi. As a symbol of this heat, the lemon is offered to the Devi in the form of a garland or is stuck on her Trishul.
Why Krya does not recommend drinking hot water, lemon and honey in the morning:
If you are starting your day with a mixture of warm / hot water, honey and lemon, you are drinking a very unstable, potentially poisonous drink which is very high in pitta. This can increase your acid reflux and unsettle your doshas severely. It will also corrode the enamel of your teeth making your teeth sensitive to cold and sour foods. And yes, it will also speed up hair loss and balding. It will not help you with sustainable, healthy weight loss either.
If you are looking to help your elimination process, then plain warm water is very helpful after you have brushed your teeth. Ayurveda frowns upon eating or drinking anything before cleaning the oral cavity. If plain warm water is not exciting, you can boil your water with a single cardamom pod and then filter and drink it.
As with any other important quest, in the quest for health, well being or healthy hair and skin for health and well being, shortcuts do not exist. The next time someone tells you to skip the yoga / walk and drink hot water and lemon instead, show them this post. And keep walking.
A wonderful, real Friday to you – from us at Krya.