by Hema Patankar
Honey: a taste of our deep connection with all life and a great friend in the delicate balance of staying healthy in spring
Late last spring the bees came. A whole swarm. Humming to themselves, hundreds and hundreds of bees descended into our pear tree.
I didn’t see them arrive. There was no reason to be on the lookout for a swarm of bees in my suburban back yard. I was at my desk busy writing about how all life is interconnected. About how the movements of the sun and the seasons are mirrored inside us, as well as in the plants and creatures around us
Specifically, I was writing about bees. Truly! It was spring and on of the Sanskrit names for spring is Madhusamaya, the time of honey-like sweetness. Which is fascinating because according to Ayurveda, honey is an ideal food and remedy to take in spring. That’s why I was writing about it, since I’m a lover of Ayurveda. But more on that later.
A symbol of unity and the inter-connectedness of all life.
Oblivious of the swarm of bees a few yards away, I was busy collecting Sanskrit quotes about honey. I was musing over the symbolism of honey. Not only does it represent sweet speech, but also unity, the strength of community, the inter-connectedness of all life. Which makes sense, because honey is created as a huge cooperative venture by thousands of flowers and bees, all dependent on each other. And we on them.
The bees outside were creating their own statement about how we are all connected. Finally the humming in the pear tree caught my husband’s attention. He ran in and called me: “There’s something in the garden you’ll really want to see.”
There they were! Hundreds of bees all snuggled together to make a hive that hung low in the pear tree. It was vibrating with their friendly humming. So many quivering wings shimmering in the late afternoon sun! So much energy! Yet this was no frenzied swarm. They were benign, content. That was the most intimate, astonishing encounter I have ever had with a hive of bees.
I phoned a beekeeper to understand more about what was happening. He said they must have identified our backyard as a safe haven to rest for a couple of days during a scouting journey. I was deeply humbled.
Had the Sanskrit hymns I had been singing to myself in some way invoked their visit? Their presence was so unprecedented yet deeply personal. A blessing.
I was reminded of that intimate visit by the bees because the final weeks of spring are here again and in our home we’ve been eating lots of honey, taking it as medicine, and sharing it with loved ones.
This inter-connectedness of all life is one of the big themes at the heart of Ayurveda. Ayurveda is a truly empowering traditional science of health, healing and living in harmony with our environment. It evolved within the sacred tradition of the Vedas, and it’s closely linked with yoga.
Ayurveda has been lived and practiced across the Indian subcontinent since before history was recorded. Minds refined by meditation perceived its principles. Millions of moments of intimate connection with every facet of nature, the soul and the way people live have informed this huge body of wisdom.
Let’s imagine you were growing up in a traditional home where Ayurveda was a way of life. As a child, there is a particular pattern you would notice early on. The food at home would change with each season.
The delicious sweets full of ghee and nuts that you were fed in winter would vanish with the first signs of spring. In their place, there would seem to be endless bitter things, green leafy vegetables and millet chapattis (flatbreads). But at least the honey jar would come out.
And every grandmother was asked: why? It’s about knowing the character of each season and how it’s reflected in our bodies. And then eating in a way that helps pre-empt seasonal ailments and promote good health.
According to Ayurveda, good health isn’t something that you achieve and then lock down. You can’t sustain it by eating exactly the same foods and exercising in exactly the same way all year round.
Good health is an exquisite, dynamic balance.
We are constantly negotiating this balance as the seasons, cycles and events of life change.
And knowing how to adjust what we eat in each season is really important for maintaining this balance. Because what’s happening around us in nature is mirrored inside our bodies and minds.
So here we are near the end of spring. Everything looks so beautiful. But lots of us feel like the snow melt in the Rockies is happening inside us. We feel wet, clogged and heavy. How do we balance this? We can start by eating things with the opposite qualities of these wet spring days with so much sweet pollen in the air. Yes, that means lots of bitter, light foods without much oil.
But there’s also our delicious spring ally: honey.
You’re thinking, how can something sweet balance the sweetness of spring? Honey actually has an amazing ability to help clean up the stickiness that gets accumulated in our body’s fine channels during the winter. This is because it is actually somewhat astringent, and it has a drying effect in our bodies. At the same time, it’s a remarkable tonic for our body, mind and senses.
But before you squeeze that little honey bear, stop and study the label. To experience the amazing effects we’re talking about, the honey we eat needs to have three vital qualities. It should be uncooked, unfiltered and at least six months old.
This also means we never use honey in cooking or add it to hot drinks, because cooking changes the nectar of honey into something toxic.
So how do you eat it? Keep it simple. A spoonful of honey will give you energy and nourishment, even during a weight loss diet or an Ayurvedic spring cleanse. It will actually enhance these processes. Spread it on a chapatti, a flatbread, or toast. Stir it in a drink after it has cooled down to room temperature. Easy. Delicious.
You might also discover that in Ayurveda, we don’t go for the idea of “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”. We take it up a notch.
We are often advised to take our bitter herbs with a spoonful of honey. Because honey has a prabhāva, an extraordinary power, to enhance the qualities of the herbs its combined with and help them get into action quickly.
Before spring ends, begin your own relationship with honey. Experience for yourself that it’s not just a commodity from the store. It’s the nectar of the sun, gathered and transformed by thousands of flowers and bees. And ponder each spoonful of honey as a taste of your deep connection with all life.
About the Author: Hema Patankar is an Ayurvedic practitioner, part of Living Sanskrit’s Core Faculty, and President of Vedika Global.
Photography: Shivani Ray