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Honey Bees - Nature's Pharmacist

By EAT SMARTER
Updated on 27. Dec. 2018
Sweeten up with honey!
Sweeten up with honey!

When most people think of honey bees, they naturally think of honey but bees actually produce many other substances that can be used by humans. In ancient civilizations, these products were used as health care to treat ailments and wounds before western medicine was introduced. So do these products still have practical applications for us?

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When most people think of honey bees, they naturally think of honey but bees actually produce many other substances that can be used by humans. In ancient civilizations, these products were used as health care to treat ailments and wounds before western medicine was introduced. So do these products still have practical applications for us?

 

Bees produce not just honey, but also pollen, propolis, venom, and royal jelly. These use of these products as medicine is called apitherapy, and it has been studied and practiced for thousands of years. While the research is still ongoing as to whether bee products can help with illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and cancer, there is evidence to support their use for minor ailments and wounds.

 

Honey

The sweet stuff honey bees are known for can be used as more than just a sweetener in your morning cup of tea. Raw, unfiltered honey has antibiotic effects as well as antiviral and antifungal properties. This makes honey (especially manuka honey, which became a recommended treatment option for wounds by the FDA) a good natural choice for dressing minor wounds and burns.

 

This is because most bacteria cannot survive and, therefore, reproduce in honey, though some bacteria that reproduce via spores can still survive.1 This is mainly because honey is hydrophilic, meaning it can absorb moisture. This causes the bacteria to effectively suffocate in honey.

 

Honey has also been studied for its cough suppressant benefits. One study out of Penn State found that it was better at suppressing a cough in children than over-the-counter cough suppressants. The study gave children a small dose of buckwheat honey before bed, and it lessened the frequency and severity of nighttime coughing better than the over-the-counter medicine.2

 

Pollen

Pollen is full of many vitamins and minerals that can help keep us healthy. It has touted claims such as improved performance in athletes and allergy relief. These claims are still being studied, but there are still benefits to adding pollen to your diet. The sweet and chewy little golden nuggets are great blended into a smoothie or on top of oatmeal in the morning.

 

If you have seasonal allergies, adding local bee pollen to your diet might help you alleviate some of your symptoms. It is best to consult a doctor before trying this (or any natural remedy) because there have been a few cases of bee pollen causing anaphylaxis in people who do and do not show allergy symptoms.  

 

Propolis

Propolis is a sticky substance bees make from the resin of trees and plants. The bees use it to protect their hives from infections and bacteria. It has shown to have both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

 

Propolis can be used for a throat spray to fight cold symptoms. You can also find propolis products for tooth care as it has shown to reduce gingivitis and plaque. Though still in the process of being proven in the scientific community, some claim that propolis helps to fight inflammation and cancer.

 

Venom

Used for thousands of years as a medicine in ancient civilizations, people are now touting bee venom’s properties as a way to boost your immune system. While in those times they would let bees sting them for this type of therapy, you can now purchase bee venom extracts in pill form.

 

The theory that makes this work is that the pain caused by a bee sting is very short-lived, but your immune system overreacts to it. Once it deals with the bee venom, your immune system can use that leftover response, thus improving immune function. A shot of bee venom is always used as a treatment for ailments such as nerve pain and rheumatoid arthritis.

 

Bee venom therapy should be done only after consultation with a doctor, since it can cause severe allergic reactions.

 

Royal Jelly

Royal jelly is fed to all bee larvae during the beginning of their life, after which all but the soon-to-be queen are switched to honey and pollen. The queen is fed exclusively royal jelly for the rest of her life, which tends to be 5-6 years (compared to the 4 to 6-week lifespan of a humble worker bee.)

 

Royal jelly is a mixture of water, protein, sugar and fats. In humans, it is used for everything from asthma, increased energy, and skin care. There is not a lot of scientific evidence supporting the claims some natural lifestyle leaders make about royal jelly, but there is ongoing research going on. In studies where royal jelly was given to animals, it has shown to have some effect on artery health and the growth of tumors.3

 

Bees are an important part of our ecosystem, pollinating the plants that give us the fruits and vegetables we need to eat a healthy and balanced diet but they also produce many products that we can use as part of a holistic approach to health. If you are interested in trying some of these approaches, discuss your plans with your doctor beforehand. With all of these products, it is important to look for the most natural and pure form you can find (unfiltered and raw honey is a must when using for wound treatment.)





 

Geiling, Natasha. “The Science Behind Honey’s Eternal Shelf Life.” Smithsonian.com. The Smithsonian, 22 Aug, 2013. Web.

Manlove, Megan. “Honey proves a better option for childhood cough than OTCs.” Penn State News. The Pennsylvania State University, 03 Dec. 2007. Web.

“Royal Jelly.” WebMD. WebMD. Web.

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