Honey and Your Health
● By Kayla Anderson
By Kayla Anderson
Photo: Manda Reed
Chock full of nutrients and antioxidants, honey has been highly regarded for thousands of years as a wholesome, natural resource to help heal wounds with its antibacterial properties, light a room up with a beeswax candle and aid in maintaining good health. In the Old World, Egyptians and Brahmans used honey in marriage ceremonies. The ancient Greeks believed that honey was the key to sustained youth.
Never spoiling, honey is a natural sweetener and energy booster. But when artificial sugars became a staple in many American foods, honey took a backseat. Meanwhile, people were developing digestive disorders and diabetes from an overconsumption of sugar. As early as 1929, doctors started expressing concerns, urging Americans to substitute honey for the habit-forming, powerful stimulant of refined sugar.
Although honey does not contain as many minerals as milk or meat products, darker honeys such as buckwheat or wildflower honey have four times the amount of iron as lighter honeys such as clover or star thistle.
Some believe eating local honey helps a person become immune to the pollen that causes allergies. Medical science has not confirmed this and beehives tend to migrate to other parts of the United States in winter months to continue pollination. Flower pollen does have high vitamin C content, though, translating to honeys that can be rich in that nutrient.
However, in the late 1920s, people didn’t like the cloudy look of honey with pollen in it. Pollen was often filtered out, leaving a clear, smooth honey void of the beneficial vitamins. In later years progressive beekeepers went back to producing darker-colored honey.
University of Aberdeen professor John Anderson once said, “Keep bees and eat honey if you want to live long. Beekeepers live longer than anybody else.”
But beekeeping is harder than it looks. In 2009, Anderson resident Darcia Slape wanted to raise bees to not only augment her garden, but provide her with a personal honey supply. “I wanted a beehive, so my husband Michael got me one for Christmas,” Slape says. But those first two hives had a problem – the person who sold them to the Slapes took all of the honey, leaving none for the bees. Since it was in the middle of the winter, the bees soon died of starvation. Now the Slapes are careful to always leave a bit of honey for those who worked so hard for it.
The loss of their first hives didn’t deter the Slapes from beekeeping, though. In 2011 they met a longtime beekeeper named Ed who who wanted out of the business. The Slapes worked with him for a year before they bought him out. In their second year of honey harvest, the Slapes’ 70 hives produced 1,800 lbs. of honey. Foraging in a field full of star thistle (which produces a popular, mildly-flavored honey), the Slapes keep about 30 hives amongst their thriving garden and 16 almond trees.
“I really learned what a feminist colony bees are,” Darcia says. Even though it’s all about the queen, the drones are all male and worker bees are all female. “A bee buzzing around a flower looks harmless, but if you get a bunch of them together they can take down a mule,” she says.
When Michael hived a swarm once, the Slapes put a queen in a box and watched the bees march right into the hive to protect her. “It was fascinating to watch.”
However, the recent drought affected the photosynthesizing of flowers, subsequently damaging the Northern California bee business. “In 2015, we only had 150 lbs. of honey when we should have been pulling in around 2,000 lbs.,” Michael says.
Not only does the weather affect beekeeping, but diseases from the Varroa mite, foulbrood, orchard pesticide sprays and even skunks can kill off the bees. “Skunks will eat a pound of bees a night,” Michael says.
The Slapes sell their honey at Kent’s Meats & Groceries in Redding and Serendipity Farm in Anderson, but they say their biggest problem is time management. Michael’s son Dejon helps run the business, but he works for CAL FIRE in the summer and Michael runs a construction company. “It’s a full-time job, but we’re only doing it part-time right now,” Michael says.
Most beekeepers pull their final honey harvest in mid- to late August. Just as ancient Romans held parties and banquets to celebrate the honey harvest, Palo Cedro is holding its 36th Annual Honey Bee Festival on Sept. 10-11. The Honey Bee Festival features arts and crafts booths, local entertainment, food samplings and even a live bee beard demonstration. Visitors can celebrate the bees’ hard work and enjoy the fruits of their labor.