Three-quarters of the world’s crops require pollination. So, it’s hardly surprising that the dramatic reduction of our global honeybee population in recent years has caused widespread concern. The alarming rate of decline in bee numbers has been linked to several different factors, including loss of habitat, disease and the large-scale use of pesticides. And a European study has now revealed that the UK in particular is ‘suffering one of the worst rates of honeybee colony deaths in Europe’. The good news is that the more bee products you consume, the more beekeepers stay in business, and the more you personally contribute to the very survival of the honeybee – in a delicious and incredibly healthy way!
Bee products – the ‘bees knees’ of superfoods
Bee products, such as raw honey and bee pollen, have been popular almost since time began. Raw honey for example, has been revered as a spiritual and magical food that boasts unique therapeutic properties by a variety of cultures for more than 8000 years. And bee pollen, which is often referred to as “Ambrosia” or “Food of God’’ in Greek mythology, was reputedly a favourite of famous Dutch footballer, Johan Cruyff, who attributed his extraordinary success on the pitch to a daily helping of this nutrient-dense superfood.
So, let’s take a closer look at three brilliant bee products that are now readily available from all good health stores.
3 top bee products to make a beeline for
The following three bee products not only share a wealth of important health benefits; they also offer a huge variety of culinary uses!
1. Raw Honey
Raw honey is made from the nectar that’s collected from by honeybees – they extract it from fruit tree blossom and flowers using long, tube-like tongues, before transporting it back to the hive where worker bees chew it and add significant quantities of natural enzymes that make it easier to digest and less susceptible to bacteria in the process. The bees subsequently spread the nectar over the honeycomb, fan it with their wings in order to thicken it, and then finally cover it with beeswax for storage as a future food supply for the colony. The beekeeper obtains the raw honey that ends up in your kitchen cupboard by carefully removing the honeycomb from the beehive and unsealing the wax plug to retrieve the honey. Raw honey is typically left to settle for a few days before bottling and, unlike standard honey, is never heated or strained, and thus often contains the “cappings” (small pieces of beeswax) in addition to traces of pollen.
The health benefits of raw honey
Raw honey is crammed with beneficial nutrients, including:
- Antioxidants and flavonoids – such as chrysin, pinobanksin, vitamin C and pinocembrine, which can help to protect against cancer and heart disease (Gribel et al, 1999; Swellham et al, 2003).
- Enzymes – which boast bacterial and mould inhibiting properties. Indeed, raw honey is often recommended for the treatment of sore throats, stomach ulcers or bacterial intestinal infections. A 2008 study by researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, demonstrated that raw honey is also suitable for the topical care of burns.
- Friendly bacteria – which help to balance intestinal flora. A good raw honey will contain up to 6 different lactobacilli and 4 different bifido bacteria and may be used as a probiotic (Chow, 2003).
- Vitamins and minerals – such as iron, an essential mineral that aids in the manufacture of haemoglobin, which in turn carries oxygen around your body.
In addition raw honey contains the perfect balance of fructose (a natural fruit sugar predominantly found in plants) and glucose, and thus has a much smaller effect on your blood sugar levels than standard sugar. Furthermore, scientific studies suggest that consuming this low GI superfood can help to lower ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol and blood triglycerides (fat), simultaneously raise ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol levels, reduce homocysteine (an amino acid and blood marker that’s linked to cardiovascular disease), and thanks to the small amounts of pollen that it contains, help to build up immunity against seasonal allergies or offer relief from their symptoms. Raw honey also helps to retain glycogen stores in your muscles for longer, which means that it has a positive effect on both your endurance and athletic performance.
How to enjoy raw honey
A healthy alternative to refined sugars and artificial sweeteners, raw honey can be used to sweeten herbal teas, smoothies, shakes and protein drinks or to enhance breakfast granolas and rawfood desserts. It’s also an exceptionally kind and nourishing moisturiser that can be applied directly to skin for unrivalled results.
2. Bee pollen
Bee pollen is made from pollen grains – the male seeds of flowers that are required for the fertilisation of plants and trees. The honeybees dexterously scrape the pollen from the stamen and press into pollen baskets (concave areas located on the outside of their legs) where it is mixed with nectar and saliva to form a single golden grain or granule, before transporting it back to the hive for use as a primary source of protein. It is important to note that ethical beekeepers only ever collect or ‘trap’ between 10 and 50 percent of bee pollen, leaving plenty for the busy bees themselves. Thanks to the proliferation of wildflowers in the Iberian countryside, Spanish bee pollen is particularly prized for its fine quality.
The health benefits of bee pollen
Bee pollen is considered one of nature’s most nourishing foods and is brimming with valuable nutrients, including:
- Protein – in fact, bee pollen consists of around 40 percent protein (up to 7 times more than beef!), which is essential for the healthy growth and repair of your muscles, internal organs and skin, and is an important source of energy.
- Vitamins – bee pollen contains vitamins A, B, C & D and is rich in vitamin E, which helps to strengthen your immunity, promote healthy vision and encourage beautiful looking skin.
- Minerals – including selenium, magnesium, calcium, copper, iron, silica, phosphorous, sulphur, chlorine and manganese.
- Lecithin – a unique type of fat that’s an integral component of your body’s cells. Lecithin is sometimes used to treat depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s, and is a powerful skin moisturiser that helps to manage skin complaints, such as eczema.
- Natural fruit sugars – in the form of carbohydrates, which are your body’s main source of energy. What’s more, the B complex vitamins in bee pollen help to transform carbs into energy, making it an extremely popular food superfood for athletes.
Bee pollen is increasingly used as an effective treatment for hay fever by working on the principle of ‘desensitisation’ or ‘immunotherapy’ – the gradual administration of larger and larger doses of allergen extracts over a number of years. The bee saliva and other natural secretions that bee pollen contains not only enables it to reduce histamine production, it also leaves it anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. Indeed, studies indicate that bee pollen is a far superior remedy for coughs, colds and sore throats than many over-the-counter medicines and it has additionally proved successful in the treatment of a wide range of respiratory diseases, such as asthma and chronic sinus infections.
How to enjoy bee pollen
Bee pollen benefits from an extremely sweet flavour that can be savoured pure by melting a teaspoonful directly onto your tongue. Alternatively try mixing bee pollen into your preferred smoothies, shakes and protein drinks, or sprinkling liberally over breakfast granolas and homemade trail mix.
3. Bee propolis
Bee propolis is a totally natural substance made when honeybees combine the sap from trees with their own secretions and beeswax to create a sticky superfood that’s used as a sealant in the hive or to manufacture a protective cradle for the eggs of the Queen Bee. The bees also use bee propolis to reinforce the structure of the hive and to protect it from disease and parasites.
The health benefits of bee propolis
Like raw honey and bee pollen, bee propolis contains an impressive selection of nutrients including:
- Natural tree resins
- Essential oils
- Natural waxes
- Bioflavonoids – naturally occurring plant pigments, which are believed to possess powerful antioxidant qualities and have been linked to a strengthened immune system, improved vision, improved cardiovascular health and healthy looking skin.
Harnessed for its medicinal properties for thousands of years, research suggests that taking bee propolis during the high-risk ‘cold and flu’ season will actively reduce your risk of colds, coughs and inflammation of the mouth, tonsils and throat.
How to enjoy bee propolis
Bee propolis comes in a capsule form that can be swallowed with a glass of (spring) water. A common ingredient in beauty and skin care products, it can also be purchased in topical creams, ointment and lotions.