Honeybees are of huge economic importance, vital for the pollination of many fruit, vegetable and seed crops. Also a wide variety of important products are made from the honey, beeswax, pollen, royal jelly and propolis that bees produce.
Honeybees are one of the most important pollinators for both wild and domestic plants. They visit more flowering plant species, including many native plants, than any other bee. In many countries honeybees are crucial for agriculture because they pollinate a wide range of cultivated food plants. Pollination is when pollen grains are transferred from one plant to another, to fertilise the ovaries of flowers. Some plants rely on wind to provide pollination, and others are self-pollinating, however most flowering plants require the services of natural pollinators, such as honeybees, to do the work. A good pollination system is part of a healthy eco-system.
Honey has been harvested for food by humans since prehistoric times. It is used as it is or as an ingredient in meals, baking and drinks. Honey contains a lot of sugar and should therefore not be eaten in large quantities. Honey has been used a folk medicine for millennia. It is useful for soothing sore throats and suppressing the urge to cough. It is a mild salve for treating skin conditions, burns, cuts and abrasions. Mainly due to it’s acidity honey is anti-bacterial. Manuka honey, a product from New Zealand, is particularly efficacious and in tests has proven to kill over 250 types of bacteria. It is an antioxidant and as such may help in the prevention of cancers and also reduce the ravages of the ageing process, although there is no concrete evidence to prove this. Honey naturally contains bacteria and yeasts/fungi. This means that it may be unsafe for people with a weakened immune system.
Beeswax is a bi-product of the honey industry but in many ways it is more useful and probably more important as a resource than honey. It is flammable and has been used to make candles for millenia. It’s waxy properties make it a useful sealant from moisture. As a coating on leather or fabrics it keeps moisture out. As a salve/moisturiser on skin, leather or wood it helps keep moisture in. It also acts as a sealant to prevent air and moisture from metal tools. It is not toxic and edible (albeit indigestible), so it also works as a seal on cheeses and preserves. It is also a good lubricant. A nail or wood screw will be easier to insert if they are coated with beeswax. Likewise thread is often waxed to make it easier to sew. A sticking drawer or cupboard door can be fixed with a little beeswax. Read more about the uses of beeswax.
Royal jelly, propolis and bee pollen
Propolis is a resinous material that bees use to seal small cracks and gaps in the hive. It’s made when bees collect resin from trees etc. and mix it with a little bit of honey. Like its cousin, beeswax, propolis has been found to offer numerous health benefits. In ancient cultures, propolis (or bee resin) was often used for abscesses and minor wounds. Bees, in an effort to close gaps in hives, use propolis as a precautionary measure to keep out dangerous microbes and fungi. Some findings have confirmed its potent action against many harmful pathogens.
Bee pollen are pollen balls that are collected and stored by bees as a food source for the bees. Likewise is an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and amino acids for humans.
Royal jelly is a milky secretion produced by worker honey bees. It contains water, proteins, sugars, fats, vitamins, mineral salts, and amino acids. Its composition varies depending on geography and climate. This product gets its name from the fact that bees use it for the development and nurturing of queen bees. Whilst it’s efficacy as a medicine is unproven Royal jelly is used for asthma, hay fever, liver disease, pancreatitis, sleep troubles (insomnia), premenstrual syndrome (PMS), stomach ulcers, kidney disease, bone fractures, menopausal symptoms, skin disorders, and high cholesterol. It is also used as a general health tonic, for fighting the effects of aging, and for boosting the immune system.