Nature serves up a taste of heaven

Bees, depending on their diet, serve up a cornucopia of honeys. At Yemeni Honey World in Dubai, the golden nectar is claimed to not only satisfy a sweet tooth, but also cure all manner of ailments, from wrinkles and coughs to failing virility in married couples, Rym Ghazal writes

No matter what ails you, traders at Yemeni Honey World in Dubai will be able to advise you on what honey will best help you to make light of the problem. Antonie Robertson / The National
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Before offering you a taste of what he calls “heaven”, Bandar Al Ashmouri has a question. “Are you married or single?”

He is not being bold, but rather taking care not to give out the wrong kind of honey.

“There is a special mix for married people to help them become, well, more amorous,” says the 25-year-old from Yemen who works at the Yemeni Honey World stall at Global Village in Dubai.

Almond oil, black cumin, ginseng, special herbs and “royal queen bee food”, or royal jelly – a white liquid secreted by worker bees to feed the queen – are some of the ingredients in the “only for married” honey jar on display at his stall.

“I advise the couple to eat one full big spoon, twice a day, especially for the husbands,” he says, with a wink.

Other honey is for male-only consumption, such as “handsome men” honey, which usually contains stamens, the masculine part of a plant. A dash of them added to any honey promises to help men feel better as well as look better, apparently.

Just to step into the honey section of Yemen village is to invite harassment almost to the point of bullying as vendors push visitors to try all the types of honey.

“Which honey are you?” one of the merchants jokes with browsers at his stall.

The Yemeni honey stalls offer jars aimed at everyone from athletes to children and diabetics. There is a whole range for single women promising beauty remedies such as “whitening of the skin” and reducing wrinkles and pigment flaws.

“Like silk; your skin will feel like silk,” yells one trader as he dabs a sample of creamy white honey on to the hand of a potential customer. He leaves it on for about 10 minutes before placing a tissue over it, wetting it with a dash of water and removing it.

The customer is convinced enough to buy a small container for Dh100.

For others less concerned with appearances, there is “genius honey”, which promises to help with memory. Advocates say it detoxes the body so that eating it regularly will make you smarter.

“Any kind of ailment, there is a cure and a special mix with honey that will help you,” says Mr Al Ashmouri.

Around this time of year, when cooler weather brings cold and flu-related illnesses, the most popular purchases have been the Al Samr honey mixes – darker, brown-coloured honey that is purported to help with coughs, sneezing and sinus-related aliments as well as boosting immunity and improving blood circulation. It costs between Dh100 to Dh400 a kilogram, depending on the quality and the specific mix one needs.

“In Yemen, our homes often have a pharmacy in the kitchen, where we know what herbs and natural ingredients to mix to create medicine,” says Mr Al Ashmouri. “It always works. It may take longer to show results, but has worked so far for me as I rarely get a cold or a flu.”

The Al Sadr honey is usually the most expensive, costing fromDh500 to more than Dh1,500 a kilo, depending on where it was collected and whether it is wild or cultivated. The honey can help with colon and stomach-related issues, but, depending on its purity, is not recommended for pregnant women except when they are close to giving birth.

“It helps during or right before labour to have some Al Sadr honey, especially the mix made for that specific reason,” says Mr Al Ashmouri. “You come and tell us what you need and we can mix it, or someone here would be selling it.”

Al Sadr, collected from mountains and valleys, is said to help the heart and, in its purest form, is said to be good for diabetics and even for treating cancer.

“People are surprised when we mention serious illnesses like cancer, but honey was mentioned in the holy Quran and we have years of use as proof it helps some with the most terminal illness. But it differs case to case, and a lot of the actual healing has to do with faith in oneself,” he says.

Other varieties on sale include Al Salam honey, produced in the regions along the Tihama coast. It is said to be good for anaemia and blood-related illnesses.

Omq honey helps smokers who are trying to quit, while Zhuhur honey is good for children and for regular daily use.

Among the customers are several Emirati and Arab expatriates asking for honey to help fight colds and to lose weight.

“It worked for my cousin, and so I thought why not get a natural alternative to losing weight?” says Fatima Al Marri who, along with her sister, had bought several small jars.

“Instead of adding sugar to my coffee or tea, I will start adding honey so that overall it is better for my health,” says the 30-year-old Emirati.

But natural honey found and harvested in the wild is becoming more and more scarce, in Yemen and the UAE.

“It is getting harder to find honey in the wild with our bees overwhelmed by foreign bees and our nature being destroyed by construction,” says Sheikha Al Qayedi, an Emirati honey collector.

She makes regular trips to the mountains of Ras Al Khaimah to seek out honey in little burrows and caves amid the rocky terrain. Other sources are trees and, sometimes, abandoned cars.

Often the hives are built high off the ground and designed to avoid the full heat of the sun’s rays in the hot months. In the cooler winter months, nests are built to take full advantage of the sun.

Depending on the source of the nectar, the flavour and the colour of the honey will change. In the mountains, the honey is made from rare desert flowers and trees such as the ghaf, sdir and samar.

Every year, Ms Al Qayedi notices a drastic decline in the production of honey and this year, again, there was even less wild Emirati honey.

“Perhaps it is colder this year, and so the bad weather may have killed off some of my wonderful wild bees,” she says. “But bees are smart little creatures. I am hoping they moved to warmer places for now, to come back here when it is warmer.”

As the UAE mountains wait for the bees’ return, honey is being sold by the jar across shops in the malls and stalls at Global Village.

“If you need a bit of sweetness in your life, just add a spoonful of honey,” says Mr Al Ashmouri.