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Book review | Two Million Blossoms

Folk medicine was never my thing. Being the child of a pharmaceutical researcher, I was carefully taught that  “quack” medicine and “real” medicine had nothing to do with each other.

In truth, I’m extremely grateful for modern medicine. At one point in my life I was told I would never walk again—not normally—but I walk, run, skip, and climb just fine. I’ve also recovered from childhood illnesses that would have taken me out without modern intervention.

But still, it has become obvious over the years that, in many ways, modern medicine has its limits. Drugs that are designed to do one thing, cause other problems. Antibiotics have bred super bugs that seem resistant to everything. Worse, drugs that could help are often priced beyond comprehension, sometimes forcing people to choose between them and other necessities.

Out of curiosity more than anything, I began reading Kirsten Traynor’s book Two Million Blossoms: Discovering the Medicinal Benefits of Honey (2011). Traynor is a honey bee biologist who has done extensive research on honey and how it is used by international health care practitioners.

She is an excellent writer whose text is both clear and engaging, but the best thing about the book is her attitude. The book is not preachy in the least. She does not try to convince you that honey is the best medicine, but simply lays out the facts.

For example, many sources tell us that honey has antimicrobial properties, but few tell us how it works. In one section, Traynor explains how the osmotic pressure of honey dehydrates pathogens, how the high acidity of honey retards microbial growth, and how glucose oxidase (an enzyme added by the bees) releases a steady stream of hydrogen peroxide into a wound. She describes these and other mechanisms, but then allows you to decide for yourself if it’s worth a try.

Traynor cites a great many sources for her research and relates many case studies. But in spite of much technical information, she writes in a friendly, conversational tone that makes the book easy and fun to read. For example, when describing burns, she says, “Unlike murder, first degree burns are the least severe.” Okay, I can relate to that way of thinking (plus now I will remember which is which).

I think the book is appropriate for anyone who deals with honey. Even if you personally are not swayed by the material, as a beekeeper the book will help you answer those inevitable questions about the healing properties of honey.

If I ever again have to see my tibia up close and personal, protruding from the side of my leg, I will definitely opt for a surgeon over a jar of honey. But there may be a time and place for both types of cure in our modern world, and Traynor’s Two Million Blossoms opened my mind to some of the possibilities.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

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Comments

Megan Montague
Reply

Rusty, our pediatrician told me that a clinical study found honey to be more effective as a cough suppressant than over-the-counter cough syrups for children and adolescents. When I looked it up, it turns out that in particular, buckwheat honey is the best cough suppressant. Works well, tastes awful.

Here is a link: Ithttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18056558

Rusty
Reply

OMG Megan!

Are you saying the best, the all-time queen of honeys, my-favorite-nothing-else-even-comes-close honey, the honey I grew up on, the honey I mail order (because I can’t raise it), the honey that puts all others to shame, tastes awful????

Give me black as tar buckwheat honey any day, every day, and I will be happy!

Clifford
Reply

I have a friend that is confined to sitting most of the day. He can not walk due to a surgery his body required. He developed sores on the backs of his thighs. He couldn’t control it so he went to his doctor. His doctor treated it then sent him to the wound center at our local medical facility. He said, “do you know what they put on me? They used honey on my sores. They called it New Zealand honey!” He told me that because I will talk bees to anyone that will sit still and he has no choice.

Rusty
Reply

Clifford,

That would be Manuka honey. It is said to cure skin ailments even when all the antibiotics fail. You watch: he will get better.

Clifford
Reply

He healed in a short time. This was 6 months ago. All else failed and the honey prevailed.

Nancy
Reply

Rusty,

About “folk medicine:” some aspects of it served humanity well for thousands of years. Honey for wound dressings, and willow bark (source of salicylic acid, the active ingredient of aspirin, are just two examples.

Here’s an analogy: look at a diet free from processing, chemical preservatives, feedlot meat, genetically modified organisms, degerminated grains and artificial flavors. Why don’t we call it “folk food”?

Nan
Corinth, Kentucky

“The miracle is not walking on water. The miracle is walking on the green Earth,”
Thich Nhat Hang

Rusty
Reply

Good point!

Juliette Jones
Reply

The darker the honey, generally the more antioxidants in it. If Buckwheat or Manuka is royalty—then you might want to know about Cinderella. Namely, Brazilian Pepper honey. A little known fact that it is one of the BEST medicinal honey’s in the world. In Florida they are always trying to get rid of Brazilian Pepper trees/bushes which they label an exotic and non native (so what in FL is native to the place? They sure don’t label snowbirds that way!) Anyhow, few people know this. But an authentic expert microbiology and honey, asserts this, namely Dr. Vitaly Stashenko.

