Things Bees Make: How Many Do You Know?

February 2, 2021

Did you know that honey bees harvest or make a total of six hive products that humans use for nutritional and medicinal purposes? These products are honey, pollen, royal jelly, beeswax, propolis, and venom. We invite you to learn more about the benefits of honey from our January 2020 blog post. In this January 2021 blog post, we wanted to tell you more about the other, less well-known bee products.

As vegetarians, honey bees rely on nectar and pollen as their major food sources. The nectar is converted to honey, which provides the bees with the energy needed to go about their daily tasks. Pollen, often referred to as “bee bread” is the main source of protein for bees. It also contains many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Studies have suggested that bee pollen compounds have the ability to reduce inflammation, improve immunity, and accelerate wound healing. Bee pollen is available at many health food stores as natural dietary supplements in addition to being an ingredient in skin care products for diaper rash or a variety of skin conditions including eczema.

Royal jelly is a creamy white substance bees make to feed all bee larvae and then only the queen throughout her life. It is known as a “superfood.”. This superfood is the main reason queen bees live 10 times longer than worker bees. Royal jelly contains a special blend of proteins, sugar, fats, vitamins, salts and amino acids. There are health claims that it can ease PMS symptoms and support wound healing. It can be ingested or used topically. Clinical studies have demonstrated that consuming royal jelly improves lipoprotein metabolism and reduces serum total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein levels. Women also use it to treat menopausal symptoms. Royal jelly is also believed to be an effective anti-aging and wrinkle reducer ingredient in skin care products.

Beeswax is a substance produced by glands on the underside of a honey bee’s abdomen. These glands convert sugar from the honey into a waxy substance, which forms flat-shaped scales. Using their spiny legs, the bees remove the wax scales from their abdomens and put them into their mouths to chew. This mechanical action along with their salivary secretions softens the wax, which then can be shaped into the hexagon-shaped cells of the honey comb. Beeswax is used in many body care and beauty products including lip balm and gloss, skin creams and moisturizers, eye shadow, blush, and eye liner. Beeswax is also a critical ingredient in moustache and beard wax and hair pomades. Of course, it also has many practical household applications including soap, candles, furniture and shoe polish, and first aid (i.e., it provides a barrier to protect open wounds, which promotes healing due to the beeswax’s humectant properties).

Propolis is generally known as “bee glue,” which is the resinous substance accumulated by the bees from the sap of needle-leaved trees or evergreens. When the bees combine the sap with their own secretions and beeswax, they form a sticky, greenish-brown substance that is used as a building material in the hive. It is waterproof; antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal; and very strong. Its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties make propolis really powerful in healing wounds. A recent research study showed that propolis helped people who suffered traumatic burns heal faster by speeding up the growth of healthy new cells. Propolis is also utilized in treating diabetic ulcers, cold sores, and canker sores. It can be purchased in pharmacies or health food stores in both topical and in tablet, liquid extract, and capsule form.

The medicinal use of bee venom dates back to ancient times. It was one of Hippocrates’ favorite therapies for treating joint pain and arthritis. Throughout recorded history, the interest in bee venom treatment has risen and fallen. Scientists still do not fully understand how bee venom, which is a complex mixture of peptides, enzymes and bioactive amines, affects the human body. It is likely that one or more of these compounds produce an immune response that proves beneficial in certain situations. Bee venom is often given as a shot for treating the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, nerve pain, multiple sclerosis, tendonitis, and muscle conditions such as fibromyositis. Given that the greatest risk of bee venom therapy is a severe allergic reaction, which could lead to anaphylactic shock, it is not a conventional medical treatment. 

Medical uses for all six honeybee products are attracting increasing interest by clinicians, researchers and the general public. Many cultures around the world have folk medicine traditions that include the use of honey bee products in healing injuries and treating conditions and diseases. These products have all been found to scientifically exhibit anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral and antioxidant activities.

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