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Beekeeping on Crete

Cretan Honey and Its Miraculous Health Benefits

History of Beekeeping on Crete

History of Beekeeping on Crete

Honey is one of the flagship agricultural products on Crete, valued as much as olive oil and citrus farming. Historical evidence shows that the art of beekeeping arrived in Greece from Ancient Egypt, most likely through Crete. Indeed, the oldest hives found here date from 3400 BC. The clay hives were unearthed at Phaistos, the Minoan palace in the south of the island.

Sacred Bees

As the Ancient Greek grammarian Antoninus Liberalis testifies in his Metamorphoses, the bees were sacred on Crete.

In Crete, there is said to be a sacred cave full of bees. In it, as storytellers say, Rhea gave birth to Zeus; it is a sacred place and no one is to go near it, whether god or mortal. At the appointed time each year, a great blaze is seen to come out of the cave. Their story goes on to say that this happens whenever the blood from the birth of Zeus begins to boil up. The sacred bees that were the nurses of Zeus occupy this cave.

As the product of a sacred being, honey is considered holy too. In fact, it is still used routinely for its symbolic nature in traditional customs. For example, at weddings or baptisms, guests enjoy Xerotigano, a delicate pastry deep-fried, then dipped in honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds and cinnamon. Another custom is for the bride and groom to eat a spoonful of honey with walnuts during the religious service.

Cretan Honey Today

Honey is an important source of subsistence for Cretans. The island ranks fourth at the national level for honey production. According to statistics from 2004, there are more than 2.200 apiarists on the island with more than 143.000 beehives.

Cubic wooden hives are set in sunny areas along the rugged slopes of the mountains in areas rich in endemic vegetation. You’ll see them scattered all over the island, especially in Sitia, on the Lasithi plateau, in Sfakia, Kissamos, Chania, and so on. Beekeepers are particularly fond of thyme, which produces a highly aromatic honey with a unique taste.

Cretan Honey’s Unique Flavor

Cretan honey is famed all over the world for its unique flavor, but also for its miraculous health benefits. Traditional honey produced on the island is raw and unfiltered, an all-natural product with distinctive, pure taste.

It is cherished in most Cretan homes and consumed raw incorporated in traditional recipes like pies and cakes, but also in savory dishes. Notably, the Cretan thyme “thymari” (θυμάρι) honey is the “liquid gold” among all raw honey produced on the island.

Health Benefits of Honey

Hippocrates – the father of modern medicine – prescribed honey for all kinds of ailments.

Beyond legends and fiction revolving around the health benefits of honey, here’s what’s proven:

  • Honey has antibacterial properties
  • Honey is rich in natural nutrients
  • Honey is effective in calming a sore throat
  • Honey calms a tummy ache

These are just some of the scientifically proven health benefits of honey. Surely, there are more, especially considering that honey is a superfood. Just keep in mind that raw honey may carry harmful bacteria that can cause botulism and that raw honey is dangerous for babies and children aged less than one year.

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