Eddie
Reply

Sounds like a fun read. Do want to point out that the development of so-called superbugs is not a fault of the antibiotics; rather it is the fault of patients (and their doctors) when they go in with a cold/flu (which is virus based) and pressure their doctor to give them a dose of antibiotics which are useless against a cold or flu. The other issue are patients not taking the full course of antibiotics. They stop prematurely since infection appeared to subside and leave a few bacteria that made it through the initial dosage and generate more resistant copies of themselves.

The advantage that the ‘health food’ market has is that unless they make a medical claim using specific words, they can avoid needing to provide any supportive data to the FDA to show a claim has efficacy.

My ex worked(s) for a pharmaceutical company (Bayer Pharma) and was responsible for making sure that all the required studies/paperwork were submitted per FDA requirements for approval.

After hearing a crackpot guest on a radio station two days ago, claiming that the scourge of polio was ended by cleaner water and not by the polio vaccine (the radio host shot her down with facts and logic) it made me realize that some function on ‘magical thinking’ and not scientifically proven fact. Just advising we approach any information we read or hear with an appropriately critical eye and ear. Don’t believe everything you think. ;0)

Rusty
Reply

Eddy,

My first college roommate and I had one thing in common: physicians for fathers. But she came to college with a bottle of penicillin, and she used to pop one or two at the first sign of a sniffle, the way you might take an aspirin.

I was appalled and tried to explain to her the danger to the world at large (let alone herself) by abusing antibiotics. We both insisted we were right, and both cited having MD fathers as proof. But here were two doctors with polar opposite philosophies: her dad believed medicine would keep you safe, and my dad believed medicine should be a last resort.

Anyway, after arguing constantly, we split up after just a few weeks.

Lindy
Reply

Hallo, just thought I would add a bit I know about Manuka honey. There is something else in ‘real’ manuka honey than hydrogen peroxide that makes it so powerful in healing. I tried to send Peter Molan’s information to you but the document won’t go into this comment. I will send it in a separate e-mail Rusty to you. It was made free for people to learn about this magnificent bee manufacturing substance by Peter Molan so there is no danger of copyright infringement so long as one does not try to make a profit of his work.

Rusty
Reply

Lindy,

Yes, and Kristen explains how Manuka works in detail and she cites Peter Molan’s work.

Jerry Holman
Reply

Rusty,

After a bad back surgery, I was told I would not walk. I was told over and over we just had to face the facts the doctors said. I woke up from that surgery not able to feel or move my left leg. I was in shock but my wife in her own loving way said “No Way I’m not pushing him around the rest of his life! Then when a short time feeling came back to my upper leg it was well you will be on a walker the rest of your life! This time, I said No way. I used the walker one time.I made a cane and used it 12 years till I got a little movement on my foot. I think much has to do with what you accept.And how willing you are to fall and keep getting back up. I know this is off subject but had to share I know you will understand. Where can you buy this book? Sounds interesting and something to do till the bees start flying again!

Jerry

Rusty
Reply

Jerry,

You can buy the book on Amazon. The link in the text (above in purple) will take you to the page.

Kathy
Reply

Have you read “The Bee”? It’s fiction/fantasy but a very fun bestseller
that describes life in the hive for Flora 177, a worker with some
special attributes. I was impressed by how much the author knows
about honeybee colonies!

Rusty
Reply

Kathy,

I did indeed read The Bee but found it disturbing. One thing I didn’t like was that she was always explaining how the bees were hooking and unhooking their wings. But I think she got it backwards. I have to look at it again, but it seemed like they were hooking when they should be unhooking, and vice versa. Or maybe I just didn’t understand her verbiage. Anyway, the book depressed me. Funny how we perceive things differently.

Nancy
Reply

As long as we all have time to read, get ahold of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Mother Hive,” with surprising insights into bee life for 1908.

Nan

TJ
Reply

Back in October I hit myself with a 2.5″ Forsner drill bit on a hand drill… Dumb idea and I paid the price for it…. I flayed my left shin to the bone. I steri-stripped the wound and dermabonded it. After a week a really nasty infection set in so I began applying Manuka Honey directly to the wound channel. The honey stopped the infection from growing, debrided the wound, and healed up within 6 weeks. No stitches, no Drs visit.

Kirsten Traynor
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Thank you for the informative and kind book review. I’m very glad to see that you enjoyed “Two Million Blossoms.” You capture perfectly the goal we had with this book: to lay out the facts in simple, straight forward terms and let readers make their own decisions. Honey has been used for healing since before we had a written language. With modern medicine, we are still unraveling exactly how and why it works. Honey bees have evolved to survive collectively and they produce a cornucopia of products that allow 30-50K individuals to live together in a hot, humid environment where microorganisms would typically thrive. Wishing you much continued success with your beekeeping adventure.

Warmly,
Kirsten

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