Liquid Gold - Bees, their Honey and their Effect on the Ecosystem

The liquid gold sweet syrupy honey made by bees is such a treasure on so many levels it is hard to know where to start.  Firstly as a culinary ingredient good quality unfiltered honey is an absolute necessity in the kitchen, it is immensely versatile and can be added to both sweet and savoury recipes.  The sweetness of honey is not its only attribute it is also super nutritious and great for treating the skin and hair because of its antiseptic, moisturising, conditioning and soothing properties.

My main concern in this article is the environmental effect of the honey bee and its effect on our eco-system.

Bees and the Ecosystem

For some people bees can be a nuisance in the summer months when they are buzzing around and threatening to sting, but they are actually harmonious, productive, and very intelligent creatures. These small, hard-working insects are imperative to our eco-system because they make it possible for many of our favourite foods to reach our table; aside from the delicious honey they produce bees pollinate the crops that produce some of the fruits and vegetables we all know and love.

Albert Einstein is believed to have said, "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals and no more man."

Einstein wasn't wrong in his thinking, the honey bee is what is known as a pollinator* and is the primary source of pollination for approximately one-quarter of all crops. Without bees to spread seeds, many plants and food plants would die off!!!

*Pollinators transfer pollen and seeds from one flower to another fertilizing the plant so it can grow and produce food.

Amazingly as bees travel from one blossom to another, pollen clings to their fuzzy bodies it is then transferred to the other flowers of the same species this pollinates or fertilizes the plant, enabling the fruit to grow. For the bees, the pollen and nectar from many flowers are an important source of fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals and the nectar a great source of energy, in turn these valuable nutrients are transferred into the honey the bees produce. The large group of crops we can thank the honey bee for include: almonds, apples, apricots, avocados, blackberries, blueberries, broccoli, cantaloupes, carrots, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, lemons, limes, onions, oranges, pears, raspberries, strawberries, sunflowers and watermelons to name but a few.

Sadly however, in the ever growing toxic world that we live in, bees and their colonies are under threat due to:

  • The effects of pesticides
  • The stress of transportation
  • The crowded structure of the modern commercial beehive
  • Interaction with genetically modified crops
  • And a variety of other factors

On top of that, as is the case of many factory-farmed animals, bees are being fed an unnatural diet designed to bulk up bees for production. Ordinarily, bees eat a diet of bee pollen and honey, however many commercial beekeepers are feeding them a diet based on sugar or glucose/fructose syrup. Because of these reasons and more, bees are suffering from Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. CCD basically means that bees abandon their nests and cannot seem to find their way back. They then become lost and die.

How We Can Protect Bees

In order to protect our crops and bees from distinction a good place to start would be to support small independent bee keepers that use traditional methods of caring for their bees rather than mass produced large honey companies. Traditional bee keepers alternate surrounding crops so that bees have food all year round and ensure that enough honey is left behind for them to feed on rather than feeding them sugar or syrup during the winter months, they also keep bee hives in places where harmful pesticides are not used in the surrounding areas, and far away from GM crops. As if that isn’t a good enough reason to support independent bee keepers, independent honey is also most likely to be un-filtered and not heated and above all taste divine.

The Benefits & Uses for Honey

  • Honey is a great natural sweetener that is in the middle of the glycemic index and doesn't give you the energy spike that refined sugar does.
  • It helps digestion because of the natural enzymes it contains.
  • Honey can act as an internal antibacterial aid to soothe sore throats and stomach infections.
  • Used topically honey helps soften and smooth skin, as well as heal conditions such as sunburn, acne and eczema.
  • Applied externally honey can be used to dress wounds to prevent infection and aid healing.

I have always been a fan of honey and even though it doesn’t quite fit in with vegan ethics I can’t help thinking that it’s better to use a pure natural product to sweeten my recipes rather than an artificial sweetener or agave syrup which has had so much bad publicity lately that I don’t know what to make of it. Agave syrup was all the rage when I first went raw 10 years ago, and we all fell for the hype without questioning it, but after some time it was discovered that agave syrup isn’t as raw as we first thought. Whether you choose to consume honey is a very personal choice and there are many different opinions towards it. However if you are going to add honey to your diet choose a raw un-filtered honey to guarantee optimum benefits.

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