Dear Martina, I remember reading in a magazine a short while ago that, surprisingly, there are no vitamins in honey.

However, when I visited my daughter in Canada, she bought some honey which claimed to have plenty of nutrients and health benefits. Who is right?

Frank Seddon Dear Frank, Raw, unprocessed honey is renowned for its health-giving properties and should be treated with some respect if one considers that an average worker bee only produces one 12th of a teaspoon of the golden liquid in her lifetime.

Hardworking bees visit two million flowers to gather enough nectar for just one pound of honey.

Different flowers produce honey with differing tastes and colours. It is said that dark honey provides more antioxidants than the lighter varieties.

Honey has been used for thousands of years as an antiseptic salve to heal burns and sores. It was one of the most common ingredients in medicines in Ancient Egypt.

The Druids called Britain the Isle Of Honey and, in medieval England, people even paid their taxes with it.

A very popular brew called mead was made from diluted honey and water and fermented with yeast. Mead was one of the first alcoholic beverages and traditionally consumed during a couple's "honeymoon" period.

It was believed to have aphrodisiac qualities, supposedly helping to produce baby boys if consumed for one month after a wedding.

Honey has antibacterial effects on a number of food poisoning organisms such as salmonella and staphyloccus aureus. In hospitals, certain varieties have shown great promise in treating wounds infected with drug-resistant bacteria, including MRSA.

Manuka honey from New Zealand is particularly potent and has been found to eradicate the H-pylori bacteria responsible for most stomach ulcers.

Eating locally-produced honey may help reduce hay fever symptoms. It is also a soothing remedy for sore throats and chesty coughs when mixed with hot water, ginger and lemon juice.

Avoid giving honey to infants under the age of one, however, due to the risk of infection by the bacterial spores it may contain.

Honey provides both glucose and fructose in a pre-digested form and is sweeter and more rapidly assimilated than refined sugar. It also contains traces of amino acids, enzymes, minerals, B-complex vitamins and the vitamins C, D and E.

However, these tend not to be nutritionally significant in commercially-processed, heat-treated and strained honeys as the natural enzymes and up to 50 per cent of nutrients are lost, along with much of their original flavour and fragrance.

So, although honey is a healthier option than refined sugar because it provides some useful trace nutrients, it is still a highly concentrated source of sweetness and used by the body in much the same way as sugar. Use sparingly if you suffer from blood sugar fluctuations.

Beneficial health effects tend to vary between different types, with natural, cold-pressed honey being your best bet. Paynes Southdown Bee Farms in Hassocks produce an excellent source of local Southdown honey which has been neither heat-treated nor pressure-filtered.

To order, telephone 01273 843388 or visit Martina is a qualified
nutritionist at the Crescent Clinic of Complementary Medicine, 37 Vernon Terrace, Brighton. Tel: 01273 202221 or email: