herbs 'n honey

Home | In the Garden | Among the Honey Bees | Happenings | About Us | WebWeaving

Among the Honey Bees

golden rule

buzzing beeHoney Bee History
buzzing beeHoney Bee Life Cycle
buzzing beeBee Sting Reactions
buzzing beeApitherapy
buzzing beeResources

golden rule

The Honey Bees and their Hive

The oldest bee remains known to exist are preserved in a small bit of amber. This bee is believed to be over 80 million years old and is kept at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The earliest record of honey bees and people interacting is a rock painting found in Spain…about 6000 to 8000 years old. Paintings have also been found in other parts of the world, especially southern Africa. The honeybee was the symbol of Lower Egypt and papyri dated 256 BC tell of a beekeeper with 5000 hives. Honey was an ingredient in over 500 Egyptian medicines and beeswax and propolis were important products used in the embalming process.

The Greeks and Romans were keeping bees 3000 years ago. They called honey "nectar of the Gods" and Greek athletes used honey as a carbohydrate boost. According to the Roman, Pliny, originator of the doctrine of signatures, drinking a glass of honey and cider vinegar every day cleans the system and promotes good health. D.C. Jarvis, M.D. in his book Folk Medicine re-popularized honey and apple cider vinegar in more modern times.

Scrolls of the Orient, the Talmud, the Torah, the Koran, the Bible, and the Book of Mormon all mention the honeybee and the healing foods she creates and keeps in her hive. Vishnu, Preserver and Protector of the Hindu trinity of gods, is often symbolized as a blue bee on a lotus flower. Kama, the east Indian god of love, wields a bow with a string of entwined chain of bees. In Greek mythology, the nymph Melissa cared for the infant Zeus while he was being hidden from his father, king of the gods. She plundered beehives for honey to feed the infant and he developed a permanent sweet tooth. When her role in protecting Zeus was discovered, she was turned into an insect. Zeus took pity on her and turned her into a honeybee so she could make honey for eternity. Spring fertility rites often used the bee as a symbol for festivities.

During the dark ages in Europe, monks kept bees and made candles in monasteries. In northern Europe, they mad a fermented honey wine called mead. About 1000 years ago, in Poland, beekeepers began keeping bees in selected hollowed out trees. During the Middle Ages, people began to cut the trees and arranged them in apiaries. A few hundred years ago, it was discovered that if a box of straw, skep-like object was placed on top of the 'hive', the bees would store honey in it. The skep by itself was then used as it was easier to move and to use to catch swarms. The bees were killed at the end of the season so the honey and wax could be taken.

Honeybees did not exist in North or South America, Australia or New Zealand until Europeans settled there. By the mid 1600's, records show that the honeybee population was widespread on the East Coast and the bees spread to the West Coast before the settlers. Native American called the honeybee "White Man's Flies".

During the 1800's beekeeping took major steps forward and began to grow from a cottage industry to many operating several hundred hives. Man learned about bee space (the walking around room between the combs), began to manufacture foundation, and built the first honey extractor. Man began to study the natural nest of the honey bee and swarm control. These studies continue today.


back to top of page

golden rule

The Life Cycle

Honeybees are social insects with a marked division of labor among the various bees in the hive. A colony contains one queen, 500 to 1,000 drones and about 30,000 to 60,000 workers.

The largest bee and matriarch of the colony is the queen. She has a large abdomen that extends past her wing tips. She controls the hive by secreting queen substance, a pheromone that works to stimulate behaviors in the hive. Nurtured on a special diet of royal jelly, the queen is the only sexually developed female in the hive. Her major task is laying eggs to produce bees and keep the hive vital. A few weeks after hatching, the queen mates with drones in flight. During this 'mating flight,' the queen receives millions of sperm cells that last her entire life span. A productive queen will lay up to 2,000 eggs in a single day.

Unfertilized eggs placed in slightly larger cells grow to be drones, which are stout male bees that lack stingers. Mating with the queen fulfills their single purpose in the colony.

