The hum of the honeybee may induce a nervous reaction, as many associate this ominous sound with stings, swarms, and swollen arms. Unlike many of its cousins, the honeybee is more of a pacifist, opting to live amongst the hive community, rarely posing a threat to humans (not including those who are allergic, regrettably). For better or worse, honeybees only sting when protecting their hives, and these pea-sized aviators are normally content to continue their work, toiling ceaselessly in the daily grind. Fear of the insect notwithstanding, the honeybee is one of nature’s many marvels, yielding many byproducts that may encourage good health in humans. In light of the fact that honeybee populations are declining rapidly, it begs a multitude of questions related to their contributions to local ecosystems and personal health.
One of the honeybee’s calling cards is the same substance that causes many peoples’ sinuses to clog and eyes to water. Is it the yellow allergen of nightmares? Regrettably, yes. Those who suffer from pollen-induced allergic reactions may not care for the seasons in which the air feels choked with the sinus-stuffing particles. Aside from potential allergic reactions, bee pollen should not be discounted. Pollination helps flora and local ecosystems grow, expand, and evolve. Without it, ecosystems would wither and potentially fade; spreading a plant’s genetic material aides in the propagation of the species, supporting and potentially helping stabilize an ecosystem. Additionally, bee pollen holds most of the nutrients that humans and bees alike need in their daily diets. Packed with protein and amino acids, pollen is a surprisingly energy-rich super-food, even in small doses. To boot, pollen is used in multiple herbal and holistic remedies, offering the good possibility of bolstering the immune system, treating allergies, and enhancing digestive health.
Honey is perhaps the most well-known of the bee’s creations, as, the insect and humans alike use this byproduct as a good and healthy source of nutrition. Moreover, honey possesses hygroscopic properties, essentially trapping moisture when exposed to air. While not medically or FDA-confirmed, honey has been used to treat minor burns and scrapes, trapping moisture in the skin, potentially augmenting the healing process. Moreover, eating local honey may help in treating allergies, essentially helping a person build a healthy tolerance to other local allergens.
Royal jelly, fit only for the Queen, should not be left off of the list. The female worker bees transfer this essential nutrient to their queen, feeding and aiding in her egg production. The milky, jelly-like substance possesses nutrient-rich properties. Royal jelly still awaits many clinical trials, but is being studied for its antimicrobial, immunoregulatory, anti-tumor properties, and the like.
Normally considered an irritant, the honeybee’s venom is currently being used in “venom therapy,” or apitherapy, a popular alternative treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, a serious and painful health issue. While more studies are needed to verify its effectiveness, smaller, independent reports claim that bee venom—in addition to oral medication—improves joint pain, stiffness, and muscle swelling more than those patients who used oral medication alone.
Lastly, home improvement is made easier with propolis, nature’s glue-like matter. Mixing tree resin and wax, airborne honeybee handywomen will use the resulting admixture to repair cracks in the honeycomb, protecting the hive and Queen. What one creature’s caulk is another’s soothing elixir, as some of the most popular functions of propolis reside in ointments and creams, often employed to treat minor burns and infections. Its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties makes propolis one of the oldest known holistic ingredients, dating back almost 2,300 years.
The flight of the honeybee is impressive, if not downright admirable. Each member of the hive appears to work in cahoots, unaware that their beneficial properties aid mankind’s health. However, not everyone is pro-bee; arguments arise as to whether or not using bee byproducts is ethical, challenging the widespread use of these products as being good for a person’s overall health. While the byproducts yielded by these dedicated workers is natural, perhaps some of the ways in which they are harvested are destructive to a honeybee’s natural habitat. Nature needs the bee, for the good of local ecosystems and human health, and it is high time these teeny forces of nature receive the recognition they deserve.
Opinion by Hayden Freed