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Pass the honey, honey                                            November 2009 

 

PASS THE HONEY, HONEY!

honey beesNews that honey bees are being seriously affected by it seems an unstoppable disease brings home the fact that honey is part of everyone’s lives. We use it as a spread on bread and toast, in cooking, in health treatments such as sore throats, even for an antiseptic for burns and cuts. It is sweeter than sugar and its fructose and glucose are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream for a quick pick-me-up.

It is also one of history’s oldest foods – bees have been around for millions of years, long before modern mammals had evolved, and early humans soon learned how to collect this tasty food.

Bees are the most amazing insects. Their wings can beat over 11,000 times a minute and they have five eyes. A good colony of honey bees at the heightof summer may contain around 50,000 bees. This will include only one queen bee but one is more than enough because after she has mated in flight with around 18 drones, she can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day! It is fascinating how queens develop – as with worker bees, they come from a fertilised egg and have 32 chromosomes. However, the queen is reared in a special “queen” cell and given a much richer and more plentiful diet (royal jelly). The worker bees are all potential queens but are not fed the rich food and therefore simply become workers, sometimes laying unfertilised eggs which can develop into drones. Drones only have a mother, no father, and their only function is to mate with the queen.

This is just the beginning - the lifestyle within the hive is just extraordinary and incredibly complex and sophisticated. But for most of us, it is the end result of the hive – the honey – which really interests us. The bees collect pollen and nectar in spring when most plants are in bloom; they fly for several miles around the hive collecting from a variety of flowers and plants. In warmer climates than ours bees can produce honey throughout the year. China now is one of the largest producers of honey, followed by America, but most countries have their own honey producing industry.

What is fascinating about honey is that its flavour and aroma differs depending on the source of the pollen and nectar. Most honey comes from bees foraging on many different flowers, and most honey is a blended mix from different sources. However, if a hive is situated among a dense growth of one really good plant, a hive might make its honey from one single type of flower. In some honey, you can taste the distinct flavour of a specific plant, such as orange blossom or clover.

In the UK, an excellent range of local honey is available, including apple blossom, cherry blossom, dandelion, heather and hawthorn. New Zealand honey has always been popular and recently its manuka honey, collected from the New Zealand manuka plant, that has been grabbing the headlines. Manuka honey is sought because of its distinctive flavour and also its antibacterial properties – but it is very expensive compared with other honeys! Australia is known for its eucalyptus honey; France for its lavender and sunflower honey, Greece for wild thyme, Tasmania for its leatherwood honey and Spain for orange blossom. The variety in honey is endless.

Many people shy away from bees when they buzz around because they can sting. All bees can sting if they detect a serious threat, and once one bee stings, it sends out a perfume to bring support from its fellow bees. The sad aspect is that once a bee stings, it dies afterwards, so what might be a painful irritation for you is the end of life for the bee. So when you see a bee buzzing around, it really can be a lot better to avoid it or chase it away rather than trying to swat it – after all, think of the effort it makes to bring you that lovely honey!

For more information on honey, there are some specialist websites:

www.honeyassociation.com is put together by the British Honey Importers and Packers Association; there is also information on manuka honey from www.manukahoney.co.uk and there is also an annual UK honey show with lots of information, www.honeyshow.co.uk

 


 

Nutricentre Discount for laterlife visitors If in any doubt about any of the information covered in health and nutrition related articles and it's relevance for you, consult your GP.

 

 



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