Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Buzz About Bees

It's that time of year again, when the dandelions are blooming, and the bees are waking up from their winter slumber and starting to swarm.  Swarming bees are usually on their way to another location.  Often they have a destination in mind, and will be gone by morning.

But if you do encounter a swarm or hive in your yard or other inappropriate location, which is still there the next day, be sure to call a local bee handler to come retrieve them, to ensure that those bees get a good home.

Bees are one of our most precious natural resources.  These industrious marvels are at work all spring and summer long, pollinating and fertilizing plants, ensuring that they grow and produce fruit.  Cross-pollination allows the earth's crops and plants to thrive.  Without bees spreading pollen and seeds, many plants (including our food crops) would simply die off.

Busy bees hard at work.
In addition, honey bees make honey from the nectar they gather, which is a food source not just for humans, but other animals, alike.  Honey is a natural sweetener with a number of medicinal qualities ... from strengthening the immune system, to soothing sore throats, to an anti-bacterial protection for wounds.

Bees also produce beeswax, the building block of their honeycombs, which is a critical component in many of the skin care and health-related products we use on a daily basis, not to mention some candles.

While many think that dandelions are just a nuisance weed in our yards, they are actually a critical early food source for these precious pollinators! Spraying the dandelions on our lawns with weed killers may contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon where bees do not return to their hives, which has been seen happening more frequently in recent years.

A jar of golden honey with honeycomb inside.
Dandelions are also quite nutritious for humans, too!  My sister, Ana, wrote a wonderful cookbook a few years back: Everyday Alchemy: Transformative Cooking with Herbs — with recipes that allow us to incorporate more herbs and greens into our diets — including dandelions!

Whether you sautée dandelion greens or make dandelion fritters, there's a better way to put these useful greens to work for us, rather than spraying them with dangerous weed killers that have such a harmful impact to bees and to humans.

The bee population has seen a dramatic decline in the last fifteen years or so, enough to cause alarm bells to go off.  Luckily, people have also mobilized to save this invaluable insect.  We're seeing a number of people keep hives, even in urban settings, and beekeepers are redoubling their efforts as well, to make sure we don't lose these miraculous and industrious creatures that contribute so much to life on this planet.

A hunk of honeycomb on a cheeseboard, adding
a touch of sweetness, makes a stunningly delicious snack.
We discovered early on that beekeeping and honey is a huge enterprise in Colorado.  Not only did we encounter all kinds of honey and honey sticks at our local farmer's markets, but we also found out that some of our neighbors, friends and colleagues were part-time beekeepers, as well.

I was often surprised with jars of raw honey as a thank you or Christmas gift from these lovely folks.  It was a delight to sample the different nuances in taste of each one, and use them to sweeten our tea and cakes, or drizzle over our pancakes.

Our Mom, especially, was a huge fan.  She would take a teaspoon of honey a day, ostensibly for medicinal purposes, but also just because she loved it.  Sometimes she would just spread it on a slice of bread, or put a spoonful of it into our milk.  There was nothing more delicious!

Our mother's favorite Milk-and-Honey cake
She also made a Milk-and-Honey cake we grew up on, that became one of our favorite Afternoon Tea recipes, as well.  We made it as a cake, as well as a loaf, and it was just as popular with our customers as it was in our house.

Our mother was an absolute genius at many things, including home remedies, and honey featured prominently in many.

Folk medicine suggests that consuming locally-derived honey regularly strengthens the immune system and wards off allergies to the local flora.  In addition, honey is reputed to provide a number of health benefits, such as:

  • Honey is packed with nutrients, such as vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and copper.  Not bad for a sweetener!
  • Natural honey is rich in antioxidants, which may help lower blood pressure and benefit heart health.
  • Some studies suggest that honey may help improve cholesterol levels, and may even assist in weight loss.
  • Likewise, studies have also indicated that honey can help lower triglycerides.
  • The anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties of honey, as well as its ability to nourish the surrounding skin tissue, makes honey an effective treatment for wounds and burns.  It may even be beneficial in treating other skin conditions, including psoriasis or viral lesions.
  • Honey, on its own or as an ingredient, can be used as a face mask and is said to alleviate acne.
  • Honey can be used as a lip balm on dry, cracked, chapped or sunburned lips (try not to lick!).
  • Boosts immunity.
  • Suppresses cough.
Liquid gold
Be sure to use raw, not processed honey (which may contain high fructose corn syrup that can negate any of honey's natural benefits).
Despite all of these reputed health benefits, it is important to never give honey to an infant under the age of 1 (check with your pediatrician), due to the fact that honey contains allergans (pollens) and may carry a bacteria that can result in botulism in infants.
Perhaps best of all, honey is simply just delicious, and is a flavorful addition to our cooking and baking.  And there are so many different kinds!  Sourwood, clover, sunflower, orange blossom, buckwheat, manuka, dark, light, whipped ... the varieties are endless.  There's even "Hot Honey" being sold these days, for an extra zing!

If you don't think bees are miracle-workers yet, consider that many people think bees should not even be able to fly at all.  Scientists, of course, have an explanation for that.  Bees don't fly like airplanes do ... their wings work more like propellers, exerting enough thrust to lift their heavy bodies (which are also carrying pollen and nectar) to their next destination.  Still, some people are not convinced ... they think it sounds more like rationalizing the fact that they do indeed fly, and therefore there must be a logical explanation.  But perhaps bees are irrational beings.  We will withhold an opinion on that.  😉

Now that the bees are buzzing around, doing their work, honey production will be in full force.  Be sure to include natural, healthful honey in your cheeseboards and entertaining, your cooking and baking, and your smoothies and drinks.  Look for new ways to incorporate honey in your life, and be sure to appreciate the bees who do so much for us all spring and summer, as we head towards National Honey Bee Day in August.

Bzzz, bzzz ...


Enjoy previous seasonal blog posts:

Happy Mother's Day!
Wishing all of the Moms out there a very wonderful, healthy and happy Mother's Day!
Scones for Spring
An absolute must for a spring brunch or tea party!
Mother's Day Tea
A perfect way to celebrate and spend time with our Moms.
Breakfast in Bed
A time-honored tradition for Mother's Day!
May Flowers
Surrounding yourself with flowers!
Love Tea Sandwiches?
Spring is for Tea Parties, Baby & Bridal Showers, and Garden Parties -- that means lots and lots of delightful tea sandwiches!
Hello Spring!  Hello Cookies!
Our latest cookbook is out!  A book full of Afternoon Tea's cookie and bar recipes!
My Favorite Mugs
A menagerie of mugs ... one of life's simple pleasures.
First Sign of Spring Quiche
Spring means quiche, at least it does at my house!
Our Current Obsession: French Macarons
Light, airy, delicate pastel puffs of mouth-watering deliciousness
A Bridal Shower Tea ...
the perfect way to entertain!
A Baby Shower Tea Party
Celebrating a little one's imminent arrival.
The Romance of Travel
Falling in love with a new destination, adventure, and vistas
Food Porn
It has become a national obsession ... we're salivating over food and all the food shows on tv
How It All Began
The very beginnings of Afternoon Tea.
Baking is Love
No one has to bake ... ever.  So when they do, love is there.
The Lenten Season
A reminder that accepting the challenge of self-discipline is good for the soul
Spring Cleaning
Tackling and taming the clutter 
Cooking with Herbs
Herbs are making a tasty appearance in some of your favorite desserts!
The Problem with Pesto ...
It's so darned easy, you'll be making it all the time!
The Icing on the Cake
Does a bakery really need to make frosted layer cakes?
What's Your Favorite Cake?
If only I could pick just one!
Baking Cakes
Basic baking tips for beautiful layer cakes
Congrats, HWP!
Healing Warriors Program received a huge honor, and we were invited to the Pentagon to see it!
Ana's non-profit, Healing Warriors Program, gives away a state-of-the-art electric wheelchair!
Donate if you can!
Healing Warriors Program,
my sister's nonprofit, does very important work for the total health and wellbeing of our vets and active military.

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