Honey Bees are the most amazing creatures on this earth! Did you know, it takes a million bee hours to produce a pound of honey and bees tap into 2 million flowers and fly 55,000 miles for the same. Yet a Bee is so efficient that if she were to fly around the world, only one ounce of honey would be consumed! Bees have a grass-seed sized brain that is able to calculate foraging distances and energy expenditure, and find the shortest route to the targeted flowers, a complex mathematical problem that can keep computers busy for days!
Bees are inspired engineers. Each wax cell in the comb has six sides and all cells have a slight backward tilt so that the honey will not spill out. Wax cells average 140 to the one centimetre in thickness and each cell fits snugly against its neighbour on all sides — a construction so strong and cleverly planned, right down to the most minute detail.
Honey is the natural sweet substance produced by honeybees from the nectar of blossoms or from the secretion of living parts of plants or excretions of plant sucking insects on the living parts of plants, which honeybees collect, transform and combine with specfic substances of their own, store and leave in the honey comb to ripen and mature. It is the most popular and traded bee product. When honey has, in the majority of its composition, been made from a single source of nectar i.e. powering plant, it can be called a mono floral honey. For example eucalyptus honey. When a honey is made from many different sources of nectar it is called mutli floral honey.
Honey is composed for about 95 percent of sugars, with other elements comprising the remaining 5 percent subdivided into water, organic acids and minerals. Honey has many characteristics. The viscosity of honey depends on a large variety of substances and therefore varies with its composition and particularly with its water content. Viscosity is important for trade as it contributes to the ease of processing and extraction from comb. Density is also another important characteristic for processing and trade as well as the hygroscopic nature of honey. Colour is another important factor in trade as well as honey crystallisation.
Honey is sold in unprocessed form, in the honey comb, as well as in the extracted form, in bottles and jars.
There are many waxes that derive from numerous sources other than those of bees. These waxes can come from plants, animals, petroleum derivates and so forth. In the case of beeswax it derives from glands in the workers bee’s head that are used to build comb for brood rearing and honey storage. In many tropical countries wax is not accounted for as a bee product, even though it has a good economic potential.
Initially wax from Apis millifera is white and as it ages become yellow and darker in colour. Pure beeswax from Apis mellifera consists of at least 284 different compounds. Not all have been completely identified but over 111 are volatile (Tulloch, 1980). At least 48 compounds were found to contribute to the aroma of beeswax (Ferber and Nursten, 1977). Quantitatively, the major compounds are saturated and unsaturated monoesters, diesters, saturated and unsaturated hydrocarbons, free acids and hydroxy polyesters.
In the past beeswax had a more extended use, but with the introduction of cheaper synthetic wax, its role has changed along with its trade. Commonly beeswax is used for candle making, for metal castings and models, in food processing as an ingredient, in the cosmetic, textile, varnish and polish, and printing industries as well as in medicine.
The pollen which is collected by beekeepers and used in various food or medicinal preparations is no longer exactly the same as the one, powdery pollen from flowers. The hundreds or sometimes millions of pollen grains per flower are collected by the honeybees and packed into pollen pellets on their hind legs with the help of special combs and hairs. During a pollen collecting trip, one honeybee can only carry two of these pollen pellets.
The pollen collected by honeybees is usually mixed with nectar or regurgitated honey in order to make it stick together and adhere to their hind legs. The resulting pollen pellets harvested from a bee colony are therefore usually sweet in taste. Certain pollen types however, are very rich in oils and stick together without nectar or honey. A foraging honeybee rarely collects both pollen and nectar from more than one species of flowers during one trip. Thus the resulting pollen pellet on its hind leg contains only one or very few pollen species. Accordingly, the pollen pellet has a typical colour, most frequently yellow, but red, purple, green, orange and a variety of other colours occur. Pollen grains range from 6 to 200 m in diameter, and all kinds of colours, shapes and surface structures may be observed. These are usually typical enough to allow species or at least genus identification. Most pollen grains have a very hard outer shell (sporoderm) which is very difficult or impossible to digest. It is so durable that it can be found in fossil deposits millions of years old. There are, however, pores which allow germination and also extraction of the interior substances.
