Posts

The Health Benefits of Honey

Honey is notorious for being a delicious addition to recipes, it’s also well-known for being a versatile ingredient with many uses. In addition to being a natural sweetener, honey contains antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiseptic, antimicrobial, and antibacterial properties – making it one of the most popular ingredients used in health and beauty. In fact, alternative uses for honey have been recorded throughout history by many cultures, as far back as 2000 BC!

The medicinal and nutritional value of honey can differ between varieties, as the nectars origin plant helps determine many of the honey’s unique properties. It’s also believed that raw honey contains more of these properties when compared to regular pasteurized honey, often found in grocery stores. Raw honey is often cloudier with a thicker consistency and contains beneficial ingredients such as bee pollen, bee propolis, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants.  Unfortunately, the high heat used in pasteurization can destroy some of these properties, however, it does produce a clearer, more aesthetically pleasing product, which some prefer.

Numerous scientific studies support the beneficial properties of honey, confirming over 200 substances, from vitamins C, B1, B2, and B6 to potassium, calcium, and, of course, sugar. This wide range of components is what makes honey so versatile in its benefits and uses. For instance, natural sugars glucose and fructose account for 95-99% of honey’s contents. Glucose and fructose don’t just taste delicious, they contain enzymes and other components which make honey great for wound dressing and a safer sweetener for people with type I or II diabetes.

Although many of us eat honey simply for its delicious taste, there are many other reasons to consume it. Whether you add it to your hot or cold beverage or your favorite meal, the benefits are endless. Not only is it famous for alleviating cough and cold symptoms, but it’s also been shown that honey helps reduce acid reflux, aka heartburn, treat ulcers, helps relieve allergies and hay fever, and reduces nausea – some people even use it as a natural pre-workout energy boost!

The uses for honey are far from limited. It can also be applied topically on the skin to treat a variety of ailments, such as psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, dandruff, and acne. This natural moisturizer is a perfect ingredient for lotions, lip balm, shampoos, soaps, and aftershaves – you can even add it to your bath to help soothe dry skin! The healing properties of honey can also be applied to burns or scrapes of the skin to help fight infection and reduce healing time – essentially honey is nature’s all-purpose healing salve.

It’s no surprise that raw honey has been used widely throughout history, from Ancient Greece and Egypt to traditional Chinese Medicine. Whether it is consumed or applied topically, the health benefits are considerable and hard to ignore. Whether you’re in search of all-natural skincare and moisturizer, need to relieve cold symptoms, treat a burn, or just want a little something sweet on your toast, honey is a staple ingredient to keep in any home pantry!

Why Honeybees Are Essential to Humankind

Are honeybees a fundamental part of our earth’s ecosystem?   The answer is a resounding “YES”, to say the least!  Not only are they one of the world’s largest pollinators, but they also contribute generously to our lives and well-being in many ways.

Before countless species of plant, flower, vegetable, or fruit can exist, pollination must first take place – it is the key factor for most things that grow. Pollination is a vital process where pollen from a male or female plant is introduced to a plant of the opposite sex to facilitate reproduction. The transfer of pollen initiates fertilization and the production of seeds, allowing plants to procreate.

Cross-pollination occurs in nature with the help of the wind and insects including honeybees – some hobbyists even pollinate manually, by hand, in certain situations. Honeybees, however, are not only one of the principal pollinators around the world, they’re also the most vital to our ecosystem.  For instance, a study by Nature Communications discovered that only 2% of the global bee species contributes to 80% of all bee visits to agricultural crops!

To put it simply – bees are powerhouse pollinators.  Without their participation in this vital process, trees wouldn’t flower, fruit, or produce nuts, many wildflowers wouldn’t bloom, and our farms’ crops would quickly diminish.  Much of the food we eat relies on preserving a healthy bee population to promote pollination and farming efforts, and our ever-growing population as human beings on this planet. In fact, bees are responsible for pollinating 70 of the 100 species of crops that we farm, which feeds 90% of our world’s population.

In addition to being a key source of prosperity for our agricultural crops, bees also produce a gooey, golden nectar that offers sustenance as well as several medicinal purposes – that’s right honey!  Of course, its inherently sweet flavor is perfect for toast, desserts, and a multitude of recipes, but we aren’t the only ones who think it’s delicious.  Many species of insects and animals also thrive on honey in the wild, which furthers the strength of the surrounding ecosystem and helps our planet thrive.

