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Honey Bees and Humans Through the Centuries

By Matyas E. Kreidler

Honey bees and humans have been living together for thousands of years. Both sides have benefited greatly from this relationship. The honey bee has gained protection and a home. On the other side, people received honey and other bee-derived materials. Humans also have discovered many medicinal uses for bee products.

No one knows exactly when this relationship started but there is evidence that he had already begun in the early Stone Age. About 80 cave paintings dating back to around 7000 BC have been found in Spain and Zimbabwe. Most show honey hunters trying to take honey from mad bees. One picture from Zimbabwe illustrates an elephant-man or "god" being accompanied by honey bees. The odd thing about this picture is that the bees are not stinging him. Another from Spain shows a tree with a ladder against it, holding four men. The top man is reaching into a hole in a tree full of honey and mad bees as big as himself. The big bees in this picture show that people were probably scared of bees and that the honey hunters were considered brave. It also shows how badly people wanted honey.1

The most well known of all bee products, by far, is honey. There are countless uses for it in food, healing and medicine.

In ancient times honey was usually the only sweetener for food people could get. Honey was also sometimes used to preserve food or belongings. The Egyptians sometimes even used it for the mummification of their dead.2 Also in some religions honey was thought of as the food of the gods.

Today, in food, honey is usually used as a sweetener and preservative, much as it was in ancient times. It also has some amazing medical features. Since it is very high in vitamin E, honey encourages the body to replace lost or dead tissue and promotes new skin growth. It also aids in the healing of cuts, wounds, burns and skin ulcers, with minimal scarring. Honey also greatly reduces inflammation, swelling, pain and malodour. Hydrogen peroxide in honey also acts as an antibacterial. Staphylococcus aureus, one of the most common infecting bacteria, and some other bacteria are, in fact, very sensitive to it. Unlike some other antiseptics, though, honey does not harm the tissue.3

Apitherapy is the medicinal use of bees and their products such as bee venom, raw honey, propolis, pollen and royal jelly. Apitherapy comes from the Latin words apis, which means bee, and therapeuticus, which means to cure or treat.

Bee stings hurt because of muscles contracting in shock and even though they may not feel very good, the stings are quite beneficial. When someone receives a bee sting it activates steroids in the body and by doing so strengthens the immune system. Bee venom has been known to reduce pain from and maybe cure chronic inflammations such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, tendonitis and epicondilitis.4 It also reduces neck and back pains. It can also be used directly from the bee's stinger or the venom can be extracted and given as a shot. In some countries it is made into a cream, such as "Melliora" in Hungary. When administering bee venom to someone you must always have a sting kit handy. Like any other medicine bee venom should not be used in certain conditions. Some contraindications are allergy to bee venom, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic diseases, etc.

Another product of the hive is propolis. Propolis is a sticky, plant-derived material that bees use for sealing cracks in the hive. Propolis, like honey, can also be used as an antibacterial, and if mixed with the latter, propolis can be used to treat burns and ulcers. It also helps in healing the thyroid glad and effectively destroys fungi.5 It is being used by dentists today to treat gum diseases and tooth infections. In some regions it is even added to toothpaste.

Pollen is a male sex cell produced in large quantity by most plants. It is one of the key ingredients used for the production of brood food and royal jelly. Pollen is a very nutritious food. It is the only food in the world that contains all of the essential vitamins and minerals essential for human health. Pollen is very high in vitamin B which increases energy and stamina. It also builds up the immune system against allergies such as hay fever, and is used to treat patients with mild cases. Severe cases are usually treated with a shot made with diluted pollen. Pollen has also been used in cases of chronic prostatitis because it is high in zinc, which is a key ingredient in the function of the prostate gland.6 It has been found to reduce inflammation and pain. There also have been reports that carotenes in pollen help treat cancer.7

Royal jelly is a white, opaque liquid made by worker bees. Workers feed it to certain larvae that have been chosen to be queens. The difference between royal jelly and regular brood food is that royal jelly has a larger content of honey and pollen. People use royal jelly for treating rashes such as black head rash, herpes and dermatitis. It can also be used for pulmonary diseases like bronchitis and asthma.8

Scientists today hope that maybe sometime in the near future bee products will be used to cure cancers, chronic inflammations and many more diseases.

