It may seem like a silly question, but how exactly is honey made? We know it comes from bees, but how do these adorable, hardworking, and efficient insects make liquid gold? From flower to the table, this is the general process of honey and how it is used:
Gold in the Making
We see bees buzzing from flower to flower in the spring and summer, collecting pollen sacks on their little legs and nectar from the blooms' centers, but we typically do not have the privilege to see much more.
As the worker bees, who are all female, by the way, go around collecting their food, they store pollen all over their bodies, but especially their back legs in what are referred to as "pollen baskets." The pollen sticks to them similarly to how a static balloon sticks to a sweater. They both distribute and collect pollen with every bloom they visit. This is what allows for extremely efficient pollination.
So why do bees need pollen if they make honey? Honey provides the carbohydrates that bees need, but pollen has all of the protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients necessary for survival. The bees eat pollen fresh and use pollen to make what is known as "bee bread," a combination of pollen and honey at a 3:1 ratio. This allows for the pollen not to mold but ferment. In a wax-capped cell, the bee bread can remain edible for future use in the colder months.
As they collect and distribute pollen, they are also slurping up nectar from the blooms' centers, the sweet liquid that can be even be tasted by humans in edible flowers such as nasturtiums. The workers store nectar in their "nectar sac," a special second stomach from which they can regurgitate the nectar later in the hive. This is used for honey production. Yes… honey is, essentially, bee throw-up. That delicious viscous liquid we have in our tea, on yogurt, with peanut butter on toast. It was once in a bee's stomach. Actually, several bees' stomachs. But do we care? No. Honey is too dang good to care! So honey is made from nectar that a bee ingests and regurgitates, a mixture of fresh nectar and saliva, but then what? How does this nectar barf turn into what we use on our biscuits? Inside the bee's stomach and in its mouth the nectar is mixed with enzymes that allow the pH to lower. When the bee returns to the hive, it transfers the honey from its stomach to another worker's mouth. This is repeated until the nectar, which several bees have partially digested, is deposited into a honeycomb cell. But it is still a thin liquid at this stage. The worker bees then fan it with their delicate wings to evaporate the excess water. When the honey has become thick, the bees cap the cells with a wax that secretes from their abdomen. The bees can use this indefinitely stored food whenever they need it. After it is capped, humans can harvest the honey as well through a process of uncapping the honeycomb cells and rapidly spinning the frames to extract the liquid gold.
Why and how we use honey
Honeybees make honey for themselves, but we aren't shy about taking a share. This is generally alright, as bees make excesses of honey, usually about three times what is needed for themselves. Humans have formed a symbiotic relationship with honeybees since ancient times. Before cane sugar, honey was the primary sweetener in the world. When humans discovered that bees make more honey than they truly need, we began to reap their extra harvests. As we did so, we domesticated the bees, built them hives, and figured out sedation methods such as smoking to aid in harvest. We have had an indispensable relationship with these little creatures ever since.
Honey and bees themselves have gained a sacred status in most human cultures, believed to be messengers of the gods. They have become so integral to human life that some people swear honeybees will know if there is death, birth, a move, or other big occurrences in the family they coexist with. Especially if their regular keeper has passed away. Many beekeepers insist that we must "tell the bees" if anything happens. It is not just a superstition, but a strong and widely practiced tradition to "tell the bees." If not, they will know something has occurred, but they have not been told. Bees are part of the family and are hurt when not included in the going's on. At least, that is the belief. They are sensitive creatures, after all.
In cultures that tout honey as magical and sacred, it is no wonder that it has many claims of medical use such as healing wounds, soothing stomach ache, improving athleticism, curing heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Honey has been categorized as a cure-all. Though often "cure-alls" cure nothing, honey does have many proven medicinal uses.
As for healing wounds, honey is scientifically proven to be antibacterial. It can even kill strains of E. coli and salmonella. Manuka honey, a current favorite globally, is particularly useful in fighting staph infection and troublesome digestive bacteria. Honey has been used for thousands of years to aid in wound healing and digestive health. And as for our throats, honey might be just as effective, if not more so, as over the counter cough medicines to soothe our throats and give us a peaceful nights rest. Not to mention that honey also contains trace amounts of several vitamins and minerals that are essential to our health. Though honey is by no means medicine, it is incredibly beneficial for many purposes and should not be undervalued as a home staple. This miraculous liquid gold can soothe sore throats, upset stomachs, and minor cuts.
Warning: children under the age of one should never be given honey, as their digestive systems can't handle some of the minor contaminants in honey that more mature stomachs easily can.
Extra Fun Fact
Honey makes a wonderful addition to skincare routines due to its antibacterial and healing properties. Our Whipped Body Polish is perfect for a weekly exfoliation that incorporates honey as a main component. As you scrub your dead skin away, replenish your face with natural oils such as vitamin E along with the miracles of honey. Honey is known to heal and fade acne as well as provide vital moisture and generally nourish the skin.
A unique recipe for even more fun:
For those who love marshmallows but hate the processed sugars and added chemicals from store-bought treats, this recipe is the bee's knees! You can even use this recipe to make medicinal herbal marshmallows to help children, or reluctant adults, to take herbal supplements.
Dandelion and Honey Marshmallows
- Dandelion petal tea, or any herbal tea
How simple! For directions and further information, please visit this source.