Pour Some Honey on Me ~ The Need and Peril of the Honey Bee Part 1

May 20th, 2011 - Planted by Ian Hall

Part 1 ~ We Need the Bee!

The fruit of bees is desired by all, and is equally sweet to kings and beggars and it is not only pleasing but profitable and healthful; it sweetens their mouths, cures their wounds, and conveys remedies to inward ulcers. ~ Saint Ambrose

Honey Bee on Euphorbia Flower

Last September I was casually strolling through my garden stopping here and there to quickly snatch the occasional out of place weed in my sprawling, chaotic beds.  My littlest one had strayed behind a bit to look at the deep red Sedum that was teeming with happy honey bees.  Before I could give him the usual warning, the temptation was apparently too much, and before I knew it, he had grasped one in his little hand and got promptly stung!  My daughter … the recipient of a couple of stings by this point… knew exactly what was up, and with much enthusiasm dashed to her little brother’s side to see where the stinger was protruding from his hand.  His little hand (soon to be even more plump) had a tiny, venom pumping stinger right in the middle of his palm!  An expert of many stings my self, (over 400 times and counting by my estimate!) I deftly snatched the offending stinger out and we quickly (through more than a few tears) got his hand sandwiched between two ice packs to numb the pain.  Keeping a careful eye to make sure my son didn’t show any symptoms of a more ominous reaction to the sting, I was reflecting on how all other insects with this stinging ability was held in such contempt and fear…and at the very least considered a vile pest that needed to be eradicated when discovered!  The honeybee, on the other hand, due to its multi beneficial contributions may very well be revered as the most important insect in the world!
Now a lot has been written lately about all the different insect pollinators that are out there, and what we can do to encourage the propagation and housing of these beneficial insects on our properties and in nature.  This will prove to be vital for the future of several plant species including many that we are dependent upon for food.  But the fact remains that honey bees are responsible for 80% of all insect pollination!  Without such work from our buzzing little friends, the entire world food network could possibly collapse with huge decreases in fruit and vegetable production that are vital now with the world population already quickly outgrowing our ability to feed everyone!  Now this fact alone makes the honey bee VITAL for the future of agriculture, and perhaps for life as we now know it, but what else does our humble little worker bring to the table?  The list of benefits and contributions is impressive, and even when discounting the fact that our world food supply is heavily dependent upon the bee, it would be hard to say this insect is not our best little friend with six legs!

One of Two Wild Beehives on Vichy Farm at the Nook of a Black Locust Tree

Here is the list of other contributions to our lives that the Honey Bee brings to the table:
1) Pollen – So the main job of the bee, as we think of it, is moving from flower to flower gently passing along the genetic material necessary for seed development and vegetable
and fruit production…but the bee has no idea that it is pollinating.  It just happens to be a by product of the collection of pollen.  This collected pollen (averaging about 66 lbs per year per hive) is one of the most nutrient dense foods in the world. Its make up is 35% protein, 10% carbohydrates, and is loaded with vital enzymes, vitamins, and minerals.  This is a fantastic food source for both bees and humans.
2) Honey- This is the main food source for bees year round.  Honey will vary due to geographic locations as it is sourced from the nectar produced in local flowering plants and trees.  Of course we value honey immensely for its delicious flavor and medical benefits including its antibacterial qualities and for those who consume locally produced honey enjoy its ability to help fend off allergies from local flora.
3) Beeswax and Propolis – Beeswax is used by bees to build their honey combs and used by us humans for drugs, cosmetics, candles, and artists’ materials, and even for wood / furniture polish.  Propolis is produced by bees from sap collected from local trees and used as a repairing material in the beehive sealing small cracks and fissures.  We humans use it again as a health supplement and it is the main ingredient in some fine wood finishers and varnishes.
4) Royal Jelly – An almost mythical substance that is made up of digested pollen and honey.  The bees use this to feed all young larvae for the first 2 or 3 days.  If a lucky larvae has been chosen to be the future queen of the hive it is fed nothing but Royal Jelly to maturity resulting in its transformation into a queen bee.  Nothing else distinguishes the young larvae into becoming one of the many thousand sterile worker bees or becoming queen of the hive.  For humans this valuable substance (reaching prices that is paid for imported caviar!) is consumed as a dietary supplement (it has the full compliment of B vitamins), and has even been used as a fertility supplement.
5) Bee venom – Really?  Yes really!  Being rich in enzymes, peptides, and biogenic amines (there are at least 18 active compounds that have been identified in bee venom that have pharmaceutical properties) bee venom has been used internationally for years now and just gaining popularity here domestically.  ‘Bee Venom Therapy’ is used for many medical ailments including arthritis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and is even used for muscular dystrophy.  This along with all the other health benefits provided by the beehive is called Apitherapy.
How about you?  Is there some special benefit you are receiving from honey bees?  Or do you know of someone who has received unique treatment of an ailment with use of Apitherapy?  I would love to know just how our little friend has affected your life!

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