Most people may think of bees as evil little insects that go around trying to sting or bite them, but they're just another creature trying to survive. If only they knew how much we get from bees, maybe people would change their minds about them.

ENDNOTES

1.  Free, J.B. (1982). Bees and Mankind. George Allen and Unwin Ltd., p. 80

2.Ibid, p. 93

3.Molan, P.C. "Establishing Honey as a Recognized Medicine." The Proceedings of Apimondia '99, Vancouver 12-17 Sept. 1999, p. 72

4.Spectrum Medical Arts. "Bee Venom Therapy." By Glenn Rothfeld M.D. http://www2.shore.net/~spectrum/apitherapy.html, p. 1

5.Pinero, Adolfo Perez. "The Cuban Experience in the Use of Propolis, Honey and Pollen in Apitherapy," The Proceedings of Apimondia '99, Vancouver 12-17 Sept. 1999, p. 216

6.Graham, J.M. (1992). The Hive and the Honey Bee. Dadant & Son, Inc. p. 937

7.Graham, J.M. (1992). The Hive and the Honey Bee. Dadant & Son, Inc. p. 931

8.Sokolskiy, Sergey. "Combined Agents for Inhalations," The Proceedings of Apimondia '99, Vancouver 12-17 Sept. 1999, p. 224

BIBLIOGRAPHY

American Apitherapy Society, Inc. "Questions and Answers." Woodsville, NH July 28, 1993

Cherbuliez, Theodore. "Intolerance, Allergy, Anaphylaxis and Toxicity of Bee Venom," The Proceedings of Apimondia '99, Vancouver 12-17 Sept. 1999

Free, J.B. (1982). Bees and Mankind. George Allen and Unwin Ltd.

Graham, J.M. (1992). The Hive and the Honey Bee. Dadant & Sons, Inc.

Molan, P.C. "Establishing Honey as a Recognised Medicine," The Proceedings of Apimondia '99, Vancouver 12-17 Sept. 1999

Mossel, Brenda. "Quality Parameters and Non-Peroxide Antimicrobial Properties of Univloral Australian Honeys," The Proceedings of Apimondia '99, Vancouver 12-17 Sept. 1999

Pinero, Adolfo Perez. "The Cuban Experience in the Use of Propolis, Honey and Pollen in Apitherapy," The Proceedings of Apimondia '99, Vancouver 12-17 Sept. 1999

Rose, Amber. "Progress in Bee Venom Therapy for HIV/AIDS," The Proceedings of Apimondia '99, Vancouver 12-17 Sept. 1999

Sokolskiy, Sergey. "Combined Agents for Inhalations," The Proceedings of Apimondia '99, Vancouver 12-17 Sept. 1999

Stangaciu, Stefan. "Scientific Basis of Propolis Use in Medicine," The Proceedings of Apimondia '99, Vancouver 12-17 Sept. 1999

Stangacui, Stefan. "Apitherapy Counterindications and Limits," The Proceedings of Apimondia '99, Vancouver 12-17 Sept. 1999

Root, A.I. (1980). ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture. The A.I. Root Company

Spectrum Mecical Arts. "Bee Venom Therapy." By Glenn Rothfeld M.D. http://www2.shore.net/~spectrum/apitherapy.html

The World Book Encyclopedia, 1998 ed. s.v. "Bee," by Bernd Heinrich

INTERVIEWS

David Braun
Sandpoint, ID

Willy Gadsby and Bibi Goodrich
Livingood Tree Farm
Sandpoint, ID

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matyas E. Kreidler is 13 years old. "I have lived in Sandpoint, Idaho since 1992 and have been home-schooled all my life. I like to ski, play sports, fish and really like bees. Since I was about 8 years old I have had a strong interest in honey bees. My friend has two colonies and has taught me most of my bee knowledge by letting me help him in hive activities."
 



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