Most of the eggs laid by the queen are placed in worker cells. These eggs are fertilized and develop into female worker bees that are most common in a hive. Worker bees have wings that are approximately the length of the abdomen, and the workers are smaller than the drone bees. The sexually undeveloped female bees perform the work of the colony. Once hatched, these worker bees do a sequence of jobs. These tasks separated into hive jobs for the younger bees; cleaning the hive, feeding and caring for the larvae, making wax, guarding and cooling the hive. Older "field" bees do nectar and pollen collection. Bees are very active, and spend much of the day working, but a single bee may perform many tasks in a single day.

The house the bees live in a series of six-sided cells made of beeswax. The wax is secreted from glands of 2-3 week old worker bees. Beeswax is almost pure white when secreted. It is then chewed and formed into the cells. No one has been able to force bees to produce wax nor can it be made synthetically. A colony of 50,000 honeybees should be able to produce one-half pound of wax a day in ideal conditions.

The honeybee actually visits flowers to get food. Plants produce nectar, a sugar filled liquid that bees drink from the flower and carry back to the hive. Honey is made from the nectar from particular flowers mixed with an acid secretion and then deposited in the hive to 'brew". The moisture is evaporated from the nectar until it is at 18-20% water, then it is capped with wax and left to ripen. No one has yet been able to produce synthetic honey. It can take 75,000 loads of nectar to product 1 pound of honey, and bees may travel as far as 55,000 miles and visit more than two million flowers to gather enough nectar to make just a pound of honey. An active hive can produce 300 pounds of honey a year. Honeybees are the only insects that produce a food consumed by humans.

Honey is mostly comprised of the simple easily assimilated sugars glucose and fructose, contains Vitamin A, beta-carotene, all of the B-complex, C, D, E and K, the minerals magnesium, sulfur, phosphorus, iron, calcium, chlorine, potassium, iodine, sodium, copper and manganese and enzymes.

Bees collect the pollen from flowers and take it back to the hive where it is stored until it is used to feed the bees in the hive. As the bee moves from flower to flower getting food, the plant benefits in being able to produce fruits, with seeds that can grow into new plants.

About one-third of the human diet is derived from insect-pollinated plants, and honeybees are responsible for 80 percent of this pollination. Some pollen can be blown by the wind from flower to flower. Windborne pollen in the air is what causes allergies in people who are sensitive. But the pollen of apples, pears, peaches, alfalfa, almonds, avocados, cantaloupe, cucumber, cotton, watermelon and many other plants, needs to be carried by insects, and honeybees do this job the best!

The plant and the pollinator (the honeybee) both get something from their relationship. Plants and their pollinators have been benefiting each other for over 100 million years.

Bee pollen contains every vitamin known - Vitamins A, entire B-complex, C, D. E. K, is up to 40% protein with a complete spectrum of amino acids, contains numerous active enzymes and coenzymes, contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and is rich in carotenoids, bioflavonoids and phytosterols directly linked to plant source and growing conditions.

One of the last jobs a worker bee may have is in collecting propolis or 'bee glue' for the hive. It is gathered from the buds of trees such as poplar and from the wounds or cracks in the bark of conifers. The plants produce this resin to waterproof the area and to protect it from attack from bacteria, molds, yeasts, fungi, insects and pests. The worker gathers the propolis, packing it in its pollen baskets, and carries it back to the hive. It is turned over to the house bees that add salivary secretions (enzymes), pollen and wax flakes then use it for protective purposes in the hive. Propolis contains a wide array of bioflavinoids like quercetin, luteolin, pinocembrin and caffeic acid that have active healing qualities.

Royal Jelly is the food of the queens. It is an extremely nutritious, thick, milky-white creamy liquid secreted by the hypopharryngeal glands of the nurse bees. This special food accounts for the queen bee's size, fertility and longevity.

