Bees are a crucial part of our food supply. It is estimated that about 1/3 of the world’s food depends on bee pollination. Other than their relationship to food, bees provide us with valuable items for ‘medicine.’ These beneficial bee products include honey, wax, apitherapy (bee venom), pollen, royal jelly and propolis.
Unfortunately, during the last several decades bee colonies have been in danger. In 1947, the US alone had six million bee colonies. Now there’s only about 2.5 million. There has been a global decline as well, with certain bee populations at risk of extinction. This is due to many factors, including pesticide use, habitat destruction and pollution. When faced with bee colonies collapsing, thankfully many countries around the world have put practices in action to help the bees with some success, leading to small recoveries.
Bee products provide us with incredible health benefits – they give so much to us, and it’s equally important to ensure that we consume them responsibly to ensure their sustainability and success as a species in the decades to come.
Health Benefits of Bee Products
What Is It?
Everyone knows the characteristic sweet golden taste of honey and it’s one of my favourite natural remedies. Honey is produced when bees consume plant nectar and mix it with various enzymes. They then regurgitate this partly digested substance, now honey, and store it in their hive for a quick source of energy.
Honey has antimicrobial, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. It can soothe a sore throat and help fight the common cold, address or prevent seasonal allergies, as well as reduce your risk of H. pylori, a bacteria that attacks the stomach lining and can lead to ulcers. Not only is honey a great natural sweetener and good alternative to white sugar, it is a great remedy for burns. Honey can be directly applied to burns to prevent blistering and speed healing.
As an added bonus, honey is one of the few foods in the world that will never spoil.
How to Use It: Add raw honey to elixirs, smoothies, teas, marinades and sauces, baking, or have a little bit right off the spoon. Apply it straight to the skin for burns or wounds.
What Is It?
Pollen is basically the sperm of the plant world. Yes, you read correctly. Bees collect it on their hind legs and bring it back to the hive, where it serves as food for the bees – they use it as their primary protein source.
Bee pollen is a very nutrient-dense bee product, packed with easily digestible protein, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, carbohydrates and fatty acids – it has most of the factors we need to thrive. It’s a real powerhouse! Pollen has anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-cancer properties, plus it helps heal wounds and protects the heart by lowering the amount of fats in the blood. Athletes have also used bee pollen in their training as it’s so nutrient-rich.
How to Use It: Add to elixirs and smoothies, sprinkle on top of oatmeal, dairy-free yogurt, granola or toast with nut butter.
What Is It?
Worker bees have wax glands that secrete beeswax used to make honeycombs in the hive. Bees fly roughly 6 times around the earth to yield one pound of beeswax.
Beeswax is antimicrobial and is very soothing to the skin.
How to Use It: Beeswax can be used externally mixed with olive oil, herbs, or essential oils to make salves. It’s commonly used to make beauty care products, candles (a clean-burning alternative to toxic paraffin candles), re-usable food wrap (a good plastic alternative!) and it’s used in natural wood treatments and for sealing cracks.
What Is It?
Propolis is a resin that trees exude to heal and repair damage, and prevent disease. Bees collect this resin to patch up the hive – it’s referred to as ‘bee glue’. They also use it as an antibiotic, antifungal, and antibacterial to keep viruses, bacteria, and infections out of the hive.
Raw propolis has about 300 compounds. It’s packed with anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, antiviral and anti-cancer properties, plus it aids with wound healing and helps to modulate the immune system. It’s been used to inhibit gastrointestinal infections, vaginal infections and candida, prevent oral diseases and heal dental wounds, and promote skin health. Propolis works wonders in our bodies, fighting sickness and boosting the immune system.
How to Use It: You can find propolis as a spray or tincture. Some brands of honey will also have propolis in them.
What Is It?
Royal jelly is a white jelly made by the worker bees exclusively for the queen. The consumption of royal jelly is the only difference between the queen bee who lays over 2000 eggs in a single day and a worker bee. The queen bee’s life-span is about 4–5 years whereas the worker bees live about 3 months or less. Does that mean diet is more important than genes? I’ll let you decide…
Like other bee products, royal jelly has incredible anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, antimicrobial and immunomodulating properties. It has some additional benefits, though – it has anti-aging properties, extending lifespan and boosting collagen production in the skin. It helps to protect the brain from aging too, stimulating the brain, improving mental health and preventing neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
How to Use It: You can find royal jelly as a health supplement, or you can find it fresh. Some brands of honey will have royal jelly mixed into them.
The actual bee itself, believe it or not, has healing properties in its venom. Know as apitherapy, the actual sting of a bee has been used as a therapy by doctors, beekeepers, and people from all walks of life.
Although, there hasn’t been much research in the area, bee stings are believed to increase blood flow to the affected area, having an analgesic effect on pain and inflammation. This therapy isn’t for the faint of heart.
How to Choose Bee Products
The type of bee medicine you choose will depend on your health needs and financial situation – but try to purchase from local beekeepers or people who care about maintaining and sustaining bee populations. Raw honey is a good first step when dipping your toes into bee medicine, as it’s often locally available and not as pricey as the propolis or jelly.
Bees are truly nature’s givers. They give both pain and pleasure. They harness nature’s gifts and make them usable by us in many forms. Next time you see a bee, try not to run away from it – but express your gratitude for all it has provided.