7 Things That Honeybees Give Us Other Than Honey


Honey is consumed in many different forms, but there are other bee products that humans eat as well. These include pollen, royal jelly, propolis, and even larvae. Not to mention that bees provide an incredibly important service for us by pollinating our food crops. Pollen is seen as an extremely healthy food and is fairly expensive. It is considered to be a complete food and consumed by many as a dietary supplement because of the high levels of minerals it contains. It also has the highest level of protein of any plant source so vegans and vegetarians sometimes use it as a substitute for meat protein (Lorence). Many people with seasonal allergies eat small amounts of it in hopes that the exposure will help them overcome their allergies. It is recommended that only small amounts be consumed at first because some may have adverse reactions to it. Some people prefer to eat raw local honey instead because it is less expensive and the pollen in the honey is the same as what they are being exposed to daily. In order to harvest pollen, beekeepers place traps on the front door of the hive. When the bees crawl through, it knocks some of the pollen off of their legs and collects it. 


Royal jelly is another food supplement we obtain from bees. This gooey, white cream is produced by worker bees using the same glands that convert nectar into honey and fed to all larvae for the first three days of their lives. If it is fed to a larva for its entire gestation, it will become a queen, meaning that it will have the anatomy essential for reproduction. This will only happen if the hive does not have a queen. If this occurs, the workers will feed several chosen larvae royal jelly for their entire gestation. These new queens may emerge at the same time or individually, but when they do, they will fight each other, stinging the other repeatedly. Unlike workers, queens' stingers do not get pulled out when they use them because they are not barbed so they can sting repeatedly. When a worker stings, their stinger lodges in their victim, pulling out the bee's guts with it. Queens will fight to the death, until only one queen remains. She will rule the hive and will be the mother of all other bees. Royal jelly is harvested directly from these queen cells. On top of being a health food, many consider it to have medicinal properties (Stewart, Tabori & Chang 303).


The young larvae that are not in queen cells are harvested by more traditional cultures. With the trend of eating insects grows in the western world, bee larvae are beginning to show up on menus. In these instances, they are removed from the comb and sorted by age, but customarily they are eaten whole, comb, honey and all. Although they have no medicinal uses, they are high in protein and purportedly delicious. 

Almost all honeybee products are either scientifically proven or alleged to have medicinal qualities. The presence of gluconic acid in honey prevents bacterial growth in wounds and its high  hydrogen peroxide content, or H2O2, cleans them. Doctors are no longer recommending the use of hydrogen peroxide on wounds because it can damage tissue, but the slow acting honey does not (Ngan). There is research to support taking H2O2 orally or intravenously as a treatment for a whole number of ailments. Hydrogen peroxide increases the oxygen level in tissue, making it particularly beneficial for patients with lung issues. From asthma and emphysema to cirrhosis, cancer to HIV, rheumatoid arthritis to sore throats and dozens of ailments in between, H2O2 can be at least a supplementary treatment (Williams). Many of the ailments treated with hydrogen peroxide therapy are the same ones people have been treating with honey for hundreds of years. In fact, applying honey to small burns is actually a better treatment than using an antibiotic cream (O’Connor). Colds and coughs are commonly treated with a spoonful of honey in a drink. According to Stewart, Tabori, and Chang, “a study in 2007 at Penn State Medical College showed that honey was a more effective treatment than remedies containing dextromethorphan, the drug used in many cough medicines” (Steward, Tabori, and Chang 283). Not to mention that it contains sodium, potassium, and fructose. Sodium and potassium are two major electrolytes found in energy drinks that aid in hydration and recovery. The fructose provides a fast energy source that helps oxidation in the liver, making it a good treatment for hangovers and liver cirrhosis (Steward, Tabori, and Chang 284). 

Aside from honey, propolis is another miracle cure made by bees. Propolis is a resin that honeybees collect from trees in order to fill cracks or contain contamination in their hives. The bees will completely cover anything they see as unhealthy with propolis. According to my interviewee, Chuck Lorence, who has been keeping bees for 43 years, wild bees will actually coat the entire inside of a hollow tree trunk with it before making their hive (Lorence). Beekeepers will often collect the sticky propolis by simply scraping it off the inside of the hive and sell it as is. It has been used in tinctures and salves and taken orally for thousands of years because of its anti-inflammatory and pain relieving, antibacterial and antifungal, and antioxidant qualities. It is used in treating many of the same ailments that honey is traditionally used for. It is also used in many cosmetics along with honey and beeswax.


The use of bee venom therapy is much less common than some of the other medicinal bee products. It is used for arthritis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and tendonitis. This therapy has been utilized for thousand of years and was even written about by Hippocrates. Whether venom is injected or actual bees are used, it stimulates our body to produce cortisol, which is an anti-inflammatory (Stewart, Tabori, & Chang 302). When a person is stung by a bee the venom sack is pulled out of the insect and stays connected to the stinger inside that person’s skin. The sack with continue to pump the venom into the body for several seconds so if one can pinch it off immediately, the side effects of a sting will be exponentially reduced. 

