Honey, Help Me
The idea that consuming honey being able to alleviate allergy symptoms has been around for a very long time. It’s a bit of a complex issue.
There’s the pollen, there’s the honey and there’s the person. All of these things and the things about them have to be taken into consideration.
The basic idea falls into a treatment or therapy called immunotherapy. Trying to get the human body to build up an immunity to the agent through minor exposure is what’s going on.
First of all, honey, raw honey is what we’re talking about in this case, has a number of extras in it that get processed out through filtering and pasteurization otherwise. Honey entirely unfiltered will have a certain limited amount of pollen grains mixed in it. Most honey, even processed has some amount of pollen grains, only raw honey has the most not having any filtered out.
Consider also that most honey is harvested in the late Summer and early Fall. To have the type of pollen necessary to make immunotherapy work, there has to be enough for the body to work with yet not so much as to trigger the allergic reaction that we are trying to reduce.
Some suggest there may even be trace amounts of bee venom in honey. Not very likely as the “business end” of the bees where venom is produced, stored and released has nothing to do with and is nowhere near the cells when nectar is being deposited, sugars are inverted and it is dehydrated to turn it into honey. I’m not saying it’s impossible, just highly improbable.
Another much more valid concern is that the honey is not dehydrated enough (ideally between 17 and 18 percent water) and may become fermented, moldy or otherwise compromised. Again, not likely but it does happen if beekeepers aren’t checking the honey they harvest properly.
A third concern is that of certain bacteria called “Botulism”. It’s interesting to note that websites like WebMD add a warning about unprocessed honey possibly leading to botulism when raw honey naturally contains certain enzymes which inhibit and prevent the presence of many bacteria, botulism being one of them. The very act of pasteurization kills the inhibiting enzymes, thereby allowing bacteria to grow unchecked. Though the author of the article at WebMD and others similar fail to acknowledge this. I suspect their study for such articles failed to even include talking with a beekeeper or beekeeping related research person.
Because plant pollens are very largely genetically similar, the saying that, “The Devil is in the details” applies here. Honey is mostly collected later in the year and primarily from every flowering plant the bees find. However, some of the biggest pollen allergy triggers are from grass and grain pollens. The bees rarely pick these types of pollens up. If a persons allergic responses are primarily exclusive to grass pollens, honey won’t bee the source of relief they had been hoping for.
Also, in unfiltered, raw honey, there potentially could be enough of a pollen type present to initiate an allergic response in someone who might likely not even know they had an allergy to a particular type of pollen. It has happened.
Of course, people themselves are each different and have different reactions to exposure to various stimuli. The severity or degree of allergic response is unique for each person. Each individual also has their own immune system that may be strong or not-so-strong depending on a variety of factors.
One person with few allergy triggers and a strong immune system may find that only a small amount of honey in only a few instances has helped them feel better. Someone else with perhaps a lower immune system might need more or more frequent consuming of honey to experience relief. It’s all a big crapshoot really.
So, Can it or Can’t it?
Ultimately yes, raw honey has been found to help people with certain types of pollen allergies find a reduction in allergic responses and experience some degree of relief from allergy symptoms. Whether it can help for any person will require some experimentation by that person. Trying various amounts, various frequency of intake, even different honeys from different areas might make a difference. Or, it might not make any difference at all for those unlucky enough to have the wrong pollen allergy, low immune systems, greater allergic symptom responses or some combination of any or all of these.
One thing I can tell you for sure is, honey tastes so darn good, it makes all the experimentation worthwhile.
I remember the late spring and early summer days of clear blue skies with their wispy white clouds hanging, seeming still.
The light, warm breezes, carrying the scents of nature and pleasant days. Work and worries forgotten in the afternoon wonders of Nature.
Sitting on the old wood bench my Daddy made all those years ago. Rubbed smooth by all the sitting and talking we did since I was old enough to go along with him out here in the honey bee hollow.
That’s what my Daddy always called it, his honey bee hollow, back between the shed and the rolling fields that stretched as far as the eye could see.
It’s a magic place, where the honey bees live, back in honey bee hollow. Smells of honey and sunlight in the air and bees flying, busily going to and fro, curiously knowing from whence they came and where they go.
My Daddy started his hives back there when he was young and the honey bees swept his heart away. Mama always said she knew even then, the bees were his ‘other girls’ and there was no point in standing in the way.
I sit here now, just like I did back then, on this old wood bench watching the bees, buzzing softly, going about their terribly important business as though nothing else exists in the world but flowers and honeycomb.
I spent countless days working in honey bee hollow with my Daddy. He taught me just about anything a person could know about honeybees by those hives and sitting on that bench back in honey bee hollow.
In his late years, my Daddy couldn’t work the bees like we used to. It still gave him so much pleasure to come out and sit on the old wood bench though and listen to the bees, watching them coming and going.
It was out back in honey bee hollow here that my Daddy sat on the wood bench for the last time. He wanted to stay, he said, just a little bit longer. I told him he can stay as just as long as he wanted and I went on up to the shed to get some tools. When I came back, my Daddy was gone.
I walked up behind him, calling to him quietly, not wanting to startle him awake. Then, I saw the peace on his face and I knew my Daddy would be in honey bee hollow forever and ever.
Now I come to honey bee hollow and sit on this old wood bench and I listen close to the bees and the breeze. Sometimes, I can still hear my Daddy’s voice, telling me just about all there is to know about honey bees.
I, Bubba Bee, am starting my own mini-podcast since the Beehooligans won’t let me bee on their podcast. That’s Ok though beecause I can tell you about things that bees know best. like… Honey!
Iowa State bee inspector Andy Joseph sits in with the Beehooligans to talk about everything from queen rearing to state fairs.
Patrick Frievald is an Apiarist. He makes part of his living working with bees. He is also an author of several books in the horror genre. When you combine beekeeping and creative writing, interesting things can happen.
In the new anthology called “Behold! Oddities, Curiosities, and Undefinable Wonders“, Patrick has a story titled “Earl Pruitt’s Smoker”. It took me awhile, but I finally got to read the story.
Having read most of the other books by Patrick Frievald, I was curious how this would turn out given his great passion for bees and beekeeping and making delicious, spicy honey things and his supernatural thrillers that make up most of his author endeavors.
I’d bee lying if I said that “Earl Pruitt’s Smoker” was an innocent walk through the flowers in regards to telling a tale based on beekeeping. It’s an earnest story though, giving us a passionate tale of bees, beekeeping and the smoky motives and pressures of the people who find the practice nearly an obsession.
Patrick spells an imaginative painting using his own passion for beekeeping to give an honest rendering of the world of beekeeping as only a beekeeper can see it. I like it a lot. It’s engaging and challenges preconceived notions about who people really are beneath the veil.
I hope you get a chance to read this story. There just aren’t enough ‘good’ things to read about the world of beekeeping. In fact, I can see this single tale being the beginning of an anthology in it’s own right both in following the possession of the smoker in question and the lead for other stories based on the beekeeping theme in general.
Bee Smart and read “Earl Pruitt’s Smoker” by Patrick Frievald.