The Sustainability of Bee Products
By Dawn Combs
Photo by Thomas Gibson
Honey: Honey is the primary food for the hive and is a sustainable product if we focus on bee health and only take what is extra. Many conventional commercial practices are unsustainable as they often end in stressed, ill and dying colonies.
Pollen: Pollen is the main protein source for bees. The worker bee packs individual grains together in a container on her leg. This is knocked off as the bee wiggles through a screen called a pollen trap. The bees are not harmed. Overharvesting can occur if the trap is always collecting and the bee is prevented from storing a wide variety of pollen types.
Propolis: Propolis is the resin bees collect from trees. It is often called “bee glue” and is used to stick the hive together and to block the light from small openings. Farming for propolis creates constant stress as bees try to keep their environment safe and comfortable. They inevitably spend time collecting and building up propolis stores and sacrifice food collection. While home beekeepers can collect bits of propolis during maintenance (enough to supply a couple of households), there are few commercial ways to sustainably collect propolis.
Royal jelly: This superfood for the baby bee is produced in large amounts only for the queen bee. In order to produce royal jelly for harvest, the hive must be stimulated to believe there is no queen, and special frames must be inserted so the bees believe they are feeding many new queens at a time. These frames do hold queen larvae—but after a few days the frames are collected and the royal jelly is harvested; the queen larvae destroyed; and the frames are returned to the hive to start again. There is no way to sustainably farm royal jelly.
Learn about the medicinal qualities of honey in The History of Honey as Medicine.
Dawn Combs is the owner of Mockingbird Meadows Herbal Health Farm in central Ohio and the director of its Eclectic Herbal Institute. Mockingbird Meadows is nationally known for its line of herbal honey spreads. Dawn is the author of Conceiving Healthy Babies: An Herbal Guide to Support Preconception, Pregnancy and Lactation.