Saturday, September 6, 2014

Eating Omily: Honey, Please

Remember Winnie the Pooh? Philosophical bear with a honey obsession? Well, I'm beginning to think he was onto something. No, not about finding your way out of the woods by following sand pits. No, not about walking in circles around copses of trees, either. Nope, not even flood survival tactics, or hefalump and woozle precautions (and if you don't get these references I don't know what kind of childhood you had, but it sure was different than mine). The HONEY, you guys! It's all about the honey!
I've always enjoyed honey as a way to perk up peanut butter toast, or smooth and sweeten a cup of tea, but lately it, and other gifts from our friends the bees, have become my favourite health supplement.

Naturally, I get my honey from the Farmers' Market in its raw, unfiltered state: deep golden, with a complex flavor that reflects what blossoms the bees were dipping into at the time. If you think wine tasting at the Farmers' Market is fun, you've got to get over to one of the apiary vendors and start tasting their wares!

I was enjoying just this pastime with some honey-sweet friends visiting from my hometown a couple weeks ago, inhaling the fragrance drifting from not only the honey itself, but the beeswax candles, lip balm, and ointment for sale, when I noticed something called, 'hon-e-lixr' on the top shelf. Of course I asked what it was, and was awarded with a taste.

Hon-e-lixr is creamed honey mixed with bee pollen: a half ounce of bee pollen per pound of sweet, creamy creamed honey! If you happen to enjoy scraping the last of the crystallized sweetness out of your honey jar, cream honey is like that, only a zillion times better, because it's slowly and carefully crystalized to create teeny tiny crystals, resulting in a smooth, thick, creamy, spreadable texture. It's the same difference between popsicles and premium ice cream: one is good, the other is awesome.
Here's what hon-e-lixr looks like! Creamed honey looks similar, but paler in color since it doesn't have the pollen mixed in. Don't mind me...nom nom nom...
Incidentally, you can also get your creamed honey without added pollen, which may not be a bad idea for reasons we'll get to in a minute. You can also get bee pollen alone, and I was enjoying my hon-e-lixr so much, that I went back and did just that a few days later.

So, what's bee pollen? It starts life as flower pollen, but is gathered by the bee, along with the nectar that gets made into honey. The bees carry it back to the hive as little pellets stuck to a special place on their legs called 'pollen baskets'. Back at the hive, the pollen is rolled up into little balls with bits of honey, nectar, and/or bee spit to make it stick. Each tiny ball is then popped into a single, perfect hexagonal cell, ready to be the first food of a freshly hatched bee larva.
But don't worry: gathering the pollen from the bees is easy, and harmless. The bees are simply forced to enter the hive via opening small enough to scrape some of the pollen pellets off the bees' legs. The pellets fall down into a container with openings too small for the bees to retrieve the pollen from, and the bee keeper harvests the pollen daily. This pollen is frequently sold as a health supplement, but some of it is held back as well, so that if the bees need supplemental food early on in the Spring, the bee keeper is ready to help them out. Think of it as a mandatory savings account for bees that pays sweet interest to the human bankers!

So what does bee pollen have in it for humans? Well, you can compare it to milk: as the first and only food needed for baby mammals, it's self-evident that milk is a potent source of nutrition. Pollen is the same thing for insects, and since we're not so very different, it packs a powerful punch for us as well, and while it's not vegan, since we obtain it by taking it from bees, it IS vegan in the sense that the protiens, fats, enzhymes etc. it contaisn are 100% plant-based. I take it in the morning by dipping my spoonful of delicious Hon-e-lixer in the bee pollen jar, for an extra pollen punch to energize me right out of my morning slump.

Now, this is important, so pay attention: pollen, as you may well know, is a common allergen. If you are allergic to pollen and you eat it, you could have a reaction. Anything from some mild itchiness all the way up to full anaphylactic shock. This has happened to people who eat pollen, generally people who are aware of having severe allergies, but rarely, to people who haven't yet been diagnosed with having allergies at all. It is something you choose to do at your own risk. You can minimize your risk by talking to your doctor about it, getting tested for allergies, and/or taking an antihistamine at least an hour before consuming pollen. I'm not a doctor, and I can't tell you if the benefits of pollen outweigh the risks for you. It's worth noting that no scientific studies have found pollen to be good for energy, allergies, the immune system, inflammation, or any of the many other health claims that have been made about it. It's also worth mentioning that bee products are notoriously difficult to test for efficacy, because the exact make-up of these products varies from region to region, hive to hive, even hour to hour! Some flower pollens may well boost the immune system, calm down inflammation, increase energy, or any number of other things. Other flower pollens could well do nothing at all, or even something negative. Bee pollen is not recommended for pregnant, or nursing women, but again, that's something you can discuss with your doctor or midwife.

Something that's safe for everybody (except babies under the age of one year because infant botulism is a thing) is honey! Delicious, sticky, sweet, honey! Honey touched by the fruit that will later develop on the trees from which the nectar was gathered: crisp with apples and pears, or full-flavored, and rich with hints of can't go wrong! And yes, honey can have some surprising health benefits, too!
Mmmm...delicious, raw, local honey...
My husband read on a coworker's blog that taking a spoonful of honey before bed can decrease instances of waking up in the middle of the night, because it provides your brain with the particular kind of sugar it needs to work hard filing and organizing during your dream sleep. I'm not sure how much evidence there is for this, but I don't need much encouragement to eat honey before bed, so I've been trying it the past few days. I generally sleep like a rock once I drift off, so I wasn't too worried about that, but I was more interested in the oft-sited side effect of bedtime honey eating: vivid, strange, and more readily-remembered dreams! I'm sure effects vary, but I've had a conversation's worth of crazy dreams to report every morning since I started taking bed-time honey!

So what do you think? Want to incorporate more bee yumminess into your life? You could also try some propolis: a resin bees collect and mix up from evergreen trees and other sources, and use to seal up their hives.
as pictured here
It's been used a natural remedy for a long time, topically for burns and rashes, and internally for sore throats and colds. Does it work? Let me refer you back to the bee pollen lecture. Although propolis doesn't carry the risks that bee pollen does, it does carry the same challenges for rigorous scientific testing. It may work for you, and it may not. And just because one bottle worked like a charm doesn't mean the next one will.  Bees are tricky that way! But hey, what's the worse that can happen? I can't vouch for propolis, but the rest of this stuff is insanely delicious...and you can always mix your propolis with honey if it tastes a bit like...well, sealant.
This is propolis in its raw state. Some people just eat it this way to help them get over a cold.
When propolis is made into a tincture, it's often used to treat cold sores...and sores elsewhere caused by the same virus.
Make sure you get your bee products directly from a bee keeper, who manages their bees humanely and sustainably, so you know they aren't heat treated, pasteurized, or mixed and processed within an inch of their lives. If you buy these products from a store, even a health food store, you run the risk of their being cut with less beneficial ingredients to make them cheaper to manufacture. Supplements are very poorly regulated in America. This can be a good thing in some ways; we don't necessarily want moneyed interests getting their paws on all our natural cures, but it does mean you've got to check your sources carefully.
Enjoy licking those sticky paws clean...and if you have any truly fantastic dreams, come back and report them in the comments!

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