The strong relationship between the Cretans and bees goes back a very long time. In Greek mythology, the bee (“Melissa”) was the daughter of Crete’s first king Melisseas. She nested inside the sacred cave, the birthplace of Zeus and became his nanny. In ancient times, the Cretans believed that their island produced the best honey because it was Melissa herself who taught them the art of beekeeping. She was entrusted by Zeus’s mother with his upbringing and accomplished her task by feeding him the golden treasure of Crete.
The historical relation of the Cretans, bees and honey becomes obvious when one sees one of the most important exhibits in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, a museum showcasing most secrets of the Minoan civilization. It is an exquisite gold piece of jewellery representing two bees (who some say are in love) flanking a round portion of honeycomb. Furthermore, an excavation in Phaistos (South Crete) brought to light clay pots with traces of honey, indicating that honey was an essential part of the diet of Ancient Cretans and the only known sweetening substance for many centuries.
Honey, this exceptionally natural sweetener of great nutritional value, contains precious substances (such as organic acids, proteins, enzymes, metallic salts, etc.) and can be consumed even by people suffering from diabetes! It is also rich in vitamins and anti-oxidants. Vitamin E, the basic vitamin in honey, along with other substances, removes harmful substances from the body that either originate from the body itself or are the result of human activities, e.g. smoking, radiation, and consumption of processed food that is usually the cause of tumour growths. It strengthens the sense of smell, heals respiratory system related diseases, sooths the throat and relieves from coughs. Furthermore, it protects from eye diseases, it’s a diuretic due to its antiseptic properties (it restricts bacteria contained in the bladder) and so much more without any of the negative aspects of sugar. The father of medicine, Hippocrates, recommended honey as a cure for many diseases and Aristotle believed that life could be prolonged with the daily consumption of honey.
The honey of Crete is completely natural and is produced in regions of endemic vegetation. The bio-system of Crete is rich in endemic plants, particularly herbs like thyme (thyme honey has a special aroma and flavour and its production is quite developed in Crete), sage and oregano and also pine trees, acacias, eucalyptus and citrus fruits. This vegetation and herbs are the favourite source of food for bees. A tour of the bee-keeping areas of Crete is enough for visitors to understand why Crete produces the most aromatic honey in the world: the beehives are amidst a variegated landscape scented by aromatic bushes and herbs, most of them endemic to Crete. Since snow covers only the highest mountain peaks and due to the prolonged summer season, wild vegetation is always available to bees for foraging.
Crete has produced honey since prehistoric times and is continuing to do so without interruption, as if nothing had changed. Perhaps the structure of the beehive has improved, but all else has most likely remained unchanged: the bees, the aromatic herbs, and the environment. The processing of the Cretan honey takes place by natural methods, without using high temperatures that destroy the vitamins or corrupting it with other sweeteners.