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5 Reasons I Keep Honey in My Medicine Cabinet

Tara Chapman

Honey. We all love honey. The word alone conjures up warm, fuzzy feelings. There’s a reason it’s a top pick for a sweet pet name used by lovers around the world. But did you know it actually has real medicinal properties? I use honey like the father character from My Big Fat Greek Wedding used Windex. Got a burn? Honey to the rescue! Little cough? Honey it! Someone got you upset? Where did you put my f*@ing honey!?

The internet makes a lot of claims about a lot of things, but today I’ve put on my science hat and have researched what studies actually say on the use of honey as a healer, and have summarized what you need to know. Interested in checking my work or learning more? Links are included to the original studies. Keep in mind that you should choose your honey carefully, and only select those that you know are raw, unheated, and go through minimal filtering. It turns out some of the brands on the shelf at your grocery store may not actually be pure honey and may be cut with other sweeteners, and chances are that it has been heated and ultra-filtered, lessening its medicinal properties. Contact a local beekeeper about the best sources for local, raw honey.

A caveat: honey should never be fed to children under 1 year of age. In fact, know that anything you ever read from me should never be applied to children, even if (especially if) it’s a blog on raising/disciplining/having children.

1. Salve for Wounds and Burns

As I write this, we are in the middle of our 16th day over 100 degrees here in Austin. Ever wonder why Texas has a region known as the panhandle? It’s because Texas is just one giant “so hot it will singe your eyebrows” frying pan in the summer. So we cook with our shirts off. Ok, maybe just me. Anyway, last week, while cooking with my shirt off, I managed to accrue a giant three inch second degree burn right across my belly button. What did I do? Slather honey on it of course. Honey is antimicrobial and produces an enzyme similar to hydrogen peroxide, and found to drastically improve wound healing and sterilize wounds in less time and has a better outcome of preventing scarring than topical antibacterial burn cream. I even use honey as a safe alternative to treat wounds and lacerations on my dog! You can mix a bit of honey with lavender essential oils or apple cider vinegar to make your own homemade salve, or try this recipe from my home kitchen:

Ingredients:

1 tbsp honey

2 ounces whiskey

Directions: Place honey on burn. Shoot whiskey. Instant relief!

2. Shorten the Stomach Flu

Next time your stomach is sending out more distress signals that the Titanic, you may want to consider reaching for the sweet stuff. In a study of infants suffering from bacterial gastroenteritis, honey was found to shorten the duration of diarrhea as a result of organisms such as Salmonella or E Coli. One possible reason? Honey has antibacterial properties, so I’d recommend keeping it on hand for those days you decide to try out that questionable take-out place around the corner.

3. Treatment for Sore Throats

Woke up with a sore throat? Funny how such a small thing can bring the most manliest of men to their knees. I think I’d rather spin the wheel of ailments and take my chances rather than be subjected to that feeling of Hades breathing what must be fire down the back of my tonsils. Take a break from swallowing every three seconds (throat? check. still sore? check.) to drink a bit of hot water or tea mixed with a few teaspoons of nature’s very own gold. Although copious searching on my part found no study that has been conducted to show honey’s ability to soothe sore throats, it is known that honey has antibacterial properties and has been found to work as an anti-inflammatory, perfect for inflamed tissue in a sore throat. And let’s be honest, have you ever seen a bee with a sore throat? Yeah, me neither.

4. Cough Suppressant

Having a hack attack, and not of the Shaq variety? Save yourself and the rest of mankind from the Superman germs protruding from your mouth at the speed of light and swallow a few teaspoons of honey. A Penn State study found that honey performed more favorably compared over-the-counter cough medicines in relieving nocturnal cough symptoms. Looking for a reason to cheat on that no-carb diet? I basically just wrote you a prescription to chug honey by the gallon at the first site of any sort of respiratory itch or ailment.

5. Treat Seasonal Allergies

You may already be aware that allergies are said to be beneficial in alleviating seasonal allergies. The logic works like this: raw honey contains pollens, and ingesting small amounts of local pollen works as a sort of immunotherapy, making your body less sensitive to those pollens. Unfortunately, a study suggests that we may all be falling victim to a wives’ tale on this one. The counter-logic is that pollens contained in flowers (and generally found in honey) are usually not those that cause seasonal allergies. Rather it’s the pollens from grasses and trees that tend to make our noses run like broken gaskets. So why am I including it here? (Other than the fact that I needed fifth item for my ‘top 5 list’.) Ingesting local honey for seasonal allergies certainly can’t hurt, and in my opinion, enough anecdotal evidence exists to give it a shot. We as humans can’t really control what pollen sources make it into a jar of honey, so it is possible that the pollens that do make you flare up will be in your jar of local honey. But beyond that, who cares if positive results are simply due to the placebo effect? The brain is a powerful thing — if given the opportunity I’d take a life filled with placebo effects. (And please see #4 above regarding a no-carb diet. Carbs don’t count when used as medicine.)