The species Apis mellifera consists of many different races that, like different types of dogs, for example, all have their own characteristics. Although honeybees thrive because of their huge hives and extraordinary rates of reproduction, there are thousands of other types Hymenoptera, wasps and solitary bees, which are also very important pollinators, not to mention birds, bats, and other insects. Honeybees are particularly good pollinators because they have so much hair, which collects large amounts of pollen (Lorence). Bumblebees, which are sometimes confused with honeybees, are much larger and hairier, but are not as efficient at pollinating because they are solitary creatures so there are fewer of them. Wasps are also sometimes confused with bees but they have no hair at all and are mainly carnivorous, while bees rely solely on plant-based food sources. Honeybees are incredibly different from other Hymenoptera because of their complex social structure and advanced forms of communication. Within these societies, there are three types of bees; there are the workers, the queen, and the drones. Worker bees are females that do not reproduce but do all of the work in the hive. The queen’s sole purpose is to mate once in her life and then to produce fertilized eggs and lay them in brood comb. A queen can be in charge of a hive for up to about three years before they replace her with a younger, more productive queen. The drones are the males; they have no purpose but to find queens and breed with them. They have much larger eyes than any of the female bees so they are can find mates more easily. Drones have no pollen sacs, wax glands, or stingers (Stewart, Tabori, & Chang 97).

Honeybees are extremely important for agricultural production in the Unites Sates. Although this may be exaggerated, scientists claim that 1/3 of our food is pollinated by honeybees (Lorence). Many fruit and nut growers rely on nomadic beekeepers that truck their hives around the country, pollinating crops when they are blooming. Orchards are simply too large for native insects to pollinate effectively. Honeybees have been disappearing at an alarmingly fast rate over the last few years because of several parasites and diseases such as foulbrood, nosema, wax moths, and tracheal mites, to name a few. These hive ailments have been around for decades and beekeepers are learning to manage them. The mysterious colony collapse disorder, on the other hand, is causing hive death rates to soar and scientists are not sure why. One of the most popular theories is that the neonicotinoids, an insecticide that is sprayed on crops, are being picked up by worker bees foraging and then are brought back to the hive and accumulate until it fails and the bees die. Bees are a sort of “canary in a coal mine” and their death may spell hard times for food systems and hunger in the future (Lorence). There are ways that gardeners and landowners can help. One way is to simply keep bees and create habitat that encourages native pollinators onto the property. The presence of brush piles, water, bee hotels, and pollinator friendly plants will ensure a healthy population of helpful insects. It is important that people avoid using chemicals on their lawns and gardens in order to protect these fragile creatures. 

 In some ways, colony collapse is a blessing in disguise because it has been well publicized in the media and, in turn, gotten many people interested in keeping bees and helping pollinators in their gardens and farms. As a response, some cities where it was previously impossible to keep bees are now relaxing their laws surrounding keeping them in city limits (Lorence). One issue that is becoming more common is the difficulty of finding places to keep bees where there are enough blooming, insecticide free plants for them to safely forage on. According to Chuck Lorence, keeping bees connects people with nature and humbles them, making them “appreciative of this creature of nature” (Lorence). It is important for people to understand that insects play an important role in our lives and need to be protected just as much as any endangered species. 

Looking for some more resources on honeybees? Here are some of my favorites:


Atkins, E. L. (1975). The Hive and the honeybee. Hamilton, IL: Dadant.

First lessons in beekeeping. (2007). Hamilton, IL: Dadant & Sons.

Lorence, C. (2014, April 15). Honey interview [Telephone interview].

Martin, K. (2011). Indicator indicator. Retrieved April 15, 2014, from http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Indicator_indicator/#food_habits

Ngan, V. (2013, December 29). DermNet NZ. Retrieved April 15, 2014, from http://www.dermnetnz.org/treatments/honey.html

Root, A. I. (1945). The ABC and XYZ of bee culture (3rd ed.). Medina: A.I. Root.

Stewart, Tabori, & Chang. (2011). The beekeeper's bible: Bees, honey, recipes & other home uses. New York, NY: Abrams.

Visser, N., & Newey, A. (2014, March 11). A raw look inside the life of a Nepalese honey hunter (PHOTOS). Retrieved April 15, 2014, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/11/honey-hunters-nepal_n_4937079.html

Williams, D. G., Dr. (2003, July 17). The many benefits of hydrogen peroxide. Family Health News. Retrieved April 15, 2014, from http://educate-yourself.org

Disclaimer: This blog is just my own opinion, nothing more. While I try my hardest, everything may not be completely accurate or complete. Sorry, I'm only human, so do not hold me accountable for anything you do to harm yourself or the world around you. I do make money from this blog (seriously not very much at all guys). If you click on any of the links in my blog I may make money from it. I'm not sponsored by any of these people I just honestly love these products and want to give you the resources to find them. I am not a medical practitioner; consult a health professional before using any herbal remedies. I am not claiming to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any ailment. 

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