Bees are extremely beneficial creatures for our planet and the truth is that we couldn’t survive without them. So, if you decided to get into apiculture and keep bees for their honey or for the sake of humankind, you need to learn everything about it, including how to properly protect your body from stings by wearing a beekeeping suit at all times.
What are some of the benefits of honey?
We all know the sweet nectar that goes by the name of honey makes for delicious desserts. You can use it to sweeten your cup of tea or coffee in the morning and it’s ten times healthier than refined sugar or any artificial sweetener.
Honey has been also used as medicine since ancient times. Its antibacterial and antimicrobial properties are great for those who deal with sensitive or acne-prone skin types.
Honey is also rich in antioxidants, fighting against free radicals that cause premature skin aging and the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots or an uneven complexion. Honey extracts are successfully used in the cosmetic industry, becoming a base-ingredient for anti-aging creams, serums, body lotions, scrubs, and others.
Honey is also extremely hydrating, which is why it is used to make facial and hair masks that can treat various problems, including flaking, dandruff or acne scars.
This miraculous ingredient is known to be less harmful to diabetics than refined sugar, although it should only be consumed in moderation. Raw, organic honey can replace sugar in desserts and syrups and represents an overall healthier alternative for those who cannot live without “something sweet”.
According to research in the field, honey could help lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol in our bodies, while also promoting wound and burn healing thanks to its antibacterial and antifungal properties.
But how does this elixir end up in bottles for personal consumption or as an ingredient in the cosmetic industry, and most importantly, how is it made?
How do bees live?
It all starts in the beehive, where each bee has a predefined role and helps make the entire process run smoothly.
Just like the name suggests, the Queen bee is the most important one in the hive. She is the largest bee and her body is specifically designed to lay eggs and reproduce. The queen can lay up to 2000 eggs per day at her peak that will be properly fed and nourished to bring new workers into the hive to harvest and prepare honey.
The drones represent the males of the hive and the future fathers of the bee colony. They are shorter than the queen and don’t possess any other role than to mate with the queen and create new lives. They cannot make wax, cannot collect nectar or pollen, and don’t even sting. Drones don’t feed themselves either, and they will eventually die after mating with the queen.
The worker bees are the ones that keep the hive together and feature special spines for holding the nectar and the pollen. They collect pollen and nectar which are later moistened with the help of the honey and stuck together.
What does it take to make honey?
To begin with, worker bees need two different types of food. The honey is made from nectar, a sugary juice collected in the heart of flowers. The other type of food, called pollen, comes from the anthers of the flowers and contains small grains.
Once the bee collects the nectar from the flowers, it stores it in a special honey stomach and takes it with it back to the hive where it is delivered to the honey-making bees. As we previously mentioned, each bee has a specific role, so, once the nectar and pollen are gathered, the gatherer bees return to the flowers to search for some more.
Since they travel large distances, sometimes, bees need more energy to finish their journey, so they take some of the collected nectar and convert it into the necessary energy.
What is even more interesting is that bees can carry a load of nectar almost close to half their weight without being affected by altitude and other factors. By comparison, even a high-performance airplane can only carry loads up to 25% of their total weight.
Once the nectar sacs are full, the bee is ready to return to the hive where “the rest of the magic” happens. The food is then passed to the other honeybees mouth-to-mouth until the moisture content is reduced to about 20%, which actually turns the nectar into real honey.
Finally, the resulted honey is placed in special storage cells and “sealed”’ with beeswax for when the newborn baby bees arrive. Note that only the queen bee is able to mate so all the other bees in the hive are actually her babies.
Bees also collect pollen that is brought back to the hive by the same gatherers and then mixed with nectar to create a food specially designed to feed the larvae. This mix is rich in proteins, necessary for the larvae to grow fast and turn into strong bees.
After the gatherer bee returns to the hive with the load, she cleans and combs so she can get ready for her next journey.
On average, each hive counts for approximately 40,000 bees and it takes around 300 forager bees to work for around three weeks in order to create 15 fluid ounces of honey. After the honey is stored in the honeycombs, the beekeepers must move gently not to upset the working bees in order to collect the honey.
The job requires not only dexterity but also determination and a good understanding of the bees’ world. Probably this is why the golden elixir ends up costing so much.
Sometimes, in order to create a bigger quantity of honey and generate more profits, honey producers tend to add sugar or syrup into the honey to dilute it. This practice is not only misleading but also dangerous as it diminishes the potential benefits of honey and may even endanger the life of those with diabetes.