Pollen is used for food, as a medicine, in cosmetics, for mechanical and/ or hand pollination and for monitoring pollution in the environment.
Propolis is a mixture of various amounts of beeswax and resins collected by the honeybee from plants, particularly from flowers and leaf buds. Since it is difficult to observe bees on their foraging trips the exact sources of the resins are usually not known. Bees have been observed scraping the protective resins of flower and leaf buds with their mandibles and then carrying them to the hive like pollen pellets on their hind legs. It can be assumed that in the process of collecting and modelling the resins, they are mixed with some saliva and other secretions of the bees as well as with wax.
These resins are used by worker bees to line the inside of nest cavities and all brood combs, repair combs, seal small cracks in the hive, reduce the size of hive entrances seal off inside the hive any dead animals or insects which are too large to be carried out and perhaps most important of all, to mix small quantities of propolis with wax to seal brood cells. These uses are significant because they take advantage of the antibacterial and antifungal effects of propolis in protecting the colony against diseases. Propolis has been shown to kill the bee’s most ardent bacterial foe, Bacillus larvae - the cause of American Foul Brood. The use of propolis thus reduces the chance of infection in the developing brood and the growth of decomposing bacteria in dead animal tissue.
The composition of propolis depends on the type of plants accessible to the bees. Propolis changes in colour, odour and probably medicinal characteristics, according to source and the season of the year. Moreover, some bees and some colonies are more avid collectors-generally to the dismay of the beekeeper, since propolis is a very sticky substance which, in abundance, can make it difficult to remove frames from the boxes.
Propolis is used as a food, in food processing, as a traditional medicine and in cosmetics.
Royal jelly is secreted by the hypopharyngeal gland (sometimes called the brood food gland) of young worker (nurse) bees, to feed young larvae and the adult queen bee. Royal jelly is always fed directly to the queen or the larvae as it is secreted; it is not stored. This is why it has not been a traditional beekeeping product. The only situation in which harvesting becomes feasible is during queen rearing, when the larvae destined to become queen bees are supplied with an over-abundance of royal jelly. The queen larvae cannot consume the food as fast as it is provided and royal jelly accumulates in the queen cells. The exact definition of commercially available royal jelly is therefore related to the method of production: it is the food intended for queen bee larvae that are four to five days old.
Royal jelly is a homogeneous substance with the consistency of a fairly fluid paste. It is whitish in colour with yellow or beige tinges, has a pungent phenolic odour and a characteristic sour flavour. Royal jelly can be used as a food, as a dietary supplement, as an ingredient in food processing, in cosmetics and as an ingredient in medicine-like products. Royal jelly can be sold in its fresh state, unprocessed except for being frozen or cooled, mixed with other products, or freeze-dried for further use in other preparations. The fresh production and sale can be handled by enterprises of all sizes since no special technology is required. In its unprocessed form it can also be included directly in many foods and dietary supplements as well as medicine-like products or cosmetics.
Honeybee venom is a clear, odourless, watery liquid. When coming into contact with mucous membranes or eyes, it causes considerable burning and irritation. Dried venom takes on a light yellow colour and some commercial preparations are brown, thought to be a result of oxidation of some of the venom proteins. Venom contains a number of very volatile compounds which are easily lost during collection.
Used in small doses however, bee venom can be of benefit in treating a large number of ailments. This therapeutic value was already known to many ancient civilizations. Today, the only uses of bee venom are in human and veterinary medicine.
No uses for venom, other than medical ones are known. The only legally accepted medical use of bee venom in Western European and North American countries is for desensitising people who are hypersensitive (allergic) to bee venom. Since the early 1980’s, pure bee venom has been used for desensitisation.
The use of pure venom injections and well placed bee stings is increasing in Western countries as an alternative to heavy (and sometimes ineffective) drug use, which is often associated with numerous side-effects. This is particularly so for arthritis and other rheumatoid in ammations. Application methods for venom include natural bee stings, subcutaneous injections, electrophoresis, ointments, inhalations and tablets.
Since bee venom has both a local and a systemic effect, correct placement of injections, or stings and the dosage are very important. Therefore, bee venom therapy must be properly learned. Still, relief of some ailments can be obtained by simply applying a sting or two to the affected area, i.e. to some painful, immobile arthritic joints.