This article was reviewed by C. Leigh Broadhurst, Ph.D., a member of Better Nutrition's Editorial Advisory Board.

We have witnessed many wondrous medical advances and modern technology is truly amazing. But in spite of all humankind has achieved, the little honey bee leaves us in awe of its prodigious work output and diversity of products.

Honey bees are essential to the pollination of many plants. Almonds, apples, apricots, avocados, berries, cucumbers, pears, melons, alfalfa, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, clover, cotton, onions, radishes, and squash, to name a few, all depend on the honey bee for cross pollination. In addition to the highly useful beeswax, bees also manufacture royal jelly and modify plant nectars a bit to form honey. There are four main products of the hive that contain a broad spectrum of health and anti-aging secrets-bee pollen, propolis, honey and royal jelly.

Bee pollen consists of blended pollen grains collected by honeybees from a wide variety of plants. Pollen is a major food source for the bees, providing their protein requirements. Worker bees travel from flower to flower, collecting pollen in special "baskets" on their legs. Workers collect more pollen than the colony needs, so beekeepers have devised special screens to scrape some pollen off as the bees enter the hive.

Propolis consists mainly of resins exuded from the leaf buds and bark of certain trees. The resins are collected by the honeybee colony's designated group of propolis-harvesters. The bees mix the resins with a little wax, honey, and enzymes; "fingerprint" matching also shows that the bees do not make significant changes to the collected resin. Since the changes are so minor, propolis is considered an herbal medicine, similar to other medicinal gums and resins such as boswellia, guggul, and myrrh.

Honey is made from flower nectar which is collected by the honeybees in spring, summer, and early autumn. Some bees also collect "honeydew" from the sugary secretions of aphids that feed on tree sap. The nectar is greatly concentrated and stored in wax cells, thousands of which form the honeycomb. In a natural honeybee colony, honey Serves as food for the bees through the winter when plants are dormant.

Royal jelly is the primary food for developing larvae in the bee hive. Nurse bees ingest pollen and nectar, and then secrete royal jelly from special glands in their heads--a sort of honeybee milk. All larvae are fed royal jelly for three days, but then the overwhelming majority, destined to be worker bees, are cut off. Only the queen larvae are continually fed royal jelly. It is this rich diet of royal jelly alone that transforms the queen into a sexually mature powerhouse, living 5 to 7 years, and laying more than her weight in eggs daily.

If you want to butter-up your "honey," don't use butter! Honey is the fastest way to your sweetheart's heart. Who can resist this thick, sugary ambrosia-food of the gods-that is carefully collected from the nectar of our finest flowers, and then stored and aged in the waxy shelter of the hive. Its color and bouquet vary depending on the plant from which the nectar was collected-buckwheat, clover, orange, alfalfa, etc. But humans are not the only connoisseurs of honey, bears and badgers are smitten, too. And why not? Honey is a terrific source of food energy providing approximately 1520 calories per pound.

This food, however, is much more than just flavor and fragrance. Honey has superb anti-microbial and antibacterial properties that include the ability to inhibit salmonella, E. coli, shigella, and candida. Less known is its ability to treat burns. Nevertheless, honey has been used clincally on 30 types of wounds - from diabetic ulcers to gangrene - in probably up to 500 successful human cases by now. And it works on bad infections resistant to antibiotics. Burn patients using topical honey recovered 50% faster and had less scarring than control subjects. Topically applied honey also accelerates wound healing and prevents infections.

If honey were the only food bees manufactured, it would be enough, but they also are involved in the formation of bee pollen, a mixture of plant nectar and pollen.

Athletes swear by it, claiming it improves their performance and reduces fatigue. The centenarians in Dagestan (Russia) attribute their longevity to a lifelong love affair with bee pollen and royal jelly. The Swedes and the French are also big admirers of bee pollen and swear it maintains their youthful appearance. Bee pollen has the potential to improve skin elasticity and retard wrinkles by increasing the flow of blood to skin cells and stimulating the growth of new skin tissue. You can find it as an ingredient in many skin rejuvenation creams.

Bee pollen is an important food for men with enlarged (benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH) and inflamed (prostatitis) prostates. In at least 3 studies, researchers used a standardized proprietary extract of blended pollens collected by humans directly from certain plants to reduce prostate size in men with severe and chronic of BPH and prostatitis.

