The Benefits of Honey Bees and Honey

Gateway Garden Center

By Dannis Warf, Associate Certified Entomologist, Royal Pest Solutions

Lately, I’m sure you’ve heard all the buzz about bees in the news.  There are so many concerns about bees dying, colonies collapsing, and losing our pollinators.  I’m from the Midwest, America’s Farmland, so this is an issue that is near and dear to my heart(land). The farming industry is very dependent on bees and other insect pollinators.  Most staple crops such as wheat, rice, potatoes and corn are self- or wind-pollinated, but approximately 70% of the most widely grown fruits in the world rely on insect pollination. Bees and other insects pollinate the hundreds of thousands of acres of crops we depend on to fuel our food supply in the United States and the world.

Honey bees are pollinating machines. They are pollinators, in other words, which means they move the pollen grains from the anther (the male germ cell of a plant) to the stigma (the female reproductive system in seed plants). This process is vital because it allows plants to reproduce, and it fertilizes crop-bearing plants so that they will yield food.

There are many plants and flowers where the anther and stigma mature at different times. Sometimes the pollen can be moved by the wind, but for the most part, pollen must be spread from flower to flower by insects so that new fruit can be formed.  The pollen of cotton, alfalfa, blueberries, raspberries, almonds, apples, peaches, and many other plants needs to be carried by insects. Bumblebees, flies, and especially honeybees do this more effectively than any other species.  Honey bees are so important to our food supply that farmers contract with migratory beekeepers to have them move millions of bee hives to fields each year just as crops flower.

Agricultural Significance of Bees

According to The Nature Conservancy, the monetary value of honey bees as commercial pollinators in the United States is estimated at about $15 billion annually, with them doing almost 80% of all crop pollination. Without them, farmers and consumers would be at a great loss. The Backyard Beekeepers Association estimates that honeybees account for 80% of all insect pollination.

Without such pollination, we would see a significant decrease in the yield of fruits and vegetables. According to Oklahoma State Department of Agriculture, one in three mouthfuls of the foods you eat directly or indirectly depends on pollination by honey bees. Besides being the world’s most proficient pollinators, honey bees are also the world’s greatest producers of (surprise!) honey.

Honey and Health

Since ancient time, scientists and philosophers such as Aristotle have extolled the health benefits of eating honey. In modern times, science has managed to find some useful applications of honey. However, there are many conflicting views still being researched. Below are some facts about honey and your health that address some of these commonly debated areas.

Honey is a natural energy booster. Honey is a great natural source of carbohydrates, which provide our bodies strength and energy. Honey is known to effectively boost performance and endurance and reduce muscle fatigue in athletes. The glucose in honey is absorbed by the body quickly and gives an immediate energy lift, while the fructose is absorbed more slowly providing sustained energy.

Honey helps prevent cancer and heart disease. Honey contains antioxidants, which some researchers believe help reduce the risk of some cancers and heart disease, according to University of Vermont professor of nutrition Rachel K. Johnson, PhD. Ms. Johnson is also a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association.

Honey doesn’t cause allergies. Pollen from weeds, trees, and grasses is the leading cause of seasonal allergies. Wind carries the dust from these plants and spreads it into the air. Bees, which make honey, tend to pick up pollen from brightly colored flowers. “Pollen from these blooms rarely causes allergies. So even if local honey contains pollen, it’s unlikely that it’s behind your allergy symptoms,” allergist Neeta Ogden, MD says, accord-ing to WebMD.

Honey helps ease symptoms of the common cold. There is some proof that honey calms a cough. In a study that involved 139 children, honey beat out dextro-methorphan (a cough suppressant) and diphenhydramine (an antihistamine) in easing nighttime cough in children and improving their sleep. Another study involving 105 children found that buckwheat honey trumped dextromethorphan in suppressing nighttime coughs. “If you’re suffering from a cold or something going on in the throat or upper airways, getting on board with honey syrup will help fight infection and soothe membranes,” says Maryland family doctor Ariane Cometa, MD, according to WebMD.

Lastly, honey is GREAT for the skin. According to Women’s Health, the secret to clear, radiating skin is the simple application of raw honey. You can use it on its own as a face mask, with baking soda as an exfoliant, or with coconut oil as a scar treatment. The reason why honey, on its own, is so effective as a facial cleanser is because of its many helpful characteristics.  For example, it has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that prevent the natural build-up of bacteria, making skin appear bright and free of any breakouts or discoloration. Because honey is also packed with tons of antioxidants, enzymes, and other nutrients, these features allow skin to feel fully hydrated and nourished.

Plant a pollinator garden

One of the primary threats to honey bees and other pollinators is the lack of available nectar and pollen sources. With increased urbanization, natural habitats for foraging pollinators have become scarce, and in turn so have their nutritional sources. However, you can help!

By simply planting flowers attractive to pollinators, you can play a role in protecting them and in turn, support our nation’s food supply. Not only will bees and other pollinators benefit from this simple act of goodwill, the colorful vegetation will also make your home, yard, or patio more attractive and enjoyable.

There are many resources online to help you decide what plants will be most beneficial to pollinators in your geographical area, but some plants that the Delaware Department of Agriculture suggests include Ox-eye Sunflowers, Great Blue Lobelias, Black-eyed Susans, and Silky Dogwood. For the complete list and more tips on choosing the right plants for native bees from the Delaware Department of Agriculture, scan the QR code below!

We depend on bees and other pollinators to help provide us with a healthy food supply, as well as one of nature’s healthiest foods. Let’s help them as well by providing them more places where they can eat.

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