Honey and bee products
— Both artist and craftsman, bricklayer and architect, the building bee harmoniously lines up hexagonal wax boxes, or cells, that serve as a cradle for young larvae, and as honey store. They make up the honeycombs. Bees need wax to make honeycombs, but also to make the small caps sealing the top of cells once they are full of honey or contain a nine-day old larva.
— To produce wax, bees hang in clusters and use their abdominal wax glands to create thin colorless and translucent layers.
— Hence wax is not a vegetal production, but a deliberate bee secretion. Bees remove these thin layers from their abdomen with their hind legs, take them in their mouth and chew them with their mandibles adding up saliva, thus making them more malleable.
— Then they assemble them to build a cell in a perfect geometrical shape. Honeycombs must be changed every three years. After extracting honey, the beekeeper collects the wax contained in honeycombs and caps, and melts them according to various techniques.
Consistency of honey
— When just produced by bees, all honeys have a liquid consistency, but many of them will crystallize. This natural status change will occur after 2 to 3 days, a few weeks or even a few months depending on their composition and environment. The composition of honey influences its texture.
— Honey is made of various sugars, the two main being glucose and fructose. The higher the glucose content, the faster honey will crystallize. This fructose/glucose proportion varies according to the flowers foraged. For example, acacia honey contains more than 40% of fructose and less than 28% of glucose, which naturally allows it to keep its pouring consistency for more than a year. Contrarily, honeys such as clover, sunflower, etc. with higher glucose content will be thicker, and have a more or less smooth texture.
— Certain honeys with a glucose content of about 35% (such as orange blossom) can be liquid or creamy. The presence of micro particles (pollen grains, air bubbles…) also encourages the natural crystallization of honey.
Creamy or liquid honey?
— Creamy honey, ideal to spread on toasts, tends to harden in time.
— Liquid honey, more suitable to sweeten yoghurts, fruit, herbal tea, pancakes, salad dressings, meals, etc. will however end up crystallizing sooner or later.
— Royal jelly is a fluid, whitish substance secreted by nurse bees thanks to their hypopharyngeal and mandibular glands (in the head). It has a rare biological power. It was long considered as almost a miraculous substance, and modern science has since determined, following a great number of experiments, it has multiple nutritional, energetic and metabolic properties. In particular, royal jelly contains many vitamins (B, PP, E).
— Royal jelly can be taken as a treatment, pure or blended with honey.
— Bees collect a vegetal resin, propolis, on the buds of certain trees (such as poplars, birches, etc.) thanks to their mandibles, and then mix it with saliva. Propolis is a resinous, whitish or brown substance that bees use to fill the gaps and cracks of the hive and thus better resist to microbes and bad weather over the winter.
— This natural mastic has bactericidal, antifungal, anesthetic and healing properties. These healing virtues are currently used in dermatology, but all possibilities have not been unveiled or exploited yet.
— After collecting pollen on stamen, the forager bee twists it with saliva to form loads and stores them in the baskets of its legs. It then takes it back to the hive to feed other bees. Its saliva, full of antibacterial enzymes, gives pollen part of its therapeutic properties, the other deriving from plants and their benefits.
Nectar & Honeydew
To reproduce, flowers need to be « pollinated », that is to receive pollen on their pistil (female element), pollen being a powder produced by the stamen (male element) of other flowers. This pollination mainly takes place thanks to bees as the latter, buzzing from flower to flower, carry pollen in their legs and drop it on pistils.
To attract these indispensable forager bees, flowers produce a substance, nectar, which is a subtle mix of water and sugar secreted by nectaries (glandular excrescences generally found inside the flower). The forager bee sucks it in with its proboscis, and stores it in its crop where natural enzymes contained in its saliva start operating, and finally brings it back to the hive.
As they do with nectar, bees collect honeydew and make honey out of it. More complex than nectar, this substance is made via a ‘go-between’, generally an aphid : the latter stings the vegetal, feeds over its sap and rejects the surplus in the form of sugar droplets that stick to the leaves. Plants and trees hosting aphids, such as firs, spruces, oak trees, maple trees, lindens or even wheat are thus true honey sources.
— Natural alchemy
Whether nectar or honeydew, bees transform these substances by mixing them with their saliva. Within the hive, nectar and honeydew experiment various transfers from crop to crop and from cell to cell, by successive restitutions. They gradually become richer in biological components and concentrate thanks to a unique natural alchemy, typical of bees. It is difficult to assess the annual production of a single bee, but it is generally considered that a hive produces 20 to 30 kg of honey per year for an average population of 30.000 bees.
A 1 kg honey jar thus represents about 200 days’ work and a distance of 40.000 km buzzing around 800.000 flowers for a single forager bee!
By definition, honey is an entirely natural product free of additives and preservatives. The date mentioned on jars is just an indication of freshness, but honey can be kept for years and retain its flavor and original taste characteristics. According to European law, the mere word ‘honey’ on a package is sufficient to guarantee consumers a 100% natural origin. Moreover, the products’ compliance is regularly monitored by accredited laboratories.