Historically, honey bees (the common hive bee) appeared on earth about 56 million years before the primitive man. They are social insects and live in well-organized colonies, and work together. Their functions are: to gather nectar and pollen for the hive; cross pollination in flowers and fruit trees; to make honey for the hive; and to make wax to build the comb.
The functions of the hive are to collect and store nectar and pollen to feed the larvae; to build the comb by producing wax; to fan the comb with their wings to circulate air and cool the comb; and to feed the larvae and the Queen bee.
The use of honey by man as a medicine dates back to 1553-1550 B.C. The Greeks considered honey as a precious gift of nature. Romans considered as an all-purpose remedy. Hippocrates prescribed honey for many diseases. Its use in Indian Medicine is known as a 'tonic' to preserve youth.
Honey bees in a colony are categorized into three castes: the female Workers; the male Drones; and the Queen bee. All the work in the colony is done by the female worker bees. In a hive the workers stay on the surface of the comb and perform tasks like, cleaning out used cells, restoring cells used for storing pollen or honey, or fanning with their wings to regulate the flow of air through the nest.
The Queen bee when the workers have thoroughly cleaned a 'brood cell', lays a single egg in the cell. The egg soon becomes a larva and through the pupa stage develops into a full bee, i.e. either a Worker, Queen or a Drone. There is only one Queen bee which lays eggs and the Drones are the male bees which die after mating. The honey comb usually hangs from a tree branch or in a hollow of a tree, or in bushes. The cells are hexagonal in shape.
Only one caste, the foragers collect nectar, and carry it in their bodies to be fed to other members of the colony. To attain a full load of nectar a forager may have to visit a thousand flowers. The conversion of nectar into honey is a complex process.
To produce one kilogram of honey a foraging bee must bring about 12,000-15,000 loads of nectar. The nectar contains 40-50% of water, of which three-quarters must be removed to convert it into honey. This process is facilitated by the bees continuously fanning their wings about 26,400 times a minute.
Honey is derived from nectar. The nectar is aerated in the bee’s mouth, and addition of digestive juices completes its transformation into honey. The worker bees seal the honey onto hexagonal cells of beeswax that make the honeycomb. Stored honey is used later as food for the bees. The bees also collect pollen on their wings, which serves as food for the bees. (Ref: IDMA Bulletin Vol 14(43), 1983) A typical bee colony may consume about fifty pounds of pollen per year.
The Composition of Honey
Honey contains almost all the essential nutrients like sugars, vitamins, some enzymes, and minerals need for growth and maintenance of our body. One kilogram of honey gives 3150-3350 calories of energy depending on its water content. Individual constituents are listed below:
Sugars (Glucose, Maltose, Fructose)
Vitamins (B-Complex group and Ascorbic acid
Enzymes (Diastase, Invertase, Saccharase, Catalase, Lipase)
Minerals (Salts of potassium and sodium, Phosphorous, Iron, Sulphur)
All these ingredients are playing an important role in the maintenance of health,
Honey alone or in combination of other agents has been employed in the management of disorders like: arteriosclerosis, edema, early tuberculosis, gastric and duodenal ulcers, to improve blood flow in coronary arteries, to protect liver cells from damage, and as a remedy for burns. Recipes like honey with warm water, honey & lemon, and honey with cinnamon are used to promote weight loss in obese individuals, in addition to regular exercise and intake of a balanced diet.
Thus, honey, a safe and natural product, has a lot of uses in the management of human diseases.
Images (c) gettyimages.com