A famous Turkish honey saying, “He who handles honey licks his fingers,” must not have considered he-who-practices-Ramazan, the Muslim holiday of fasting. As we open hives and begin harvesting honey this month, my beekeeper friends look at me miserably, their fingers all sticking without any licking!
Yes, this is the month of Ramazan, a time where everyone has bad breath, bags under their eyes, and an incredible amount of self-control. No smoking, kissing, brushing your teeth, eating, drinking, wetting your lips under the shower, or licking honey, any time between the hours of three am and eight pm. I do my best to be respectful during these long days, through eating and drinking as little as I can when I am near the fasters. But ironically, they act like overly sweet vampires from the Stephanie Myers Twilight series, sleeping during the day, hunting at night, and continually offering me food, and water. (Talking about me) “She must be hungry, are you hungry? It’s time for her to eat. Lets find her some honey.” For all of the tempting hanging fruits we pick off of bushes during the day, the fresh honeycombs we carve from hives, and the deliciously sticky situations that my resilient fasters can’t indulge in, I am the designated taster.
And although my noble colleagues cannot eat honey, or anything during the daylight side of this month of prayer, eating honey actually plays an integral role in the history, traditions, and teachings of Islam. As stated in the QURAN, Surat an-Nahl vr.68-69:
“And your Lord revealed to the bee saying: Make hives in the mountains and in the trees and in what they build: Then eat of all the fruits and walk in the ways of your Lord submissively. There comes forth from within it a beverage of many colors, in which there is healing for mankind; most surely there is a sign in this for a people who reflect.”
As a proclaimed “healing for mankind,” for a thousand years honey has been a pillar of Islamic alternative medicine. Historically, and even in the present, honey and its byproducts have provided remedies for every ailment, from bed-wetting and hyperactivity, to heart conditions and topical wounds.
Moving beyond Islam into local Arabic healing folklore, some ancient pharmacists took using-honey-as-a-one-stop-shop-dr.bronners-like-remedy one step further (and by one step I mean a Neil Armstrong step), and they conjured up the Mellified Man. The Mellified Man is when a man of 80 years or older volunteers to only consume honey for one month until his body is so saturated with honey, that the only substance that comes out of him is in fact, you guessed it, honey. He therefore becomes mellifluous – meaning he is literally flowing with honey. At this point he dies, and his body is placed in a stone tomb full of honey, which is then sealed for 100 years, with the date and name inscribed on the tomb. When the 100-year timer bings “finished!” the people of the future open this honey-cadaver-time-capsule and use the decomposed corpse honey to cure any ailment. Mostly a thing of legends, knowledge of the Mellified Man did not surface until the writings of Chinese pharmacologist Li Shizhen in the 16th century.
Perhaps more relevant to Turkey, and only two degrees less obscure than the Mellified Man is Mumijo. Mumijo is a rare tar-like substance found in the crevices of rocks above 2,000 meters in the Caucuses and Western Asia. The leading theory is that Mumijo is thousands of year-old fossilized honey and beeswax left over from ancient beehives. It is believed to have enormous medical properties and numerous Internet companies attempt to scam consumers into buying it. If vendors truly posses Mumijo, and If Mumijo has medical properties, I cannot say. Sometimes these things are just left to faith, and whether you are eating everything, nothing, fermented cadaver honey, or your regular 3,000-year-old-tar-honey, for the mouth of the believer, these mediums can deliver a cure.
In honor of Ramazan I have uploaded my favorite holy honey photos. What qualifies a holy honey photo you may ask? Well if you are a photo of a beautiful sacred space and your backyard hives deliver Turkey’s best honey, you made it! Photos below include: Greek Churches in Gokceada, Turkish/Georgian Mosques from Camili, Armenian Churches in Kars, Turkish/Georgian Mosques and Churches in Yusufeli. Enjoy, and Ramazan Mubarak.