Honey is a universal commodity that can be found across the globe in a variety of products that range from the honey itself to items for bodily care (lip balm, soap, etc. ). The collection and sell of honey products has developed and changed for many years. In addition, the trade and purpose of honey can be unique to the communities it is found within. For example, there are two distinct communities within India that have had their own economic relationship with the local honey, from the past trading system to now – The Nilgiris of Tamil Nadu and Simlipal Reserve of Orissa. Both are honey hunting communities and have had their own purposes with honey as well as experiences with trading to the outside market.

The Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu

People have collected raw honey from the Nilgiri hills for many generations, even for a couple thousand years. Decades ago, most honey collected was for personal consumption, specifically for the community or one’s family, and very little was sold. Honey in these communities was, and still is, used for food and medicine:

Medicine – often mixed with other items to combat ailments, such as peacock feathers or bamboo powder for stomach pain and tiredness. In addition, the honey collected from Dammer bees was exclusively used for medicinal purposes, especially in regards to children and pregnant mothers.

Food – sometimes honey was mixed with a various other ingredients to make for local meals. For instance, it was mixed with Amaranthus powder (Keerai Podi), wheat flour bread/pancakes (Maidi Roti), or with jackfruit seed. Also, honey was not the only part of the comb used for food in these communities. More specifically, after the combs were collected the young brood mixed with the honey would be later eaten as a paste. Outside of food, the wax part of the comb can also be used to make candles and for lighting torches, especially when these communities return from a honey gathering in the forest.

Any honey that was sold most often went through a middleman. Although, the expedition  to acquire the wild honey was often dangerous – requiring the honey hunters to scale large cliffs or trees and face colonies of bees with barely any protection – they were hardly compensated. They were paid a pittance for their efforts. Nowadays there is a direct connection between Last Forest Enterprise and these honey hunting communities, and the standards of trade are far more fair. In the modern day market, honey is being sold alongside new and developing byproducts, such as beeswax soap or honey lip balm. Honey in the Nilgiris has been used in a multitude of ways for generations and new developments will continue to emerge.

Simlipal Biosphere Reserve, Orissa

Soap made from honey

The honey hunting communities found around or within the Simlipal Reserve often collect honey for mostly medicinal purposes. This is especially true in regards to the honey collected from Chhatrali bees. Honey is also mixed with other things and made into local dishes, such as with cake or popped rice. There is even a honey-mixed-with-water beverage. One very unique recipe actually involves an entire hive! Often in the wild, large hives will have small hives adjacent to them and the honey hunters of these tribes will collect those smaller hives and boil them. The boiling causes the hives to crystallize and then they eat the concoction.

Honey is also an important part of worship practices in these communities. Locally known as “Badambuja”, honey is offered to the god or goddess. These are the same deities that are observed prior to the honey collection season. Honey is also used in the rituals for funerals and weddings.

Years prior, the raw honey collected was not often sold by these communities because it was typically afforded a lesser price. Nowadays, the honey is  sold for a higher price and helps pay for household expenditures. Much of this has to do with Gram Swaraj, a local organization dedicated to the livelihoods of these honey hunting communities.

How about you?

Now, how about you? What are the different recipes you use with honey or even products that you make? Please let us know!