Royal Jelly contains Vitamins A, C, D & E, B Vitamins (Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin, Folic acid, Inositol), trace minerals, amino acids including lysine, nucleic acid and gelatin.

Bee Venom is the bee product most of us would rather avoid. Honeybees are not aggressive. They will sting only when the hive is threatened or if they are stepped on or bothered. The worker bee dies after stinging because her stinger is pulled away from her body as she retreats. The venom sacs continue to pump venom into the sting site causing the redness and swelling around the area.

Bee venom therapy (BVT) has proven helpful in many chronic diseases like arthritis or multiple sclerosis. The body's reaction to the sting; fresh blood flow, an anti-inflammatory, histamine reaction, cause a chronic condition to become acute and the body can work at flushing away toxins. This is not for everyone and a good place to go for information is the American Apitherapy Association.


back to top of page

golden rule

Honey Bee Sting Reactions

When you get a honey bee sting, the venom causes the body to release histamines. The following can be reactions:

Only about 4% of the population is truly allergic to bee stings and has an anaphylactic reaction. This is a real emergency. No time should be wasted in getting emergency help. An allergic person should always carry an epipen for immediate application of epinephrine to counteract the bee venom.

The rest of us can, after removing the stinger, use cold packs, cider vinegar or a Benadryl cream to soothe the redness and itching. The honey bee rarely stings unless protecting the hive. They lose their stinger and die, so it is not a tool to be wasted. In the garden, they bump into me a lot and then go their busy way. The only problem I sometimes have is when they tangle in my hair and then it is just a matter of getting them out. Don't wear cologne and be careful of herbal shampoos when working around bees. If you smell too sweet, they'll confuse you with a flower and come to investigate.


back to top of page

golden rule


Apitherapy is the healthful use of honeybee products. We are normally talking about the European honeybee (Apis mellifera). There are other species of Apis in other parts of the world that are 'farmed'. The products are honey, bees wax, pollen, propolis, royal jelly and bee venom.

Honeybees did not exist in North or South American, Australia or New Zealand until Europeans settled there. By the mid 1600's, records show that the honey bee population was widespread on the East Coast of America and the bees spread to the West Coast before the settlers. Native Americans called the honeybee 'White Man's Flies'.

back to top of page

golden rule

Information on Bees and Beekeeping

It is a good idea to check your state and local regulations if you are considering starting hives. In Connecticut, beekeepers are required to register with the State. While there is no follow up on those who do not register, the state does publish an annual listing of registered beekeepers. There was an outbreak of foul brood a few years ago an apiary here in Connecticut. Since we were on the state listing, we were notified immediately. We have also found it helpful to get to know your State Bee Inspector. They visit apiaries all around the state and can be a good information and help resource.

Books, Magazines and Web Sources:

The Hive and the Honey Bee, edited by Joe M. Graham, Dadant & sons, Hamilton, IL. A new book on beekeeping which continues the tradition of "Langstroth on the Hive and the Honeybee".

ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture, edited by Roger A. Morse, The A. I. Root Co., Medina, OH. An encyclopedia pertaining to the scientific and practical culture of honey bees.

American Bee Journal, 51S. 2nd St., Hamilton, IL 62341. Monthly magazine www.dadant.com

Bee Culture, A. I. Root Co., 623 W. Liberty St., Median OH 44256. Monthly magazine. www.beeculture.com

American Apitherapy Society, 5535 Balboa Blvd., Suite 225, Encino, CA 91316 A non-profit membership organization devoted to advancing the investigation and promoting the use of honey bee products to further good health and to treat a variety of conditions and diseases www.apitherapy.org

International Bee Research Foundation, 18 North Road, Cardiff, CF1 3DY, UK. This site has hundreds of links to scientific data on bees, apitherapy, recipes, beekeepers, and journals. A visit here is a must www.ibra.org.uk

back to top of page

golden rule

Home | In the Garden | Among the Honey Bees | Happenings | About Us | WebWeaving

©2003-2014 Herbs 'n Honey