Quick note for you honey connoisseurs: a lot of fuss has been made about the healing properties of Manuka honey. I am not disputing those claims, but none of the studies I reviewed used this specialty honey. Given that Manuka honey sells for 5–6 times the price or more, I choose to save my pennies and forgo Manuka. Your wallet, your choice! However, you do need to make sure the honey you are using is actually honey, raw, and not pasteurized.

To treat everything from respiratory ailments to food poisoning, you should keep the honey in close reach. Do you use honey as medicine? Tell me about why you keep a bit of nature’s gold in your medicine cabinet!

Why We Should Stop Talking About Honey Bees.

Tara Chapman

Save the bees! The bees are dying! If bees become extinct, humans will only live for 4 more years! 

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve probably heard one or all of these refrains. Are bees critical? Absolutely. A 2007 study examined agriculture data from 200 countries and found that fruit, vegetable, or seed production from 87 of the leading global food crops is dependent upon animal pollination—more than 75%. When the scientists looked at global food production from these crops, they found that 35% of the world’s food production comes from crops that depend on pollinators. (Although more than three times as many crops worldwide require pollinators, the crops that are wind pollinated are mostly made up of crops that make up a large percentage of our diets worldwide—wheat, corn, sugarcane and rice are all wind pollinated. This is why you often hear the stat that one out of every 3 bites we take rely on pollinators.  If your diet is high in fruits and vegetables instead of grains and sugars, the number for you is likely much higher.)

So why am I arguing we should stop talking about bees? I’m not, really. (Ah! That sneaky click bait title!) What I am arguing for, however, is that we pay a lot more attention to our native pollinators, and not just honey bees. When we hear the term “bees” our mind flashes right to honey bees. But there are thousands of species of bees that don’t produce honey!

Peek-a-boo mason bee!

Peek-a-boo mason bee!

 

 Here’s a knowledge bomb for ya: honey bees are not native to the United States. Yup. At one time, no honey bees lived here. The only continents that honey bees can truly call home are Europe, Asia, and Africa. Honey bees were brought to the U.S. by European settlers. However, 4,000 species of solitary (native) bees call the U.S. home. So why don’t we ever hear of these ‘native’ species? First, native bees don’t produce honey, and as a somewhat self-serving society we therefore don’t pay them much attention. Solitary bees get no love, because they don’t produce a delectable sweet substance that we can stir into our tea, baked goods, and yogurt. Second, unlike honey bees, native bees cannot be loaded onto semi trucks and driven from farm to farm to pollinate monoculture crops. Monoculture agriculture refers to a form of farming practice of growing a single crop in a field or farming system.  (Think Big Ag!) The opposite is referred to as polyculture agriculture, in which a farmer grows multiple crops in the same area, providing for a more biodiverse farming system. One of the problems with monoculture is that there not enough pollinators occurring naturally in a system to support pollination on that grand scale.  A great deal of our food production here in America relies on monoculture farming,  and as a result, those producers of monoculture fruits and vegetable that require animal pollination are reliant upon beekeepers that drive their bees to their farm at the right time to pollinate the flowers. These bees that are driven to farm to farm are honey bees.  

However, these native solitary bees, such as mason bees and leafcutter bees, are in some ways better pollinators of our native plants than honey bees! For example, tomatoes require native bees for pollination, and others like squash and blueberries are better pollinated by native bees.  Many of our native plants and backyard plants are reliant upon one or more of these species of native bees.  All of these species of bee are solitary, meaning they don’t like in colonies of many bees like honey bees, with one exception.  The crowd favorite, the bumble bee, is a native species and live in colonies of a few hundred bees.  In comparison, honey bee colonies can grow to 50,000 bees or more. 

Unfortunately, similar to honey bees, we have cause to be worried about our native bee population. Native solitary bees have taken a huge hit because of loss of habitat, lack of dietary diversity and available food, and wide-spread pesticide use. Thankfully, the ways to help native bees will also benefit honey bees! You can help by keeping a bee friendly yard.  This includes not only planting bee-friendly plants, but also providing habitats for native bees, avoiding pesticides, and providing bees a water source.  

You can build your own habitat, or check out our BeeBuilders kits. Our kits contain a hand-crafted solitary bee home, with detailed instructions on how to best ensure native bees move in! Some kits even contain cocoons of hibernating solitary bees to get you started. Our bamboo has been carefully selected for diameter and cut to the length best suited for nesting native bees. 

