© Bees, honey and pollen are referenced in nearly every major scripture and culture, the Jewish and Christian bibles and Moslem Quran.
Every year the honey produced by bees is different because it all depends on which plants the bees decided to visit..
In that case, it therefore means, the bee is responsible for the quality assurance of the honey and whatever products that are made from it.
We as consumers of honey, in whatever form really do not have to worry much about the safety of honey.
The WHO in its 2001 guideline document on Cough and Cold Remedies for the Treatment of Acute Respiratory Infection in Young Children, 2001, recommends tea with honey and lemon for relief of some sore throat.
The year 2001 is not the first time that human beings were made aware of the medicinal properties of honey on its own or in combination with other natural products.
A rock painting in Spain which dates back nearly 9000 years ago is said to be the first recorded instance of people collecting honey for its nutrition and medicinal purposes.
The association of medicine with honey as treatment for wounds was recorded around 1550 BCE.
According to Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician who was the first to release medicine from any kind of religious superstition, honey and pollen cause warmth, clean sores and ulcers of the lips, heal multiple boil in the skin and running sores.
Alexander the Great is said to have treated his hip pain with bee stings.
This is now known as bee venom therapy, (BVT) or bee sting therapy which is a form of apitherapy, a term which refers to the use of bee products to treat medical conditions.
In addition to live bee stings, bee venom can also be administered by injection, for example in the treatment of multiple sclerosis for decades.
BVT has been observed to not only treat symptoms but also slow the pathogenesis, or progression, of disease.
The therapy has been used to treat arthritis and post-herpetic neuralgia, the most common complication of shingles and chickenpox.
It has also been used in a disease called adhesive capsulitis which is a painful and disabling disorder of unclear cause in which the shoulder capsule is inflamed and stiff, greatly restricting motion and causing chronic pain.
BVT is also incorporated into the practice of acupuncture as an injection of the bee venom for treatment of joint pains.
More than 60 components have been identified in bee venom, including compounds with antimicrobial, mainly bacteria and fungus.
The antimicrobial agents found in the honey are called inhibines. When broken down in the body, these compounds produce hydrogen peroxide and glucuronic acid responsible for the antimicrobial actions against many bacteria and pathogenic fungi.
The venom is also said to produce anti-inflammatory effects like those produced by paracetamol, hence its use in arthritis.
Indeed as indicated above the bee venom can be a useful poison just like all drugs.
The only thing that distinguishes a poison from a medicine is the amount. Some people experience anaphylaxis after a bee sting,
This is a serious allergic response that often involves swelling, hives, lowered blood pressure and in severe cases, shock, red rash swollen throat or swollen areas of the body.
It is really a life-threatening allergic reaction. Obviously people who are possibly allergic to insect venom should avoid BVT.
The bee also produces from its body a secretion called royal jelly from its salivary glands.
The jelly is used to feed all bee larvae and, if a queen bee is needed, the queen hatchling will continue to receive royal jelly for the first four days of its growth. It’s a milky white substance, and medicinally has been used to treat chronic fatigue problems and to increase appetite.
Studies have indicated that royal jelly can lower cholesterol. It may therefore be useful in the case of people who have very high doses of fats in their blood. Some practitioners consider royal jelly to be effective in bolstering the immune system, increasing energy levels, easing menopausal related headaches and vaginal dryness, preventing osteoporosis and, even, improving skin tone.
Royal jelly is widely marketed as a dietary supplement.
Both the European Food Safety Authority and United States Food and Drug Administration have concluded that the current evidence does not support the claim of health benefits.
Both regulatory agents whose decisions the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe, MCAZ, follows keenly, have actively discouraged the sale and consumption of the jelly.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has taken legal action against companies that have used unfounded claims of health benefits to market royal jelly products.
The worker bees while foraging bring pollen back to the hive, where they pass it off to other worker bees, who pack the pollen into cells with their heads.
During collection and possibly packing, the pollen is mixed with nectar and bee salivary secretions.
Bee pollen is the primary source of protein for the hive.
The exact chemical composition of the pollen depends on the plants the worker bees gather the pollen from, and can vary from hour to hour, day to day, week to week, colony to colony, even in the same apiary, with no two samples of bee pollen exactly identical.
Accordingly, chemical and nutritional analyses of bee pollen apply only to the specific samples being tested, and cannot be extrapolated to samples gathered in other places or other times.
Although there is no specific chemical composition, the average composition is said to be 40–60 percent simple sugars (fructose and glucose), 20–60 percent proteins, three percent minerals and vitamins, 1–32 percent fatty acids, and five percent diverse other components.
A study of bee pollen samples showed that they may contain 188 kinds of fungi and 29 kinds of bacteria.
Despite this microbial diversity, stored pollen (also called bee bread) is a preservation environment similar to honey.
Bee pollen has been touted by herbalists some unscrupulous pharmacists and physcians as a treatment for a variety of medical conditions, but there is no good evidence that bee pollen has any health benefits other than as a source of nutrition.
The MCAZ should warn against the use of some bee pollen products because they are adulterated with unapproved drugs .
Another well known bee product which is produced from plant gatherings like pollen is propolis.
It is a bee glue, a resinous mixture, that honey bees produce by mixing saliva and beeswax with exudate gathered from tree buds, sap flows, or other botanical sources.
It is used as a sealant for unwanted open spaces in the hive.
Thousands of years ago, ancient civilisations used bee glue for its medicinal properties.
Greeks used it to treat abscesses.
Assyrians put it on wounds and tumours to fight infection and help the healing process.
Egyptians used it to embalm mummies.The composition of propolis can vary depending on the location of the bees and what trees and flowers they have access to.
For example, propolis from Europe won’t have the same chemical makeup as propolis from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This can make it difficult for researchers to come to general conclusions about its health benefits.
However, propolis, is thought to have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.
It is chock-full of waxes, essential oils, vitamins (for example, A, B1, B2, C, and E), and minerals (for example, magnesium, copper, zinc, iron and iodine).
Scientific research on propolis is limited.
Researchers aren’t exactly sure why, but the bee product appears to provide protection from some bacteria, viruses, and fungi infection.
All of the uses above indicate how honey, pollen, and other bee products can be and have been used to treat various ailments.
However, the overwhelming majority of these treatments lack empirical support.
Research regarding the use of honey, in particular, to treat illness is still in its infancy, and there is insufficient actual evidence that exists supporting its uses.
However, bee keepers should be encouraged to actively participate in any research that aims to provide more evidence of medicinal properties of honey and other products from the bee hive.