Honey isn’t just a delicious source of food though – it’s actually quite nutritious and is used widely used in holistic medicine as well as the beauty industry. Bees’ honey provides antioxidants, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory effects, and can be used topically as well.  Who would have thought that a multi-purpose, all-natural medicine could be produced by bees?!

While we understand that the value honeybees offer our planet is immeasurable, many people like to view things from a monetary value standpoint. It is a difficult concept to investigate, but wild bee populations contribute approximately $3,250 per hectare to crop production annually. Roughly that would equate to around $4.2 trillion provided to the global economy by busy little bees. It’s really no surprise that the “Save the Bee” movement has become a global effort, as it’s quite apparent that our planet and the existence of living plants, birds, animals, and human beings depend greatly on their survival.

Land Rent

There are not many professions that enable a person to experience the joy of someone else’s property without having to pay for the privilege.  Gardeners, pet-sitters, house-sitters, and baby-sitters all have the opportunity to visit and experience the pleasures of others’ homes or ranches without the obligation of paying hefty mortgages and property taxes.  But, perhaps of all professions, beekeepers have it the best.  Most beekeepers who maintain outside apiaries (outside apiaries are apiaries that are not situated on the owner’s personal property) gain permission from land owners to not only place bees on their private property, but to also access that property on an as-needed basis to maintain and care for the beekeepers’ colonies.  And, most often, these beekeeping locations are peaceful and soothing to the soul.

This gives the beekeeper a particularly unique vantage point from which to experience often-picturesque and tranquil settings in the countryside to which the average person has no access.  This access comes with responsibilities, and as well as a different set of “costs.”

The beekeeper’s responsibilities involve being respectful and courteous, all the while understanding that he or she is always a guest and not an owner.  That means keeping the apiary clean, well maintained, and free from litter.  It means keeping the bees healthy and calm, and not working with them when people or pets are nearby.  And, it also means cooperating with the landowner to not interfere in any way with the enjoyment of his or her own land.

It may seem like the land owner gives up too much in this exchange, but actually the exchange is a fair trade for the land owner.  If he has crops, the landowner receives free pollination for his fruits and vegetables, and best of all, this individual, usually once per year, cashes in on some “liquid gold” from the beekeeper.

It is a longstanding tradition of beekeepers to share honey with those who host apiaries.  This is considered “land rent.”  The amount of honey that the beekeeper and landowner agree upon can be as little as a few jars, and as much as several full cases.  Much depends on the size and nature of the apiary, and the value of the land to the beekeeper, in terms of honey production and overall access.  Land owners are usually overjoyed to receive a share of the bounty of their land.

At Wildflower Meadows, although we are not specialized in producing honey, we always work hard to deliver the appropriate land rent to the owners of our various apiaries.  Each December, near the beginning of the month, we begin bottling the honey production of the year.  We prepare cases of honey, most usually packed into one-pound glass honey jars.  Liquid gold is soon on the way, and the “land rent” is paid for another year!

Beekeeping And Cosmetics

When most beekeepers think about the joys of beekeeping they immediately think of the benefits of having their own supply of honey.  But homemade honey is just one of the many bee products readily available to a beekeeper.  Bees are the producers not only of honey, but beeswax, bee pollen, royal jelly, and bee venom; all ingredients for natural cosmetics.

As a beekeeper you may not realize that you have first-hand access to some of the key ingredients of many popular and trendy cosmetics, such as lip balms, hand balms, soaps, lotions and face masks.  What’s more, some of these basic cosmetics are surprisingly easy to make.  For example, basic lip balm consists of little more than melted beeswax, coconut or olive oil (or sometimes shea butter) and essential oils (also optional).  Lotions and soaps are basically made from the same formula, but often also include honey, another product which a beekeeper has no problem obtaining.  Many basic recipes for beeswax lip balms, lotions and soaps can be found on the Internet.

The use of beeswax in cosmetics dates all the way back to Ancient Egypt, where Egyptologists have uncovered evidence of beekeeping activity as long as 8 thousand years ago!  Ancient Egyptians used beeswax-based setting lotion.  In Ancient China, beeswax was a key component of fingernail polish as long ago as 3,000 B.C.E.

Wildflower Meadows would like to thank all of our friends and customers for a successful 2019.

We wish you all a happy and joyous holiday season!

How Much Honey Can A Beehive Produce?

Every bee season eventually reaches a peak when honey production hits its stride and the bees are bringing in the maximum amount of nectar each day.  This is referred to as the honey flow, and it is what most beekeepers live for.

