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Making Honey From Flowers: A Guide to Bees


by Dr. Mary Williams, R.N. D.C.


Honey contains a variety of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B, potassium, and phosphorus. It has existed for thousands of years, thanks to the honeybees that work tirelessly to make it. Honey serves as a delicious sweetener when added to foods, and it also has medicinal properties that make it beneficial as a home remedy for some health issues. The process by which honeybees collect nectar from plants to make honey demonstrates a fascinating combination of science and nature at work.

Formation

Bees visit flowers to collect nectar. With its long tongue, a honeybee extracts the nectar and stores it within its body until it returns to the hive. While inside the bee's body, the nectar combines with special enzymes that change its chemical properties so it becomes ready for extended storage. The honeybee regurgitates the nectar after returning to the hive, and another worker bee will deposit the nectar into a honeycomb. To change the nectar into honey, worker bees hasten the evaporation process by using their wings to fan air around the honeycomb. After the removal of nearly all of the water from the nectar, it becomes honey. At this point, the honeybees secrete a liquid over the honeycomb to seal it. This liquid hardens and becomes beeswax, which keeps moisture and air from reaching the honey.

Collecting Honey

The bees' work to seal the honeycomb inside the hive is called capping. Once the bees have capped the honey, this indicates that it is ready for collection. Beekeepers can use various methods to separate the bees from the honeycombs to harvest the honey. Methods include using a bee blower to blow the bees away, introducing a chemical fume into the hive to drive the bees out, or simply pulling out the frames of honeycomb and gently brushing the bees away. Stings are likely during the collection process, especially if you opt to brush the bees away manually. To extract the honey from the honeycomb, the beekeeper uses a hot knife to cut away the beeswax. After they unseal the honeycomb, the honey will simply drip out of the comb. The beekeeper can collect the honey in a large container to complete the process.

History of Honey

The earliest human records indicate that people were collecting honey and using it as a sweetening agent centuries ago. Even prior to human involvement, fossil findings indicate that honeybees were busy in their hives making honey for their own use. Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used honey medicinally and as food, and they offered it to their gods. Eventually, sugar was developed, and it began to replace honey as a popular sweetener.

Modern Uses for Honey

Not only does honey make a tasty sweetener for foods and beverages, but it also has medicinal properties that make it helpful for healing. The antiseptic properties of honey make it a beneficial cleansing agent for wounds. Placing a drop of honey onto a bandage may help keep a scrape or cut cleaner. Honey can also work as a natural moisturizer for dry or chapped skin. A spoonful of honey may soothe a scratchy throat or a cough. Honey can also serve as an effective base for herbal concoctions.

Classification

The nectar from which honey originates determines the classification of the honey. For example, nectar could come from one single type of flower, or it could come from a blend of specific types of flowers. For example, wildflower honey would originate from wildflowers, and clover honey would come from nectar collected from clovers. The source of the nectar will determine the color, flavor, and texture of the final honey product. Nectar from flowers in different geographic regions will also produce vastly different honey.

Beekeeping

Beekeepers raise honeybees with the purpose of harvesting honey from the honeycombs. Some beekeepers raise bees for personal honey production, and others harvest the honey to sell. An understanding of how bees behave, bee biology, and the process of honey production enables beekeepers to manage the process within special man-made hives. Beekeeping requires equipment that includes hives, frames, and a hive stand. Within the beehive, the beekeeper will also need a brood chamber to house the queen. To harvest the honey, beekeepers use a brush or feather to manually brush bees away, a bee blower to blow them away, gloves to protect their hands, and a hot knife to cut away the beeswax.