Did you know many bees sleep on or in flowers at night? This is one of the many fun facts I learned while researching this article. I have been interested in bees since my teens when I had a job at a vegetable seed research station where I dressed up in beekeeper gear at 5:00am to move beehives from the field to the “cages” (screen tents that we had put over each new variety of vegetable that was being grown). This way the different varieties wouldn’t get cross-pollinated with each other. It was hard work, but I enjoyed it. After all, bees work a lot harder than I ever do, and none of us could survive without their tireless labor, pollinating the plants we rely on for our sustenance. There are also some dietary supplements with amazing properties that result from their labors, and those are bee pollen, royal jelly, and propolis. Disclaimer: A very small portion of the population may have extreme allergic reactions to ingestion of bee products—use them at your own risk. Be sure to consult your health care practitioner before using any new dietary supplement.
Bee pollen is pollen that has been gathered by bees from a wide variety of plants. It also is gathered from an astounding quantity of plants. According to Paul Pitchford in his book, Healing With Whole Foods, “Each bee pollen pellet contains 2 million flower pollen grains, and a teaspoonful contains 2.5 billion grains of flower pollen.” This pollen is highly nutritious. In her book Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Phyllis A. Balch writes that bee pollen “is composed of 10 to 15 percent protein and also contains B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, essential fatty acids, enzymes, carotene, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese, sodium, plant sterols, and simple sugars.” However, pollen also contains constituents that have not been identified by science, which may be partly responsible for its exceptional properties. According to Pitchford, “Pollen is considered an energy and nutritive tonic in Chinese medicine; cultures throughout the world use in a surprising number of applications—improving endurance and vitality, extending longevity, aiding recovery from chronic illness, adding weight during convalescence, reducing cravings and addiction, regulating the intestines, building new blood, preventing communicable diseases such as the common cold and flu (it has antibiotic properties), and helping overcome…developmental problems in children.” Most sources I came across suggested a daily dose of one teaspoon to one tablespoon a day.
However, because an estimated 0.05% of the population may be allergic to bee pollen, Pitchford recommends that “before taking a full dose of pollen, test for a possible extreme allergic reaction by ingesting just one pellet.” Both Willy Street Co-op locations offer bee pollen in bulk and in capsules, and Willy East also offers a prepackaged loose bee pollen. The non-encapsulated bee pollen can be found in the wellness department cooler, and should be stored in the fridge at home to maintain freshness.
Royal Jelly is a food of infant bees and the only food eaten by the queen bee. Some people may have heard of it because in the 1980s it was rumored that President Ronald Reagan consumed it regularly, and that this was the reason he didn’t have gray hair. Maybe he just dyed it. “Royal jelly...is made by nurse bees who chew pollen and mix it with secretions from glands in their heads,” Pitchford notes. Before you get too weirded out, let me share some of its remarkable properties with you. “Like bee pollen, royal jelly is an energy and nutritive tonic, but to a far greater degree,” writes Pitchford. “It is useful in all of the above applications for pollen, but has a stronger effect on the glandular system, and is considered strengthening for the reproductive systems of both men and women. Royal jelly has also been used effectively in the treatment of arthritis, leukemia, severe deficiencies and wasting diseases,” he continues. Balch writes that, “It is useful for bronchial asthma, liver disease, pancreatitis, insomnia, stomach ulcers, kidney disease, bone fractures, and skin disorders, and it strengthens the immune system.” Both of our store locations offer royal jelly in capsules and a refrigerated version in a base of honey.
Propolis is a sticky, resinous substance that bees collect from various plants, often from buds or sap flows. In addition to beeswax, propolis is used to fill in open spaces in the hive. The antimicrobial properties of propolis make it ideal for this purpose, helping to protect the bees against diseases, bacterial infection and parasites. Similarly, propolis can be used to help prevent infections in humans. According to the Therapeutic Herb Manual by Ed Smith, Propolis has the following actions: “Antibacterial and antifungal, stimulates cellular immunity, anti-inflammatory, stimulates tissue regeneration, expectorant.” Propolis has a wide range of medicinal applications. Smith lists the following uses for propolis: “Colds, flu, coughs, and respiratory inflammation and infections. Inflammation and infections of the mouth, stomach and intestines. Topically to treat inflammation and infection of minor wounds, and to speed healing through new tissue regeneration. Topical treatment of leucoplakia.” Smith notes that in topical applications, propolis may cause contact dermatitis in sensitive individuals. Willy Street Co-op East and West both offer propolis in capsules or in tincture form. Willy East also offers the Herb Pharm Soothing Throat Spray (formerly known as Propolis Echinacea throat spray).
Bees provide us with many medicinal edibles, in addition to pollinating much of the food we eat. It is commonly stated that about one third of the human food supply relies on insect pollination (most of which is done by bees). Therefore, enjoy these elixirs and foods mindfully, with gratitude for the amount of energy put into them by the bees. Take a moment to thank a bee today for its hard work.