Most importantly, if you want to support both honey bees and our native bees, support your small, local and sustainable farmers and beekeepers whenever possible.

A queen will nest and lay eggs in each of those bamboo reeds!

A queen will nest and lay eggs in each of those bamboo reeds!

Hold the Sugar, Honey.

Tara Chapman

Got a sweet tooth? Pull up a seat and kick up your feet, cause you’re in good company. Last night, after my groceries were delivered, I laid out a big plate of vegetables in the hopes that I’d choose health over cream popsicles. (Yes. I said “delivered”. Lazy and sweet tooth are two unfortunate conditions that tend to go hand in hand.) I doubt I need to tell you the outcome.

Even so, I cut out most sugar from diet several years ago. (Except for dark chocolate and ice cream. I am still human, for god’s sake.) Which means most processed foods had to go. Most folks don’t realize it, but most store-bought foods, from bacon to spaghetti sauce, contain mounds of sugar. But I still get plenty of sweet, thanks to my honeybees and their delicious honey. I stir it into my greek yogurt and overnight oatmeal, drizzle it atop bananas and peanut butter, and melt it into my hot drinks.

Although honey is still a sweetener, and should be consumed in moderation (eye roll), it does contain antioxidants and healthy enzymes that you won’t find in sugar. Keep in mind that even sugar labeled as “raw sugar” still starts as cane juice that has been stripped from the cane and boiled, along with any vitamins and minerals found in the sugar cane. The difference between raw sugar and more processed forms of the sweet stuff is simply the number of times the juice has been boiled. Raw honey, on the other hand, undergoes no processing at all. I’d argue it’s one of the few ‘whole food’ sweeteners. If you have to have a little sweet in your life, honey is definitely the smarter choice.

While it’s easy to substitute honey as a sweeter in your beverages, have you thought about making the move to using honey over sugar in your baked goods? If you need any more reasons to choose honey over sugar, consider the following:

  1. Honey has a higher percentage of fructose, and is therefore significantly sweeter than sugar. Less honey is required to achieve the same desired sweetness.
  2. Honey attracts and retains water (which is why it’s also so good for wound care) and makes baked goods more moist for longer than those baked with sugar.
  3. Baked goods made with honey tend to brown nicely, which can mean a beautiful golden color for your goods.
  4. The flavor profile of honey can vary greatly depending on the flowers the bees visited to make the honey. A honey lighter in color tends to have a milder flavor and not as sweet, while a darker honey tends to have a more robust sweetness and a bolder flavor. Imagine the possibilities when combined with your favorite recipes!

However, because honey is sweeter and in liquid form, a straight 1:1 substitution isn’t advised, unless you are substituting less than a cup of sugar. Following are a few recommended guidelines in how to substitute honey for sugar in recipes. Keep in mind that some experimentation may be required, and you can always start small by simply substituting half of the sugar in your favorite recipe.

  1. Spray your measuring cup or moisten with water to allow honey to slide out easily.
  2. Because honey is both sweeter and heavier than sugar, less honey is needed to obtain the same sweet result. Generally 1/2–3/4 cup of honey should be used in place of each cup of sugar. Start with less, and add more as necessary. (Note that most experts agree that up to 1 cup of sugar can be substituted on a 1:1 ratio.)

 

3. Because honey is a liquid, the liquids in the recipe need to be adjusted accordingly. For every 1 cup of honey used, 1/4 cup of liquid should be subtracted from the recipe. Hate math? Me too. Use the handy chart on the left to help guide you.

4. Honey causes baked goods to brown quicker than those baked with sugar, so reduce you oven temp by 25 degree F and don’t veer too far from watching over the oven!

5. Because honey is a bit acidic, you should add add 1/2 tsp baking soda per each cup of honey to ensure the batter will rise.

Though it takes a bit of thought to substitute honey for sugar in your baked goods, I promise the end result is worth it!

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Is Your Honey Organic?

Tara Chapman

Pop quiz: how many of the following statements apply to you?

You buy organic produce. You seek out free-trade, non-GMO products whenever possible. You don’t mind paying a few extra dollars for free-range beef or cage-free eggs. You make an effort to shop local.

If you answered yes to any of these questions, why do you make these choices? Probably because you care deeply about what goes into your and your family’s bodies. You most likely want to ensure the people responsible for growing, picking, and preparing your food are paid and treated fairly. You almost certainly prioritize the humane treatment of animals before they become your supper.

Is your honey organic? Does it matter?

Is your honey organic? Does it matter?