Bee pollen also stimulates our immune system and helps retard tumor growth. Bee pollen is approximately 35% protein, that's more than beef, eggs, or cheese. In addition to trigylcerides, bee pollen contains considerable free fatty acids and lecithin and other phospholipids, of which phosphatidylcholine is only one (and minor at that).[**]

It also has a wealth of minerals (3-5percent by dry weight), including iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium, calcium, copper, sodium, and selenium, as well as an equal percentage of vitamins (1500mg/100g), especially riboflavin, nicotinic, pantothenic and folic acids, B2, inositol, and lots of vitamin C.

It also contains the essential chromosomal nucleic acids DNA and RNA, as well as a storehouse of healthful enzymes and phytochemicals, such as lycopene, quercetin, carotenes, and flavonoids.

Bee pollen is available in capsules and tablets and is part of many skin formulas. The granules are sweet and colorful and a tablespoonful makes an energizing addition to your juices and smoothies.

Propolis is another magical substance in the bee's world. Bees collect this gummy resin from tree sap, flowers, and vegetables, and then mix it with their own beeswax. The result is a truly wondrous antibiotic, antiviral, and antifungal agent. It contains several powerful organic acids-caffeic, benzoic, cinnamic-that suppress the growth of microorganisms such as salmonella and E. coli. The flavonol galangin is effective in preventing sore throat and tonsillitis, and helps fight the flu and common cold.

Have you noticed propolis as an ingredient in some brands of toothpaste? Propolis retards the growth of the bacteria that cause plaque and cavities. Propolis should also be in the medicine chest of every sufferer of herpes. Tinctures of propolis, with its high content of flavonoids and luteolin (a flavone), have reduced pain, itching, and inflammation in 90% of patients with herpes zoster and herpes simplex. These same properties have also been used to treat everything from acne to AIDS. Look for propolis in capsules, tablets, skin creams, tinctures, mouthwashes, toothpastes, and lozenges in your health food store.

Roll out the red carpet-enter the queen. Royal jelly is a viscous, honey-like liquid secreted by bees that is reserved strictly for feeding their infants (larvae) and queen. It is considered by some to be the fountain of youth. Why? It is the queen's only food and probably the reason they are roughly twice the size of the other bees and live 3-5 years instead of only 5 weeks.

Royal jelly improves the health and appearance of skin, heals wounds, and may stave off skin aging and wrinkles. Dosages of 50-100 mg per day significantly lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. Royal jelly also has potential as an anticancer and anti-tumor agent. It stimulates the production of spleen and lymph cells, which make more antibodies available to remove toxic substances and fight the spread of disease. Royalisin, a protein in royal jelly, suppresses certain types of bacteria including staphylococcus and streptococcus.

Look for royal jelly in capsules, tablets, twist-cap vials, and as an ingredient in moisturizing skin lotions, lip balms and in ache-healing preparations. Some honeys come spiked with royal jelly making them an excellent sweetener for smoothies and other recipes. As with chocolate, strawberries, and diary products, allergically sensitive persons should first test bee pollen and royal jelly before supplementing. If you do not react, then these foods will serve only to enhance and strengthen your general immunity. Bees have much to offer humans. The structure of their society is built entirely on fraternity and synergy.

All their hard labor and creations are in the service of their newborn and queen. In other words, the primary ingredient of bee foods is love.

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Fuji, A, et al. "Augmentation of wound-healing by royal jelly (RJ) in streptozotocin-diabetic rats," Japanese Journal of Pharmacology 53:331-337, 1990.

Fujiwara, S., et al. "A potent antibacterial protein in royal jelly. Purification and determination of the primary structure of royalisin," J Biol Chem 265(19):11333-11337, 1990.

Harish, Z., et al. "Suppression of HIV-1 replication by propolis and its immunoregulatory effect," Drugs Exp Clin Res 23(2):89-96, 1997.

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University of California-davis website. Information about bee stings and wasp stings. http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7449.html

Vittek, J. "Effect of royal jelly on serum lipids in experimental animals and humans with aterosclerosis," Experientia 51:927-935, 1995 [summary].

Yasumoto, R., et al. "Clinical evaluation of long-term treatment using Cernitin pollen extract in patients with benign prostatic hyperplasia," Clinical Therapeutics 17:82-86, 1995.


By Steve "Sproutman" Meyerowitz

Steve Meyerowitz is the author of several books on health and diet including hte new Power Juices, Super Drinks which includes many recipes using bee foods. You can visit him at www.sproutman.com

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