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Basic Information

Honey is a concentrated sugar syrup produced by several kinds of eusocial insects (mostly bees) as a food store. Honey stores are usually produced by foraging members of the community regurgitating nectar that they have swallowed into a collective store, although some species of ant have a specific caste that store honey in their abdomen instead.

As a high energy food that appeals strongly to the evolved taste preference for sugars, honey has long been a prized commodity amongst human communities. Prior to commercial sugar farming, honey was practically the sole source of sweetening for most of the world. (Other options would largely involve squeezing the juice out of grapes or other fruit and then boiling it to reduce the water and concentrate the sugar.1.It also has natural antibacterial properties that make it an effective antiseptic dressing for wounds and preservative for some foods. Partly due to these anti-bacterial properties, honey keeps extremely well - indeed, in sealed containers it has been shown not to spoil at all over thousands of years, although it commonly crystalizes in storage, forming a lighter coloured, partially granular mass. Roman Legions routinely used honey-soaked bandages for first aid.

Some species of bacteria can and do infect honey however - or rather, it is possible for bacterial spores to be included in the honey and preserved there. It is also possible for honey to be contaminated with toxins derived from the source plant - "mad honey", containing grayanotoxins from some of the ericacae (rhododendrons being a common source) or toxic alkaloids from Datura is a typical example. Unsurprisingly, given what appears to be the default human response to toxic alkaloids2 (which grayanotoxins are), "mad honey" is deliberately produced and distributed in some areas.

In Ancient Babylon, they used honey to coat corpses, having an effect sort of like embalming fluid but applied externally. A similar process was applied to the corpse of Alexander the Great, and it preserved him well enough for a post-mortem whirlwind tour of the empire. Mellification is the name for the process of removing the internal organs and soaking the body in honey for a month or more. This causes the corpse to essentially mummify and maybe shrink a little. There are even stories of a Mellified Man or Human Mummy Confection.

Most human communities that collect honey do so by farming bees (a process known as apiculture or beekeeping) - the wax storage combs that the bees built to store the honey can also be eaten or harvested for commercial wax (e.g. for candle making, or for wax tablets). More primitive communities (and pre-sapient animals) raid wild beehives for honey and where bees are not available some hunter-gatherers are able to harvest honey ants. In Ancient Greece they had some pretty laughable ideas about bees: thinking they had a King instead of a Queen Bee, and thought they would be birthed by spontaneous generation from the decay or a rotting animal in an enclosed space.

Honey can also be fermented to make alcohol called mead.


1. Non-Fiction Book: How To Mellify A Corpse by Vicki León

Game and Story Use

  • Honeymaking might be a useful characteristic for fictional eusocial animals as well.
  • Giant bees and ants might well have giant honey stashes.
  • Also don't neglect the related ant behavior of farming aphids for honeydew.
  • As usual, as a trade good, this probably counts as a treasure. Mad honey, and similar things, are a separate good in their own right.
  • Also a likely basis for herbalisitic remedies and possibly even primitive first aid
  • Accounts of "mad honey" poisoning occur in Xenophon and Strabo, the first accidental, the second due to Mithridates deliberately abandoning supplies of mad honey where Pompey's legionaries would find and consume them.
  • Since Honey Mellification has preservative effects similar to Mummification, perhaps you could have a sticky (and delicious?) undead "Honey-Mummy"
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