Our friends at Island Grown Schools (IGS) highlight a locally available crop on Martha’s Vineyard as part of their Harvest of the Month program and this month it’s honey, honey. As a beekeeper for over eight years honeybees have a special place in my heart, and in my diet. I first became inspired to keep bees after reading The Secret Life of Bees and understanding just how marvelous (and truly democratic!) they are.
Honey is a superfood with superpowers, and its creation is an amazing process that requires intense efficiency and perfectly orchestrated teamwork on behalf of the hive. These incredible creatures buzz about, foraging sugary nectar and pollen from the plants and flowers they visit while staying within only a few miles of their hive. They store their findings in a special part of their stomach where it’s not digested (unless they’re hungry and require some for energy) and they’re capable of carrying almost as much as their own weight–a pretty impressive feat among the animal kingdom.
Then, once a bee’s nectar sac is full they return to their hive to pass off the substance, where it’s transported mouth-to-mouth from bee to bee. Enzymes in the bees’ stomachs turn the nectar into a simple syrup, then other bees vigorously fan it with their wings until it becomes the thick, golden honey we’re used to seeing. Bees store the honey in a honeycomb and seal the top with wax that they also produce. Meanwhile, the coveted queen bee concentrates on laying eggs, ensuring the legacy of the hive by producing new bees. Just listening to the whole process sounds exhausting, hence the expression “busy as a bee.”
Bees truly are one of our greatest natural assets–and they don’t just produce honey. They’re critical to the entire world’s food production and ecosystem health. They pollinate a majority of the crops that provide most of the world’s food. Without bees we’d be without apples, potatoes, broccoli, avocado, celery, cauliflower, onions, cabbage, cucumbers, lemon… the list goes on.
More than ever we must respect the bee population and appreciate the goodness of honey. It’s been linked to some pretty impressive health benefits including healthy weight management, helping to prevent cancer and heart disease, providing energy and allergy relief, promoting antioxidants and restful sleep, wound healing, reducing diabetes, strengthening the immune system, and acting as a cough suppressant, among others. It’s pretty sweet that we have access to such benefits both naturally and deliciously.
On Martha’s Vineyard, we get to enjoy the delicious yields of Island Bee Company, a local business that collects between 1500 and 3000 thousand pounds of honey annually, from towns all across the Island. As a beekeeper myself it’s a process I value wholeheartedly. In my house, we’ll use raw honey in place of white sugar, and we’ll put it in our tea, in our smoothies, on our ice cream, and even in our salad dressing. My husband suffers from seasonal allergies and he starts each day with one of our farm-fresh eggs, toast, and a spoonful of local honey to help keep his symptoms at bay. The theory is that by ingesting the local pollen in your local honey you can become less sensitive to the pollen in the air, therefore experiencing fewer effects of seasonal allergies.
Whether you have allergies or are looking for an easy route to improved general health (and who isn’t?) make sure to get your hands on some raw local honey and incorporate it into your daily diet, we promise your insides will thank you.
If you need some inspiration to get started check out IGI’s mouthwatering recipe for Honey Golden Milk below. And if you’re looking for additional insight into the mind of the honeybee and what more we can learn from their decision-making pick up a copy of Honeybee Democracy–in our political climate it’s more significant than ever.
Honey Golden Milk
2 cups milk of choice (dairy, almond, coconut, soy)
1.5 tbl raw, local honey
1 tsp powdered turmeric
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger
1/8 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tbl coconut oil (optional)
Place all ingredients, except honey, in a small pot over medium heat.
Whisk together and bring to a boil and then let simmer on low for 3-5 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in honey.
Strain into cups and enjoy! It is delicious cold as well, just let cool and store in refrigerator.
Randi Baird is a founding member and president of Island Grown Initiative’s Board of Directors and has long been committed to promoting local, sustainable food choices on Martha’s Vineyard.