Honeybees

Honey bees are in trouble all over the world, and making matters worse, the honey at your supermarket may not even be real honey. So, how do you help the honey bees survive and find pure local honey made with real nectar and pollen? Here are nine tips to do just that.

1. Plant flowers. Make sure the flowers you plant are pesticide-free since a variety of herbicides and pesticides can harm honey bees. Plant flowers that bees love. Create a bee haven of native flowering plants, bushes and trees. Put particular emphasis on plants that bloom between late summer to early fall. Focus on flowers in colors bees can see: white, yellow, violet, orange, blue and ultraviolet. (Avoid red flowering plants since bees can’t see red.) Ask local authorities to plant bee-friendly flowers in local greenspaces as well.

2. Keep a pesticide-free garden. Grow your entire garden–not just your flowers–free of pesticides. Pesticides are a suspected contributor in colony collapse disorder, which is affecting millions of honey bees around the world. While a recent labeling initiative could help distinguish the pesticides that are potentially more harmful to bees, avoiding pesticides altogether is the safest option. Try natural pest-deterrents, organic alternatives like homemade pest remedies, introducing beneficial insects (like ladybugs), and keeping your soil healthy with compost.

3. Donate to bee-saving research funds. If you are able, donate some time or money to organizations dedicated to saving our pollinators. The Bee Native group works with The Honeybee Conservancy to introduce holistic organic beekeeping. Since 2004, The Foundation for the Preservation of the Honey Bee, the charitable arm of the American Beekeeping Federation, has been using public donations to provide five annual scholarships of $2000 each to help graduates in bee science. Additionally, the Pesticide Action Network and Beyond Pesticides created the Honey Bee Haven website and pledge. 

4. Write your congressional representatives. A bill currently in congressional committee called the Save America’s Pollinators Act (HR 2692), would suspend the use of pesticides that threaten bees until a full review of scientific evidence indicates they are safe and a field study demonstrates they do no harm to bees and other pollinators. You can ask your congressional representatives to support the bill through a Friends of the Earth portal.

5. Know your honey. A 2011 Food Safety News report concluded that more than 75 percent of storebought honey is pollen-free, meaning it isn’t real honey at all. The honey is filtered and watered down to such an extent that all pollen is removed–and likely all its health benefits, too. The prospect is a dangerous one beyond the removal of key honey benefits. Removing pollen also removes the ability to trace the origin of honey, creating food safety issues.

If your honey was created for a grocery store chain, a pharmacy chain or a big box store, it’s highly likely that it’s filtered, according to Food Safety News. Honey that’s been packaged for individual servings (like those little packets at KFC or McDonald’s) were found to be pollen-free 100 percent of the time.

So how do you avoid faux honey? You can’t really tell the difference just by looking at your honey, and the numerous varieties of honey make taste-testing honey for pollen difficult. But there are ways to up your chances of real honey. Check the label, go organic and most importantly, go local.

6. Check the label: If there is an ingredients list on your honey, check the label for additives. Your honey should be labeled as pure honey. If there is an ingredients list, it should list only honey. If anything is added to the honey, it’s impure and the pollen may be filtered out.

7. Go organic. Food Safety News found organic honey was much more likely to be traditionally filtered and with a higher pollen content. Only 19 percent of organic honey samples tested weren’t pollen heavy compared to about 77 percent of conventional honey.

8. Go local. Try the honey locator to find pure local honey in your area. There isn’t a set definition for distance when it comes to local honey, but honey touted as local is usually sold within five to 100 miles of the source. Smaller local beekeepers often use more traditional filtration methods that remove debris but keep pollen in your honey.

Plus, supporting local honey is good for the bees and good for your health. Helping local beekeepers defray beekeeping costs helps not only the beekeepers, but also may help your entire agricultural community because ocal bees pollinating locally can help keep local produce healthy. 

Local honey may also help you stave off allergies to local pollen. A powerful antioxidant and anti-bacterial substance, local honey that’s not filtered and diluted can help boost your immune system. Thanks to anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties, it also can be used to treat small injuries and ailments like sore throats, cuts and burns.

9. Test your honey. Once you get it home, test your honey to make sure it’s pure and unadulterated by additives. If you have a friendly farmers market retailer, you may even be able to ask and perform these tests before you buy your honey.

Water test: Drop a spoonful of honey into a glass of water. If it dissolves into the water, it’s impure. If the honey stays together and drops to the bottom of the glass, it’s pure and real.

Absorption test: Drop honey onto blotter paper. If it seeps in, your honey isn’t pure. Alternately, you can drip honey onto a white cloth. If you can’t easily wash out the color from the cloth, the honey’s likely impure. The additives stain the cloth while pure honey does not.

Flame test: You also can attempt a flame test by dipping the wick of a candle into your honey. If the wick still burns when fully covered in honey, your honey is pure and not watered down. If your honey is pollen-free and diluted, the wick won’t burn.

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Image: Moosicorn