Medicine Pantry

I post about honey.  It’s what I do.  But I usually write about eating honey – flavors, recipes, varietals.  But honey is an amazing substance for a lot of other reasons.  I’ve been researching this topic for a new educational display to take to events.  No title yet, but “The Wonders of the Hive” kind of thing.

Here is a short list of products we get from hives beyond honey, plus their properties and uses (there are more!):

  • Honey:  antibacterial, hygroscopic   –  Eating, baking, mead, skin/hair care, wound healing
  • Beeswax: repels water, hardening, purifying – fabric treatment, skin care, wood sealing/furniture, candles
  • Propolis: antiviral, antifungal  – skin tinctures, toothpaste
  • Pollen: vitamin rich – allergy remedies
  • Royal jelly: enzyme and protein rich – skin care
  • Bee venom: anti inflammatory – arthritis, facial treatments
  • Brood: protein rich – delicacy in international markets

Our humble collection of hive products from last year’s State Fair

There’s nothing in the hive we don’t have a use for!  (Except pesky wax moths – although even those larvae are adored by chicken owners.)  All of these gifts while they are busy pollinating food for us.  I’ll bet some of that list is new sounding, weird even.  I’m not having a bee brood meal any time soon but the range of uses for bee products is pretty amazing.

And it’s not just homestead, folksy remedies.  Modern medicine is using honey to heal in marvelous ways.   I came across this guy’s amazing story on Instagram.  A combat veteran and amputee who is using Medihoney to heal tissue before prostethic use.  [Medihoney is made from manuka honey (produced in Australia)].  In addition to Ryan’s  courageous personal story, the use of our humble bee products wowed me.  Totally underscores our human experience and interdependance on bees.  His commitment and sacrifice for our country’s calling has an interesting parallel to the dedication to task our bees demonstrate.  Thank you for your willingness to give.  (Be sure to check out Ryan’s skilled craftsmanship in handmade wooden flags at his company Old Glory 27 Flag Company.)

Reposted with permission.

Propolis is an underused and curious substance in the hive.  This glue that bees make weatherproofs and sanitizes their living space.  They love to cover things with it, particularly foreign objects in the hive like leaves and mice.
7614446_orig-1080x675 Propolis to glue shut hive lid. Photo by Mcfarline Apiaries

Imagine a combination of toffee and chewing gum that has been warmed into a herculean bonding agent.  It is being used experimentally in topical eczema treatments but has lots more potential.  (One challenge is its hyper-sticky or rock hard state.  Beekeepers curse the cold crack of a propolized hive top upon opening.  Bees frown on sudden loud noises.)

Recently I posted a shot of my first mead making attempt.  Honey is crazy stuff.  What other substance can you use on a biscuit, make wine, heal a cut, and wash your hands?  Totally putting olive oil and coconut oil to shame as superfoods.

I started this research project under the auspices of “the value of honey”.  But it has certainly become much more.  I do believe good research is designed to teach the researcher, not the audience.  I hope to have my new display done for fall events.  I’ll share interesting tidbits along the way.  And now when I cut or burn a finger, I head to the pantry instead of the medicine cabinet.  Ignore me if you see me sucking my thumb.


Honeybee Day Saturday at the Farmers Market!

Tomorrow is Honeybee day at the NC State Farmers Market in Raleigh.  From 9am-3pm come out to see and celebrate our favorite pollinators and there products.  We will be there with our wildflower and sourwood honeys plus all the other hive goodies we make with wax and honey.  Plus, we will have the bees!  Stop by to say hi to some of our girls or search for the queen.  Lots of activities for families and a great reason to visit the market for late summer goods.  Come taste some honey and celebrate the bees!

Home Run

What goes up must come back down – true of the mountains too.  We made our annual run to the NC mountains recently to bring the girls home from their time at summer camp.  This annual pilgrimage is our crazy chase for sourwood honey.  If it sounds crazy, you haven’t tasted the honey.  If you’ve followed us for any amount of time, you know that bee moves always create a story.  Check here and here and even here.


The holy grail of honey – a gift to our mtn friends

The most epic trip was probably the return journey last year.  Who could forget the harrowing trip down the mountain with the unsecured hives?  Late night trip to Walmart in bee gear?  Ahh, Good times.

This year we had the car packed and ready for days.  After several delays (rainy weather, sick kids) Aaron and I took the first chance we got to hit the road.  We took off so fast that I managed to forget a tiny item – the fume board.  With hives heavy with honey, we needed to remove the stacked honey supers (boxes) to lighten the load.  [See the second hive below?  Those 3 white boxes are honey supers – all honey, no baby bees.  Each weighs about 50lbs. full.]  The fume board is how we politely shoo bees out of the honey supers when we want to remove those boxes.  Trudging around with sticky 50b. boxes is tricky enough without a cloud of confused bees following.  The fume board collects dust until it’s time to pull supers.


Liquid gold


And yeah.  I forgot it.   Enter my newest invention – the fume towel.  A fume board is a glorified lid with felt on the underside to hold a potently scent that the bees avoid.  The metal top lid is heated by the sun, diffusing the cherry/almond scent into the honey supers.  (Kind of like a high school locker room where someone drops an AXE body spray bomb.)  It clears the place in a hurry.  Given no good options, I thought I’d try the Honey Harvester on a towel.  Bingo!  We steadily worked through each hive, driving the bees out of the supers and into the lower hive bodies for the move.


Boxes above the bottom 2 are designated (by the bees) for honey

We piled all the bee-free honey supers in one stack on the truck to save space and ratchet strapped the remaining hive bodies individually.  Now to wait for nightfall…  (Bear in mind that the bees didn’t know or care when we were coming.  The foragers were out doing their jobs during the day.  So picking up the hives at 3pm means you abandon all those hard working girls who had collected the honey.  Not cool.)  So we wait until night time when everyone has returned to the hive to close the doors and load the hives.


Super-less and ready to go!

What to do for the next few hours?  Visit Boone.  We hit our favorite touristy spots: The Mast General Store, antique shops, Mellow Mushroom while biding our time.  The only trouble arose when some enterprising local bees discovered the honey motherlode in the back of the truck.  It was easy to pick out our vehicle in the parking lot.  “Oh yeah, excuse me, I need to get into the vehicle shrouded in bees.” You gotta love a town where no one bats an eye at such occurrences.  We had a little parade of bees following us through the downtown streets entertaining the freshman families come for orientation.  But the cloud dropped back as we went down the mountain.


Words of wisdom from the Mast General Store

We returned to Buck Mountain to grab the hives and head home.  But the gate was down.    and we had no code to get in this time.  I called everyone I knew on the mountain but sure enough, no one was home.  It was getting late.  Aaron, ever helpful,  yells “there’s a 1 in 1,050,000 chance you can guess that code.  It’s impossible!”   He then wandered ahead to see if he could manually trip the gate.  Absentmindedly, I typed in the first 4 numbers that came to mind.  Ding!  The gate beeps and pops open.  Agape, I jump in the truck and floor it through before it closed.  Aaron is left to run after me, just ducking under the guillotine gate.


Time to buy a lottery ticket

The rest of the trip was like clockwork.  Hives loaded in less than 30 minutes and on the road.  We rolled into Pittsboro around 12:30am and sang the praises of the almost completed farmhouse (now with actual beds).  It was a great trip and a good sourwood season.  The next day, we returned some of the honey supers to the hives for summer food.


Unloading at home


Now I could turn my attention to weightier matters.  At least one hive was struggling desperately with disease and mites.  So it was important to have them home so I could treat and monitor them.  So we will work on getting everyone healthy and ready to prepare for fall.  It’s good to be home.