We need bees — all of them.
Bumblebees, honeybees, solitary bees; they are the architects of our nutritional existence, and our lives depend on them. One third of what we eat wouldn’t exist without bees.
Considered one of the hardest-working species on earth, bees from a single hive can visit more than 100,000 flowers in a day.
Often called the angels of agriculture, bees are our meal ticket, as many of our fruits, nuts and vegetables rely on them for pollination. Bees improve the world around them just by existing, and leave no negative impact on the planet.
Of the thousands of bee species, honeybees, particularly western honeybees (Apis mellifera), offer byproducts that have been revered for thousands of years.
Modern archaeologists excavating ancient Egyptian tombs have found pots of honey, thousands of years old, still preserved.
From the civilizations of old Europe, Greek and Roman empires to the descendants of honey hunters who carry on traditions in Africa and Asia today, the honeybee is associated with spiritual and medicinal ideas and practices.
Bees need only collect a little water, plant resins, nectar and pollen from flowers to produce some of the most nutritious food and effective healing products.
Researchers and nutritionists now refer to bee pollen, propolis, royal jelly and honey — all derived from beehives — as the original superfoods.
These compounds are so valuable that scientists have tried to duplicate their array of vitamins, proteins, amino acids and other nutrients, but to no avail. Bees alone have the ability to generate the products, and unfortunately, bee colonies worldwide are in danger of extinction.
Upon the 2006 diagnosis of colony collapse disorder, where masses of bees disappeared from hives, commercial beekeepers who raise honeybees and transport them across the country to pollinate crops reported losing an average third of their colonies annually.
Studied voraciously, colony collapse disorder is vexing because there's not one cause, but rather an accumulation of variables, many man-made.
The compounding impact of fungal, bacterial and viral pests, diseases and pesticides applied to fields, as well as pesticides applied into hives to control mites, appear to be at the forefront.
Yet treating colonies for the varroa mite, an Asian parasite that first reached the United States in 1987, seems to have the most direct effect on losses.
Underlying all these problems is the loss of uncultivated fields, with their broad assortment of pollen-rich plants that sustain bees. Vital nutrients for bees are cut off due to nutritional deficiencies caused by acreages of single-crop fields, including corn and soybean, that lack diverse flowering plants.
With so much at stake, the mighty bee and its contributions — agriculturally, nutritionally and medicinally — are receiving increased recognition through scientific research and financial aid.
In June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that $8 million in Conservation Reserve Program incentives will go to Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin farmers and ranchers who establish habitats for declining honeybee populations. More than half of the commercially managed honeybees are in these five states during summer.
That same month, President Obama issued a memorandum directing U.S. government agencies to take additional steps to protect and restore domestic populations of pollinators, including honeybees.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy will co-chair a Pollinator Health Task Force to focus federal efforts on conducting research and taking action to help pollinators recover from population losses. This includes a public education campaign to teach people how they can help pollinators in their communities.
While scientists continue to research colony collapse disorder, nutritionists advocate bee products for overall health and well-being.
, a sticky brown substance that bees use to coat the walls of their hives. It's made from bee saliva mixed with the resin of tree bark, which helps repair damage and seal the hive from invaders.
Bee propolis is also a powerful anti-inflammatory that can help heal wounds and treat skin inflammation. Its rich antioxidant properties help combat the damage of free radicals, known to cause of a number of degenerative diseases, such as macular degeneration, in addition to offering anti-aging benefits.
Available in forms of tinctures, extracts, capsules and tablets, propolis is also helpful in forms of creams and ointments, toothpastes, shampoos and soaps.
is often referred to as one of the ultimate superfoods, and as one of nature’s most nourishing sources. Bee pollen is the food of the young bee and is approximately 40 percent protein. It contains nearly all nutrients required by your body. About half of its protein comes in the form of free amino acids that are ready to be used, contributing significantly to your body’s protein needs.
Despite valiant efforts, bee pollen cannot be synthesized in a laboratory. When researchers take away bees’ pollen-filled comb and feed them man-made pollen, the bees die even though all the known nutrients are present in the lab-produced synthesized food.
Pollen is also considered a remedy for hay fever and allergies. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, founder of the Natural Health Center and New York Times
best-selling author, it must be taken at least six weeks before the season begins and then continued throughout if it’s going to work.
Bee pollen is typically available in three forms: granules, capsules and chewable tablets. The best way to take it, and how much, will depend on your goals and why you're taking it. Considered a food product, individuals should still consult with their physician before consumption, especially since some may be sensitive to it.
is a honeybee secretion that allows a specific bee larvae to grow into the queen. Modern spectrometric analysis suggests that royal jelly contains about 185 different organic compounds, with the most important being proteins called royalactin and royalisin. It’s believed that royalactin is the compound in the jelly most responsible for allowing a larvae to morph into a colony’s queen.
Royal jelly helps the body produce more immune cells, fight bacteria and heal its wounds faster, which are mostly achieved through the blend of proteins found in the jelly. The presence of these, along with proteins called Major Royal Jelly Proteins (MJRPs), is what gives bees their ability to fight illness, allergy, and kill bacteria within nature.
The only way to consume royal jelly is through a supplement. Some offer royal jelly concentrate, while others may offer it in a cocktail of other foods.
comes from bees swallowing, digesting and regurgitating nectar, which contains almost 600 compounds. All honey is antibacterial because bees add an enzyme to it that makes hydrogen peroxide. Honey, a good carbohydrate source, contains glucose, fructose, proteins, essential vitamins, minerals and trace elements.
The main thing to remember: Not all honey is created equal. The antibacterial activity in some honeys is 100 times more powerful than in others. Processed, refined honey (often found in grocery stores) does not offer the same health benefits as raw honey when eaten.
Note: When introducing any new product to one’s diet, consult a medical professional first.
...Documentary picks of the week More Than Honey
(2012) by Markus Imhoof; Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?
(2010) by Taggart Siegel; Vanishing of the Bees
(2009) by George Langworthy and Maryam Henein; Who Killed the Honey Bee?
(2009) by James Esrkine; The Last Beekeeper
(2008) by Jeremy Simmons.
Words of wisdom
“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.” —Albert Einstein
Ross Conrad breathes bees. The second edition of Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture
by Conrad, a veteran beekeeper and former president of the Vermont Beekeepers Association, is a holistic reference guide to organic apiculture. No bee-related subject is left untouched. Starting with the relevance of hives as teachees, Conrad takes the reader on a methodical journey through bee anatomy, biology and management to exact details of marketing and products. He implores a greater awareness of bees while invoking a sincere spiritual and personal relationship with them.
I am not a healthcare professional, but I am a passionate advocate of natural health, as well as a voracious reader and lecture attendee. I just want to learn and share. If you have any suggestions, news events or feature ideas please email me at email@example.com.