Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Honey Lovers


Here's a quick science lesson, honey lovers. If you have inquired about my beekeeping hobby you more than likely have heard me say, "There is a true science behind those little insects." One of the reasons I say that is their ability to pollinate. With the fear of our honey bee population dying off, I am sure you've heard the phrase, "We need honey bees to pollinate." Maybe you've even said it yourself, but do you actually know what pollination means?

Let's get right to the point: Flowers have male and lady reproductive parts. Did you remember that from your 6th grade science class? I must have been more concerned with my changing body parts to remember that a flower could operate the same way. Who knew? Anyway, those said flowering plants produce seeds and those seeds can be shared internally with the "lady part" of the plant to reproduce new plants on their own. That process is called pollination, and similar to what we humans call incest. However, same as with humans, that isn't necessarily the best (or preferred) way to reproduce. To produce real hardy plants, the flowering plant needs honey bees. These tiny little bees cross-pollinate, which is when pollen from one plant is "carried" to the "lady part" of another plant. Think of it in the same way humans share diseases, but in a much more positive way.

While honey bees spend a lot of their daylight hours digging around in flowers, looking for nectar, they are really walking all over the lady part of the plant, dropping some of their collected pollen, and collecting new pollen along the way. Bees can carry a little over a third of their body weight in nectar and can't retrieve that amount in one single plant, so they visit multiple plants in one trip to get their fill. Which means, when they leave one plant and land on another, they have carried the pollen from the previous plant to the new plant. And that my friends, is Cross Pollination. AKA, reproduction of a plant, the hardy way.

Still with me?
Taken by Mr. B (See the orange pollen on the 2nd bee's arm?)

There is a reason for my lesson and it's because you needed that background information to understand the answer to my friend Alyssa's question, "How does honey help with allergies?" If you google that question and refer to WebMD, you may get some conflicting answers. In fact, I am learning that there is no real scientific study that has proven that honey reduces allergies, but there are enough people that have proven otherwise that it makes for a really good argument. If you are one that suffers from seasonal allergies, eating a spoonful of honey may offer you some relief.

Here's why: The theory is that honey works like a vaccine. We are all aware (according to UNICEF) that vaccines introduce dummy versions of a particular virus or germ into the body and effectively trick it to believing it's been invaded, triggering an immune system response. This then produces antibodies designated to fight off the foreign invaders. So that when we are exposed to the germ or virus, the antibodies move into action.

When I explained that the bees carry pollen on their bodies, that doesn't mean they leave it all on the next plant. Often times, much of it remains on them as they fly through the front door of their hive (see picture). So while they spend time filling their comb with the nectar they've collected, the pollen on their bodies has also found its way into the mix.

The reasoning for eating honey to treat allergies, is because it's similar to a vaccine. It's a way of gradually introducing local pollen spore allergens to your body. The SAME pollen spores that make you sneeze and give you a scratchy throat when flowers are in bloom. Consuming this small amount of pollen found in your honey jar, decreases the chance that your body will have an immune system response to pollen spores in the air. Yet, we're still waiting on scientific studies to prove it.

Keep in mind, if you you want to experiment with a spoonful of honey to see if it reduces your allergy symptoms, BUY and EAT local. Local honey will have local pollen in it. Meaning the variety of pollen found in that honey, is from the same flowering plants that are causing your sinus issues. And the closer the better, since bees usually only travel up to a six mile radius from their hive. If you're allergic to plants in Pennsylvania, a Colorado honey isn't going to contain the pollen spores from the Pennsylvania plant that you're allergic too. Make sense?

In closing, I am giving you another reason to BUY LOCAL. Now have fun looking for the male and lady parts on a plant - I know you're curious! :)

**I am not a scientist, just a beekeeper offering some education. Don't use this information against me or as your only source. Please do your own research and speak to your doctor before relying solely on honey to treat your allergy symptoms. Also, please do not feed your under-12-month-old-baby any kind of honey. Why? Read here.**

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