Nutrition Picks – Apitherapy: Nutritional and medicinal properties of bee products

by PCC Nutrition Educator Nick Rose, M.S.

This article was originally published in April 2018

bowl of honey with jar
In addition to their important work as pollinators, honeybees produce some amazingly nutritious food products. Honey, bee pollen, propolis and royal jelly can be collected from honeybees and used for a wide range of medicinal and nutritional properties.

 

Raw Honey

Raw honey has been used as a food and medicine for thousands of years. I use it every day in my morning coffee. Raw honey contains compounds with antibacterial, viral and fungal properties that are lost when honey is pasteurized — so you always maximize the benefits when selecting raw honey. Raw honey also supports the immune system with antioxidants and prebiotics that support the good bacteria making up our microbiome. Honey is considered an added sugar, to be consumed in moderation, but spoonful for spoonful, honey contains 18 percent less sugar than table sugar without tasting any less sweet. So, swapping honey instead of white sugar in your morning brew leads to a number of health benefits. My personal favorite is Craic Honey Co, whose motto is “making honey FUN!!”

Organic Honey

Honeybees travel several miles from the hive. To certify their honey as organic, their entire foraging range (estimated 15 miles) needs to be certified organic. You won’t find many certified organic honey options if you shop for local honey, but there is a large region of certified organic land within the Brazilian rainforest that produces organic and fair-trade honey available at PCC, including Glory Bee and Field Day. Heavenly Organics honey comes from wild beehives in the Himalayan wilderness where the bees are many miles away from any exposure to pesticides, GMOs or synthetic pesticides.

Local Honey

Many people use local honey to support their immune system during allergy season. There is not scientific research to back up the widespread anecdotal evidence that this actually works, but that certainly doesn’t mean that there aren’t benefits to buying local honey.

Supporting local beekeepers keeps them in business and prevents concerns about authenticity and quality in honey as a global commodity food. Supporting smaller, local producers also can help ensure that beekeepers are using sustainable practices and not over-harvesting the honey or other bee products. Larger producers could use less sustainable practices, such as over-harvesting honey and feeding corn syrup to bees — further straining honeybees who already are facing enough challenges.

Each year more and more honey is imported in response to the growing popularity of honey as a natural sweetener — an estimated two thirds of all honey consumed in the U.S. is imported. When we support local honey producers, we also are supporting more pollinators in our backyards and, therefore, supporting a more productive, fruitful and beautiful world. We sell some excellent local honey in our stores including Glory Bee, Puget Sound Jams, My Local Honey and High Country Honey.

Manuka Honey

Manuka honey is a type of honey made by bees feeding on the Manuka (tea tree) in New Zealand. Manuka is more expensive than other honeys because it is a “mono-floral” honey derived from bees pollinating one specific type of flower that only blooms six weeks of the year.

Manuka honey is an especially medicinal variety of honey and its potency can be expressed in a few different ways. Some brands use the MGO system, which is a measurement of the total amount of methylglyoxal — one of the antibacterial compounds present in Manuka honey. Manuka Heath produces a 250+ honey and 400+ variety – with the higher MGO number reflecting a higher methylglyoxal content (and subsequently a higher price tag). A more common measurement is the UMF measurement of the total antibacterial strength of the honey. Pacific Resources offers Manuka honeys ranging from 5+ (low, but still beneficial) up to 20+ (very high activity) using this “Unique Manuka Factor” scale.

Manuka honey often is used topically, similar to Neosporin for healing cuts and wounds. All raw honey can be used topically, as honey’s natural antibacterial properties support wound healing, but Manuka offers exceptionally high antibacterial properties.

Propolis

Propolis is a sticky substance collected by honeybees and used in the hive as a “bee glue” to seal the hive, keeping out foreign pathogens with its antibacterial, viral and fungal properties. Propolis is found in raw honey and it can also be extracted and used as a supplement, often combined with other therapeutic ingredients for products such as Honey Gardens’ Propolis Spray, which is useful for soothing sore throats. Propolis’ antibacterial properties also support oral health, reducing plaque formation and periodontitis. Herb Pharm propolis tincture is made from an extract of sustainable, wildcrafted propolis.

Bee pollen

Bee pollen is collected by honeybees as they journey from flower to flower, thus the nutritional composition and color reflect the terroir of the bees’ habitat. Bee pollen contains a range of proteins, vitamins and phytonutrients, such as quercetin, which reduces inflammation and may be useful for allergies and supporting the prostate. PCC carries bee pollen in the bulk section. An easy way to try out this unique ingredient is to add it to smoothies or take it as a supplement.

For local bee pollen, Uncle Harry’s Western Washington bee pollen is collected from bees in Skagit Valley, and Mickleberry Gardens Northwest Pollen Honey Tonic ferments Northwest bee pollen, combining it with nettle, honey and vinegar as an energy tonic or seasonal allergy support. Some people have an allergic reaction to bee pollen, so always start with a small dose.

Royal Jelly

Royal jelly is a worker bee secretion, used as a “superfood” to feed the queen and to nurture the recently hatched larvae. Royal jelly is incredibly nutritious and partly explains the longevity of the queen bee relative to the rest of the hive. Royal jelly has anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing properties. Researchers also have noticed royal jelly’s ability to support reproductive health. Harvesting royal jelly without compromising the health of the hive is questionable, but some producers claim to be able to harvest sustainably, including a local producer that incorporates royal jelly with other apitherapy products into Uncle Harry’s Western Washington raw honey with bee pollen and organic royal jelly.

“How sweet it is to bee loved by you.”

Note that honey should never be fed to infants. Spores of botulism may contaminate some honey and an infant’s developing immune system is unable to protect against botulism.

 

PCC Nutrition Educator Nick Rose leads Walk, Talk and Taste classes, providing information on the seasonal, sustainable and delicious food choices found at PCC. Before coming to PCC, Nick taught nutrition courses at Bastyr University and his alma mater, Virginia Tech. While studying sustainable food systems in graduate school, Nick took a class on beekeeping and became a true Bee-liever in the significance of saving the honeybees.


[ In Season ]

Organic produce

  • Organic, local Purple Sprouting Broccoli – from various growers, Washington and Oregon
  • Organic and non-organic local asparagus – from Inaba Farms, Washington
  • Organic cantaloupe and honeydew melons – from various growers, Mexico
  • Organic, new crop Packham, Abate Fetal, Bosc and Asian pears – from Awesum Organics growers, Argentina<
  • Organic, local rhubarb – from local Oregon growers

PCC Cooks

Bees are not the only thing bustling in the air this spring! We are excited to add to the buzz with a fresh new selection of classes to get you cooking at home.

Bring the world closer with classes such as Springtime in Italy, or Dumplings of Anatolia for a food exploration of Kurdish cooking. Learn how to make the most of your abbreviated time indoors with In the Time It Takes to Roast a Chicken, or Successful Sauces.

If you are passionate about digging into the local bounty, have local farmer Sarah Cassidy jump-start your garden with her inspiring Grow Good Food: PNW Gardening class. Or, bring cuttings from your perennial garden into action with PNW Spring Desserts: Rhubarb and Strawberries. We have brought together a stellar group of instructors to invigorate your food curiosity, so join us in the celebration of all things spring at PccCooks.com.

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