Sweet Like Honey 2
There’s a well-known quote attributed to Albert Einstein that says, "If the bee disappeared off the face off the Earth, man would only have four years left to live." While no one can confirm the origin of this statement, it does elude to the widespread symbiosis that exists between bees, nature and our food production.
How Honey is Made
Honey production is the life’s purpose of the honey bee. Therein lies an intrinsic nature, from birth, of a seamless and collaborative group effort by a women-only working class following their leader, the queen, to produce a product so perfect and abundant that it can provide sustenance and life for the whole tribe and then some. Males, or drones, exist only to mate, while the females do all of the work in perfect unison. Sounds like girl power at its finest!
Bees are the only insects in the world that produce something edible for humans, and it's not a simple production. Honey is made through a strenuous process of sweat, spit and energy to transform from flower nectar into the sweet syrup that we are accustomed to enjoying. All of the enzymes, vitamins, minerals and some water content remain in raw honey to be used as the sole food source for the colony. As a result, the end products are all antibacterial in nature to protect the health of the hive.
The below video provides a quick and detailed overview on the fascinating process.
When becoming a connoisseur, it’s exciting to learn the particular blossoms used to create the different honeys and identify their subtle differences in taste. Each plant offers its own unique property of flavor and healing. Notably, Manuka Honey (UMF 16+ and above) from the New Zealand Tea Tree is famous for its extremely high antibacterial properties that excel as a remedy for wounds and sore throats. There are more than 300 different types of honey in the United States alone, all different and worth giving a try!
Not all honey is created equally. Knowing a local beekeeper and understanding a few things about the process will ensure we are all shopping for a healthier product for our natural lifestyles.
Since feral, or wild, bees are significantly less than they were just a decade ago, beekeepers are increasingly necessary to help foster the growth of the honey bee population. There is also a new predator brought over from Asia and Europe that has been destroying colonies. Without beekeeper intervention, and use of some chemicals for control, these mites that feed on brood, or baby bees, would wipe out honey bees across the globe. All the more reason to know your beekeeper and how they operate.
For all of the honey used in balm’s skincare products, we selected Honeyrun Farms as our supplier for their excellent work in sustainability practices. They are hands-on in their craft and tend to the bees daily to ensure the bees are healthy in the most organic way possible. They stick to certified organic methods of control and care, something most commercial suppliers don’t do, and split their hives every spring to prevent overcrowding. While many keepers deal with colony collapse and other issues, Honey Run Farm’s practices allow them to maintain 98% survival through the winter, a time when many keepers may experience loss.
how to shop
Through our relationship with Honeyrun Farms, we’ve chatted and learned from Isaac and Jayne, the husband-and-wife duo, to gain more insight around honey farming and what to look for when shopping for the most pure and raw honey products.
Scan the label.If it says "packed by" it is not a pure source. There are a lot of distributors that buy honey and rebottle.
pasteurizing or heating.Enzymes rapidly denature above 104°F. Heating is helpful for the extraction of honey from the comb, but temps too high will destroy the full nutritional value of the honey. Heating to the temperatures of the hive, around 95-100°F is ideal.
raw and purity test.A quick test for purity is to drop a tablespoon in a glass of water. If it dissolves quick, it's adulterated and unpure. If it doesn't dissolve, it's a decent pick.
chemical usage or organic certification.Sometimes beekeepers aren't able to be certified organic because of neighboring fields that they have no control over. However, asking them about their processes in place to ensure less chemical exposure is just as important as an organic label.
overprocessing.Processed honey will only have carbohydrates, and no enzymes, like antioxidants, vitamins or minerals because its heated at high temperatures. Processed honey is also passed through diatomaceous earth to prevent granulation and remove beneficial pollen.
production size.Look for smaller contributors that care for 1000 hives or less to ensure less commercialized practices. Also, be sure beekeepers only take what is needed. We want to live in symbiosis with our buzzing friends, and not take them for all they are worth. Beekeepers should only take what is in excess and leave more than enough honey and propolis and bee pollen for bees to survive over the long winter.
To learn more about Honeyrun Farms, click here.
Honey isn’t the only powerhouse product produced by these wonder women. There are other, less traditional commodities that are just as important to note and use for a more natural lifestyle.
Royal jelly is the honey bee secretion used in the nutrition of larvae and adult queens. It’s an essential step and food source to becoming a queen. While there is still some debate on all of the components that contribute to the growth and biological differentiation of the queen, it is the sole dietary intake for the queen that allows her to live up to 6 years, while nurse bees may only live 6 weeks on a diet of bee bread and honey.
Royal jelly is known to be the most nutritious part of the hive. Over 900 studies of royal jelly have been done primarily on animals, and the effects on humans are still being understood. With hope for similar findings as in animal studies, one double-blind study documented significant health benefits over a six month period of supplementing with royal jelly.
Unfortunately, however, 99% of royal jelly on the market is produced in China where laws around antibiotic and chemical usage is not controlled. So, if currently using royal jelly in commercialized products then quality may be a concern. Extraction of royal jelly is a very laborious process, so cheap products are commonly over-processed and full of toxins. Learning about the source and farm is very important for this product.
Propolis is the resinous substance collected by bees from the leaf buds and bark of trees, especially poplar and conifer trees. Bees use the propolis along with beeswax to construct their hives by sealing undesirable small cracks and gaps.
People have used and studied bee propolis both internally and externally for a variety of medicinal reasons. In fact, over 300 studies on propolis effects on cancer have been constructed to learn more about it's anti-tumor capabilities.
Typically ingested as an extract (10+ drops) or used topically as an ointment, bee propolis properties are anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral. It's been used as a remedy for herpes, boosting the immune system and as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Learn more here and here about the different uses for propolis.
Bee pollen is a raw material from which bees produce bee bread. They collect pollen from plant anthers, mix it with a small dose of the secretion from salivary glands or nectar, and bring it back to the hive where it is packed in honeycomb cells. Next, the surface of the collected pollen is covered with a thin layer of honey and wax called bee bread. This constitutes the basic protein source for the bee colony.
Bee pollen has almost all of the nutrients required by the human body to thrive, and has been found as an excellent treatment for malnutrition. It demonstrates a series of actions such as anti-fungal, antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, anticancer immunostimulating, and local analgesic. The German Federal Board of Health found bee pollen so beneficial that it's considered an official medicine for treatment.
caution For Children
It's important to note that there is a certain aspect of honey that can be harmful. It is considered harmless to adults, but it can contain botulism bacteria (Clostridium botulinum) that may harm children under the age of one or with compromised digestive systems. To be safe, do not use raw honey or other products for children under two years of age.
Bee products for our lifestyle
A natural lifestyle is a journey that helps us identify better with ourselves and our place within the world around us. In our pursuit for a lifestyle that does no harm, we find honey and other bee products to be an invaluable product for our cabinet. Knowing the relationship bees have with other living things is important to understand and help drive the decision for what types of bee products to incorporate into our daily routines. Check out our sister blog, Sweet like Honey, for more detail on the benefits of raw honey and our Raw Honey Cleansers for a subtle start to using the best of nature to bring out the best of all of us.
We all learn more when we share! Let us know some of the ways you like to enjoy bee products in the comments below.