Humans have consumed honey for thousands of years; it was even found, still edible, in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs. Today, it is mainly used as an alternative to processed sweeteners, but many beekeepers and advocates for natural medicine believe that local, raw honey can help with alleviating allergies. Even the popular Dr Oz says that, “Taking a high-quality raw local honey for two months before allergy season can actually lessen your allergies. Bees carry the pollen that aggravates seasonal allergies, and some of that pollen becomes part of the honey. Consuming honey daily before allergy season can help your body grow accustomed to the pollen and immunize your body against it.”
Antihistamines are the most common medication currently used to treat allergies, but may weaken immune response if used consistently.
The difference between raw and processed honey is that the raw product retains all of the natural vitamins, enzymes, and phytonutrients because it is unheated, unpasteurized, and unprocessed. That which is found in most stores has had the pollen and propolis, or bee glue, boiled out, making the product, what one beekeeper refers to as, “caramel-coloured sugar water.” Upon reading the label in a grocery store, a consumer may find that the honey has originated from many different countries around the world. In 2009, the US Department of Agriculture mandated a country of origin label on honey. Honey from some Asian countries has been banned in Europe due to heavy metal and illegal antibiotic presence, but because so much of it is trans-shipped and blended with other varieties, it is hard to tell from where the honey originated, even with proper labelling.
Honey smuggling is a lucrative trade that may make the end product a bit less expensive, but it often lacks the healthy benefits that turn people onto honey in the first place.
When it comes to high quality honey, raw and local is a consumer’s best bet, especially during allergy season. Farmer’s markets often have beekeeping vendors who can inform a customer about the practices they use to raise the bees so (s)he has peace of mind about the authenticity and health benefits of the product.
Raw honey is not only good for people with allergies and sweet teeth; it can also be helpful for a variety of ailments. A natural antiseptic, honey can be used to keep cuts, scrapes, and burns clean and to help them heal. One beekeeper from Seffner, Florida, even claims that after major surgery, he consistently applied honey to the incision, and it eliminated any sign of a scar.
There is currently a lot of controversy going on about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) as it correlates to neonicotinoids, a neuro-active class of insecticides chemically similar to nicotine. Some versions have been banned in the European Union due to their adverse effects on bee and bird populations. A study conducted by Harvard’s School of Public Health stated that neonicotinoids “may impair bees’ neurological functions.” The article also suggested that colder winter temperatures might affect the severity of CCD, with a 2012 study showing a 94% CCD mortality rate among bees in pesticide-treated hives.
Colony collapse disorder has taken a major blow to agriculture as bees currently pollinate roughly one third of the world’s crops, causing a lot of conversation about the use of such pesticides. Many activists are pushing for legal action to ban the use of such insecticides before bee populations decline to a dire rate. The cost of doing such pollination work manually could easily mount to millions, if not billions, of dollars per year.
Honey has satisfied the sweet teeth of generations throughout history; it serves many purposes – culinary, health-wise, and even ritualistically. Yet, only when manmade chemicals were introduced to the ecosystem from which honey is derived, did we see an adverse effect on the pollinators that modern agriculture is so heavily reliant upon. Pesticides and insecticides have been used to protect farmers’ profits and ensure larger crop yields for decades, but sometimes, the simpler, natural way of doing things, though slower, is better for the health of the individual, and the planet, whether that be allergies or agriculture.
Sarah Sakeena Marshall, B.S. Environmental Policy