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Bees Do More than Keep Purple Beards Healthy

Bees are the most productive animal pollinators in the world

June 19th, 2018 2:00 PM

Konni Vukelic, photo David Hammond

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By David Hammond

At the Oak Park Farmer's Market, Konni Vukelic sells honey from Dennanne Farms as well as a selection of natural products she produces herself under the Three Bees label. The honey is produced locally, and that's important for those of us who have pollen allergies. "It's kind of like 'hair of the dog,'" explains Vukelic. "The honey introduces the body to just a little of the pollen that's affecting your allergies, and so you slowly develop immunity."

Last May we visited the Butterfly Pavilion  outside Denver, Colorado, where we chatted with Mario Padilla, resident entomologist and apiarist. Padilla explained that his Butterfly Pavilion is supported, in part, by sales of Rice's Honey, which is also sold under the name Local Hive at places including the Walmart Supercenter in Forest Park. What's cool about Rice's Honey is that although it's a national corporation, they source their honey locally, and label it accordingly, so you can get Rice's Honey specifically from Midwestern bees who visit Midwestern flowers. If you have any sensitivity to pollen, you might consider getting local honey like this to build up your immunity. To ensure you get all the nutritional benefits of honey, make sure it's raw and uncooked; that's the kind of honey that's available at the Oak Park Farmer's Market.

As you know, honey bees are in trouble: they're dying too quickly for reasons that are not entirely understood.  Colony Collapse Syndrome could be a dire warning for all of us who like to eat because bees and other pollinators (including butterflies, moths bats, and birds) are responsible for pollinating about one-third of the food we eat. "Bees are the most productive animal pollinators in the world," explains Padilla. "They have co-evolved with flowering plants to be efficient and productive. There are 4000 species of bee in North America alone."

Without bees we wouldn't have broccoli, asparagus, cantaloupe, cucumbers, pumpkins, blueberries, watermelon, almonds, apples, cranberries or cherries. You like those vegetables and fruits? Thank a bee.

So how can you help bees, and our planet, stay healthy. Well, Vukelic suggests that more of us could keep bees, but that may not be practical for you. What we can do is plant flowers that attract bees and help them do their jobs, but when you do so, advises Padilla, you should avoid insecticides because, quite simply, "they're made to kill insects," like bees and other pollinators.

Wherever I travel in the world, I always buy the local honey. Although eating honey from other parts of the world may not provide a Midwesterner with the small doses of local pollen required to build up immunity, it's fascinating to taste how honey differs, sometimes subtly, from location to location.

Aside from the deliciousness of honey, there are many other uses for it, including as an antibiotic. Carolyn was gardening and caught a huge thorn in her finger; she immediately applied honey and the swelling quickly went down with no sign of infection.

At the Oak Park Farmer's Market, Vukelic also sells Bearded Bee, a balm of honey and essential oils that I use to keep my recently empurpled goatee frizz-free and healthy. But, honey can do so much more than that, and we never tire of its taste.

This is National Pollinator Week, so celebrate by having a little honey.

 

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