When things are going right, a beehive’s worker bees are putting in long hours foraging, and the house bees are drying nectar as fast as the foragers can bring it in.  A single worker bee can visit over a thousand flowers a day.  Multiply that by thousands of workers, and we are talking about a lot of nectar!

What does it take to reach this kind of honey production?  Well, more than a few variables have to fall into place.  To reach peak honey production a beehive typically needs:

–       A high concentration of honey-producing flowers nearby, such as clover, buckwheat or alfalfa

–       Above average rainfall in the rainy season prior to the bloom (this makes the flowers rich with nectar)

–       A strong, healthy hive, booming with healthy bees and a large population

–       Plenty of space to store all the surplus honey

–       Sunny and warm weather (this enables the flowers to secrete nectar at a maximum), and

–       Plenty of daylight for the bees to fly; from sunup to sundown

A typical beehive in the United States can produce anywhere from 10 to 200 pounds of honey in a year.  That is an unbelievably large range, which indicates just how critical these variables are in order for a beehive to reach peak honey production.

If all is going well, how much honey can a beehive produce in a single day?  At Wildflower Meadows, we have seen beehives fill an entire deep super of buckwheat honey in less than a week.  That’s about 10 pounds of honey per day!  Of course, this happens only once in a while, when all of the above conditions fall into place.  More often than not, here in Southern California, we run into years of drought that greatly distress our native honey-producing plants.  However, when everything is going just right, producing honey can feel a lot like hitting the lottery!

Royal Jelly

While a larva is developing into a queen cell, nurse bees feed the larva with abundant amounts of a milky white gel, known as royal jelly.  Royal jelly is a high protein food (12% protein) that is also loaded with amino acids, B vitamins and trace minerals – a sort of superfood for insects!  Humans eat it too.  If you watch enough infomercials, eventually you can’t help but to run across one touting the many benefits of royal jelly:  “Royal jelly makes bees into royalty!  It’s magic. Try it.  You’ll have energy to burn!”

Is this true?  At Wildflower Meadows, we’ve eaten our share of royal jelly, cutting it out from unwanted queen cells and eating it fresh from the hive.  We have found that it doesn’t taste all that great, but it does seem to provide a nice jolt to the system.  We would rather not tell anyone, however.  The Federal Drug Administration has concluded that there is no human benefit to taking royal jelly.  Furthermore, they threaten legal action against any person or company making unfounded claims to its benefits.

Lets face it: royal jelly was meant to be more of an insect food rather than a human food, as its presence causes a larva to develop into a queen bee rather than a worker bee.

Scientists have recently identified the component of royal jelly that is responsible for this caste differentiation.  It is a protein called “royalactin”, which induces the differentiation of honeybee larvae into queens.  Royalactin increases body size and ovary development and shortens developmental time in honeybees.  We find it amazing that a single substance can initiate the development of such a truly magnificent and royal creature as the queen honeybee.

Single Source Honey

The above photo of bees in a lavender field was taken in France, where lavender is grown commercially.  Lavender is also grown in Spain and other parts of the European Union.

The honey from lavender blossoms is arguably one of the most prized single-source varietal honeys in the world.  It is almost exclusively imported from Europe.  This honey is magnificently delicious with a delicate flavor and slight purple hue.  Lavender honey is expensive, but if you are a honey connoisseur, it is highly worth a try.

Single sourced honey originates from a single flower type and, as a result, takes on the unique flavor and characteristics of that blossom.  In order to capture a single source of nectar and to produce single source varietal, the beekeeper needs to strategically place colonies of honeybees on or alongside a vast area of the exact same blossoms, such as clover, acacia, alfalfa, or in the above case, lavender.  There should be at least a square mile of the same kind of blossoms in the area blossoming at about the same time.  The blossoms need to be attractive to the bees, and there should not be any competing flowers nearby that could dilute the flavor of the honey – especially other kinds of flowers that are equally or more attractive to the bees.

For most backyard beekeepers, producing single source honey is entirely out of the question.  With houses nearby and all sorts of flowering gardens, the honey produced is nearly always a blend of “wildflowers”, or more accurately, garden blossoms.

At Wildflower Meadows, we have seen our bees working lavender blossoms from time to time.  Occasionally, a nearby enterprising gardener will plant a garden of lavender, usually for some sort of aromatherapy or essential oil project that they have in mind.  Our bees are most pleased to do their part and pay a visit. Unfortunately, however, there is never even close to enough lavender to consider the resulting honey single source.  Obtaining a particular honey varietal is an art unto itself, and takes a knowledgeable beekeeper that is dedicated to this singular pursuit.