One more question: is your choice of honey organic? You may be shocked to learn that this is one time that “organic” perhaps shouldn’t be at the top of your checklist.

First, a little honey bomb of knowledge: the USDA does not currently have any officially approved USDA organic honey standards. (A draft of a recommended standard was presented by the National Organic Standards Board in October of 2010, but it has not been adopted by the USDA.) But, you say, “I’ve seen the ‘USDA organic’ green sticker on jars in the store!”

Chances are high that the USDA organic honey you see is not even produced in this country. How does that work? Well, the USDA allows its label to be used on products that meet the organic standards of the country of origin. Next time you see the USDA green sticker, I challenge you to flip that jar around. Chances are high that the honey was either produced in Mexico, Canada, or Brazil. (I recently performed a small unscientific test at my local Whole Foods. All three honeys labeled as USDA organic on the shelf were produced outside of the United States — including the Whole Foods brand.) So much for buying local. Further, even if the honey is produced in this country, the labeling and adulteration of honey is infamously egregious. Adulteration refers to the mixing of honey with another inferior and inexpensive product. Who’s excited about a bit of high fructose corn syrup with their honey?!

Country of origin on label of the same USDA organic honey pictured above.

Country of origin on label of the same USDA organic honey pictured above.

Without a USDA standard and accompanied enforcement, I wouldn’t place much merit on that little green sticker.

Finally, it’s important to note that bees aren’t livestock that can be kept in a pen and whose movements we can control. Any organic standard would have to apply to not only the practices kept by the beekeeper in controlling pests and disease, but also what flowers the bees are visiting for feed. Did you know bees will forage up to 3–5 miles in any direction, as necessary, to find food? That means in order for a honey to be indisputably organic, the bees would have to be raised on a plot of 100 square miles of certified organic land. That is equivalent to approximately 48,400 football fields — including end zones!

Here’s the takeaway: organic honey may not be worth the sticker it’s printed on.

But wait! Just because I’ve encouraged you to look past the organic label doesn’t mean there aren’t other standards and criteria I recommend you seek that are much more important than the ‘organic’ name we’ve all grown to love. So what should you look for?

Here’s the short answer: Know your beekeeper. Research, and ask questions if need be. How does he or she prioritize the health of the honeybees over honey production? What practices does he employ to help fight disease and pests? Keep in mind that anything going into the hive has the potential to not only end up on your plate, but also affects the health of the honeybees as well.

The long answer: “Natural” beekeeping is a term that beeks (that’s beekeepers+geeks) have coined to describe practices ensuring the health and well-being of the bees are first and foremost. Those practices include, but are not limited to:

  1. refraining from using any pesticides or other treatments not naturally derived from entering the hives
  2. ensuring apiaries only contain as many bees as can be supported by the nectar and pollen supply
  3. refraining from using paint and other chemicals inside the hive
  4. only providing the bees with supplemental feed if the well-being of the honeybees is dependent upon it, rather than to boost honey production. And if supplemental feeding is required, high fructose corn syrup should never be used. (Unfortunately this is very common in large-scale commercial beekeeping.)

Thankfully there are lots of smaller-scale commercial operations that utilize these practices, and you can be assured these practices, and more, are how we choose to keep our bees here at Two Hives Honey.

Bottom line: Know your beek! I encourage you to visit farmer’s markets to buy honey from your local beekeepers. That allows you to ask informed questions, and support a local business. Double-win!

Want to learn more about the importance of honeybees, their fascinating behavior, and how you can do more to promote their survival? Follow us on Facebook and Instagram, or sign up for our email list!

My Milkshake Brings all the Bees to the Yard

Tara Chapman

(I'll teach you, and I won't even charge.)

A honeybee preparing a landing for a nectar feast on a garlic chive at one of our bee yards.  

So you’ve heard that we should save the bees, but you aren’t sure how to help? You can do a lot for your local honeybees and pollinators right in your own backyard! Cultivating a hospitable and bee-friendly yard for the honeybees is something we can all do, no matter what size space you have available.  Follow the below suggestions, and by spring time next year you will have lots of new pollinating guests. 

Provide a water source

Honeybees need water, and down here in Central Texas it’s not always easy for bees to find decent water sources.  Something as simple as a chicken feeder, or better yet, a bird bath, will suffice!  Make sure that you place stones or floating objects (such as sturdy branches) in the water.  Bees can drown in extremely shallow water, and giving them a flotation device will help ensure their safety. 

