There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance.
Henry David Thoreau
I grew up on my grandparent’s farm outside of Caldwell, on Chicken Dinner Road, among vegetable gardens, berry patches, orchards, flower gardens….and bees. Grandpa Herman held many passions but at the top of the list were roses, walnuts and bees.
Grandpa’s bee hives would come to life every spring as soon as the first violets appeared. The apricot and crab apple trees buzzed with life and the melodious hum meant fresh honey. In a few weeks we would be blessed with plates of oozing honeycomb. The honey, gently flavored with whatever was blooming, ranged in color from golds to nearly black was fragrant and delicious. Mmmmm.
A Little History
The collection of honey dates back to 7000 b.c.e., and it shows up in nearly every form of medicine. However, honey fell out of popular use due to the availability and ease of processed white refined sugar. Let’s face it, refined sugar is cheaper and easier to obtain. You don’t have to risk stings or wait for the right season, you don’t have to manage a hive and its queen. Honey also adds a distinct flavor to whatever it goes into, another put-off to spoiled taste buds, but I digress.
Like all real food, bee products hold medicinal properties and energetics–the post metabolic phenomenon of what it does in the body (heat, cool, etc.)– once it is ingested. Here’s a brief picture of our bees’ bounty.
Honey bees travel from flower to flower harvesting the male germ and then carry it another plant thereby fertilizing the female germ cells. It’s a big job and we rely on honey bees to pollinate nearly 80% of our food crops, which is a huge concern right now as colonies are crumbling. The pollen left on the bee’s body is then brought back to the hive where the bees combine it with enzymes and nectar. Bee pollen is tiny granules of gold, green and brown with and fragrant sweet flavor. Pollen is highly nutritious and provides an instant blast of energy. Local pollen is commonly used to treat allergies. Try it out gently at first, start with a few granules on your tongue the first day then gradually increase to about a 1/8 tsp. If you are allergic to bees, stay clear. I keep my bee pollen in the freezer, keeping a small amount in a bowl or plate on the kitchen counter. It hangs out waiting for someone to swoop in and pick up the granules to give us a boost of energy.
Bees gather this thick gooey resin from tree bark and buds, especially from conifers. They use the resin to glue their wax together and build the hive structure. Propolis is highly antibiotic and protects the hives from bacteria and viruses. Bitter and sticky, propolis is a very effective antimicrobial and antibiotic for humans. I use in tincture form for treating strep throat and colds. Thank you, bees.
The food of the queen, how can it not have benefits? Royal jelly is a milky white substance excreted by the workers to feed the queen. It is superior in nutrient value to all of the other bee products. From a Asian Nutrition perspective it nourishes Jing (essence) and is useful in ‘failure to grow and thrive’ patterns. It strengthens and builds, creates stamina and longevity. It’s powerful stuff and little goes a long way.
Honey is neutral, sweet and moistens dryness. Honey (and all bee products) correlate to the Earth Element, which governs the Spleen and Stomach. It strengthens Qi (energy) and Blood and creates vitality. Our ‘delicate’ Lungs can get dry easily and honey’s slick nature quickly lubricates and moistens the tissues of the Lungs. Use for chronic dry coughs and other ‘dry lung’ disorders. Honey also helps to treat constipation if the cause is dryness. But be warned, due to its sliding nature honey is damp and is therefore contraindicated in damp and phlegm conditions like candida and obesity. Read more on sweet.
Nutritional makeup of honey–the western view
Honey is packed with vitamins and minerals including iron and manganese. It is particularly high in riboflavin and B6. One tablespoon gives you 60-65 calories, 17 grams of carbs and .1 gram of protein. Honey is highly antioxidant and studies are finding that regular consumption prevents blood lipid build up and improves circulation. Honey is also considered a superior sugar form for helping athletes maintain blood sugar levels and aiding in recuperation after endurance events.
Raw honey for wounds and scars
Raw honey is antiseptic (fights toxins) and analgesic (counters pain). Use raw honey to relieve pain from burns, scratches and bug bites. Yep, a little raw honey will ease the pain of a bee sting after the stinger is removed. Honey has long been used to heal new scars and soften old, hard scars. A recent study pitted honey against a standard combination of iodine and alcohol for healing C-section and hysterectomy wounds. The honey group healed faster and with less incidence of infection and less scarring. It is also widely used now to treat acne scarring.
Saving our pollinators
Bees are responsible for pollinating more than 3/4 of our food supplies and the fact that our bees are vanishing is greatly concerning. Colonies are collapsing due to toxins in pesticides–specifically those derived from nicotine. Although this view was suspect for many years, new proof is out and several nations have banned the use of these toxins. Sadly, America is not yet convinced that these pesticides need banned. The loss of bees would, literally, collapse our food production–not a good thing. Lists of pesticides that are known killers are readily available online.
Know what’s in your flowers
Many of us like to plant flowers to encourage the bees to come around. However, many commercially purchased blossoms may be genetically laced with herbicides that actually kill off our black and yellow friends. Make sure you know your source and seek out organic and sustainable plants. For more information on bees, check out John Hurt’s More Than Honey.