There are some 20,000 different species of bees in the world. The common honey bee as we know it is not indigenous to this hemisphere. It was brought to the Americas by the first Europeans. Although early Mesoamerican civilizations used honey in their diet and natural medicine, they collected honey from what is called the stingless bee a relative of the honey bee.
The bee colony is made up of a single queen that will lay all the eggs for the colony. Drones, which are fertile males that mate with the queen, and worker bees, which are sterile females, make up the balance of the hive.
Honey bees are prolific pollinators although many species of insect are responsible for pollination of plants and crops. But as more diverse ecosystems are replaced by more sterile mono ecosystems such as those found in large expanses of crop land and urban sprawl, the number of natural pollinators is lessened. And when crops have to be pollinated, bees are brought in to an area to pollinate the future food supply.
Bees produce a bounty of natural options for human use. Bees wax candles burn longer and cleaner than conventional candles. Bees wax finds its way into cosmetics, food, furniture polish, waterproofing for shoes and boots etc. Historically bees wax was used as modeling material to create sculpture, jewelry, metal molds and as a sealant, and for lubricating bullets etc. Bees also produce honey, pollen, propolis, and royal jelly. All of which can be used for human consumption.
Honey is classified and packaged in a variety of ways. Raw unfiltered honey is honey that is collected in its natural state and undergoes no further processing. Pasteurized honey has been heated. Strained honey has been passed through a metal mesh that removes larger particles. Filtering honey removes much smaller particles. Comb honey is honey that is collected from the hive and packaged still in the wax honeycomb. Honey is typically packaged in glass or plastic such as the case with the more recognizable honey bear.
Most commercial honey, unless otherwise stated, is a blend of honey from different hives pollinating different floral sources.
More recently honey bee colony collapse is something that has increasingly become a concern. Especially when we consider the fact that bees are responsible for pollinating a significant portion of today’s food crops. It is widely thought that the use of more and more chemical pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified crops has sought to compromise the health of bee colonies.
Because of honeys unique characteristics and chemical properties, it defies decay and can be stored indefinitely. In the ruins of an ancient town in Paestum Italy, archeologists unearthed honey in a tomb still golden and sticky after 2,500 years. Regardless of how honey is stored, it is still possible for it to become crystallized although this does not affect the quality, flavor, or nutritional content. Simply warming the honey can re-dissolve the crystals.
Because honey, especially raw honey in its natural state, can contain impurities it is not advisable to give it internally to infants or toddlers as their digestive system is not fully developed.
Written by DMK of Seven Grains post