Let those herbs bloom

Got lots of herbs growing in your home garden?  I bet you take great care to cut the flowering tops, thereby ensuring the plant expends its energy on the tasty leaves, and not on the flowers and seeds instead.  Take stock of your herb inventory—can you dedicate a few of those herb bushes to the honeybees instead?  Most herbs are a fantastic source of food and are quite beautiful in their blooming periods.  If you plan to plant herbs for next year, plant one for you and one for the pollinators! 

Choose your plants wisely

Honeybees require two sources of food to survive: nectar and pollen.  Nectar is what sustains adult bees, and it’s ultimately what they use to create the honey we all enjoy.   Pollen is combined with nectar and secretions from the bees to create what is known as “bee bread,” which is then fed to honeybee larvae.  It’s critical that honeybees have access to as much nectar and pollen as possible.  However, not all blooms are created equal. Some plants are booming sources of nectar or pollen, and others may have none at all. When choosing plants, ensure you choose natives and those plants best fit for your growing region, helping to ensure your plants thrive! Check out the Xerces society and their  downloadable pollinator-friendly plant lists by region. Fall is generally the best season to plant most flowers, so put this on your to-do list now before winter arrives!

Some considerations:

  • Think consecutively, not concurrently.  Your goal is to extend the ‘nectar flow’—the period of time in which nectar is available for honeybees.  Many parts of the northern United States only have one nectar flow per year, occurring in the spring.  Here in Texas we are fortunate to have a strong spring flow, and generally a decent fall nectar flow as well.  Find pollen and nectar producing plants that will bloom throughout the year, particularly during those hot summer and cooler fall months.   
  • Want a quick cheat sheet of the best bee-friendly plants?  You can often identify if a plant is a good source of pollen or nectar simply be examining the color and appearance of the blooms. Look for blooms with stripes leading to the inside of the flower. Research has found that these stripes act as a sort of landing strip for the bees, leading them directly to the source of food.  Of course, honeybees can see ultraviolet light, and so many of these stripes are undetectable to the human eye!  Also look for blue, purple, yellow, and white blooms.  Bees tend to prefer these colors over others. 
  • Plant flowers in clusters to attract more bees.  Honeybees are superior foragers to other pollinators because they concentrate on exhausting the food source from a single plant before moving on to another type, providing excellent pollination services as they move from one bloom to the next.

Does this all seem daunting and more work than you bargained for?  Seek out honeybee-friendly seed mixes native to your region, where the selection process is made easier for you.  Check our our collection of wildflower seeds native to Texas that are all pollen or nectar producing and great for our bees! 

Insecticides are a no-no

Even if you forgo all my other suggestions, I ask you give this one serious consideration. Insecticides, particularly those containing neonicotinoids, are highly toxic to honeybees, and can persist in the soil years after a single application. While scientists have yet to make a direct link between neonicotinoids and the diminishing bee population in the United States, enough concerns exist to cause the European Union to enact a two-year ban on neonicotindoids in 2013. These pesticides are not only harmful to honeybees but can damage plants, helpful insects, and other native pollinators such as solitary bees and butterflies. If you have been using insecticides and are worried about how you will handle pests without them, please check out the Environmental Protection Agency's list for resources on integrated pest management. 

Keep in mind that many seedlings and plants purchased from major home improvement stores have been sprayed with neonicotindoids.  Some retailers, such as Lowe’s, have committed to phasing out the use of nicotinoids, but it will be some years before the phase-out will be complete.  Others, such as Home Depot, have started to require their suppliers to label whenever neonicotinoids are used.    Your best bet? Shop local, and ask questions. 

Appreciate the beauty of weeds

Many of the wildflowers and plants that we classify as weeds, such as dandelions and clover, are terrific sources of nectar and pollen for honeybees and other pollinators.  Our bees are lucky here in Austin, as many folks choose to have flower and vegetable gardens in place of sterile, manicured lawns, or allow a portion or all of their yard to grow over a bit in lieu of a golf-course style grass. Embrace the beauty of all plants!  Rather than continuing to weed out that garden, I encourage you to designate an area and let nature take its course.  You never know what beauty may result with no work on your part!  

Now that you’ve got a bee-friendly yard, don’t hesitate to appreciate your creation!  Head outside on a sunny, warm day and observe your blooming plants.  Chances are you will see lots of honeybees moving diligently from one bloom to the next.  Don’t worry about exciting them—if you take the time to observe their behavior, you will see they are way too busy to stop and take notice of your presence.  I guarantee you will have a brand-new appreciation for the phrase ‘busy bee’ after observing foraging bees in action.  Enjoy your contribution to the health and survival of our honeybees! 

Want to learn more the importance of honeybees, their fascinating behavior, and how you can do more to promote their survival?  Follow us on social media at the links below and sign up for our email list here!


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