Trodding down the pathway to my friend's organic farm one sunny afternoon, I noticed a mysterious mass weighing down the limb of a budding apple tree. Just as my curiosity summoned me for a closer inspection of the tree's "dis-ease," the owner bellowed "stand back, stand back!" as he loped towards the tree clutching a sizable white box. "That's a new beehive forming!" he exclaimed. "It's a wild swarm of bees I have been anxiously awaiting-my new arrival of this year's pollinators."

I was fascinated to see the mass of bees converging into the box, prodded by the owner who explained that once the queen bee moves in, her "troop" will follow. Have we ever paused to consider one of nature's most intricate and sophisticated societies? A common honeybee lives only 60 days in contrast to a queen bee whose life span covers several years and yields an estimated 2,000,000 eggs-a feat unheard of among any other living species.

It takes approximately a million bee hours to produce a pound of honey. We are the recipients of a precious nutritional food derived by harvesting the beehive's honey. The domestic bee supplies us with a delicacy considered one of the most energy charged nutrients on our planet.

Other beehive products include propolis, royal jelly and pollen. In combination, these complementary nutritive food substances have a legacy and history of providing mankind with a serious and comprehensive list of nutritional benefits worth reviewing. Our most illustrious health legends, including Paul Bragg, folk medic Dr. D. C. Jarvis, Dr. Bernard Jensen, herbalist Dr. John Christopher and Dr. Paavo Airola, to name a few, all highlighted the benefits derived from regularly consuming beehive or apiary products for health and healing.

While one commonly associates honey with bees, nature's cornucopia of beehive "power packed healers" include bee pollen, honey, propolis and royal jelly. The beehive has long been regarded as a "fountain of youth and health" with a history stretching back some 45 million years. The bee's pivotal role in history has been noted since there have been flowers in providing and sustaining life for its hive while concomitantly enabling other species to survive by pollinating some 100,000 plant species that would have otherwise become extinct.

Whether used for preserving corpses or applied as a topical poultice for bed sores, beehive products hold a prominent and revered place in history as one of nature's most illustrious health delicacies. Let's take a closer look at the elixirs and treasures found in a bee's natural habitat.

Honey:
The many myths, mysteries and medicaments surrounding the use of honey have been updated to include scientific medical studies confirming the benefits of honey. To make a single pound of honey, bees tap into 2 million flowers and fly 55,000 miles. Each bee will visit up to 100 flowers in a single collection period. Bees are so efficient that if a single bee were to fly around the world, she would only consume one ounce of honey in the process.

It is a collaborative effort among bees to produce the final honey product since a single bee provides 1?12 teaspoon of honey over its brief lifetime. Honeybees are environmentally friendly-their "cradle" or hive is harvested for its honey, not for its bees. Bee products are not tested on other animals since they are a food product.

The health virtues of honey for both internal and external application are extensive. Unlike commercially filtered and strained honey, which loses 33-55 percent of its original vitamin content, raw unfiltered honey is nutrient dense, containing at least 80 substances significant in human nutrition. Aside from its vitamin and mineral content, honey contains live enzymes in addition to proteins, carbohydrates and antimicrobial factors that exhibit bactericidal, antiallergenic, anti-inflammatory and expectorant qualities. D. C. Jarvis, M.D., noted the virtues of honey in his well-known compendium on folk medicine: "It is no mere theory but has been proved that bacteria cannot live in the presence of honey for the reason that honey is an excellent source of potassium. The potassium withdraws from the bacteria the source of moisture which is essential to their very existence."

Aside from its delectable sweet taste, honey provides quick energy through its natural sugar content. Unlike processed white sugar, Jarvis notes honey is easily assimilated, promotes rapid recuperation following exertion (most noteworthy for athletes who require endurance for optimal performance), is non-irritating to the stomach lining (it's reaction is alkaline forming, hence useful in arthritic conditions) and has a sedative quality. Dr. Bernard Jensen notes honey's nucleic acid and hormonal contents support the glandular system, tissue regeneration and youthfulness. Due to two easily absorbed sugars, honey does not flood the bloodstream with an overabundance of sugar.

Vermont folk medicine regards honey as a tonic for sleeping, bed wetting and as a natural cough suppressant, especially taken in "toddy" form combined with apple cider vinegar or prepared according to Dr. John Christopher's recipe combining lemon juice, ginger and cayenne pepper. Honey has long been revered for its beautifying effects. Aside from honey being a staple in Cleopatra's beauty potion, honey's antimicrobial properties make it a prime ingredient in soaps, shampoos, lotions and poultices, specifically for skin burns, providing rapid healing for injured tissues. Combined with Redmond clay powder, honey "masks" make a soothing and cleansing facial. Of the 900 recorded medicaments in ancient Egypt, 500 of them were honey-based. Egyptians and Greeks used honey to preserve their meat as well as to embalm their dead. Honey's effectiveness can be traced to its contents of propolis and pollen suspended within it, two distinct supplements in their own right.

Propolis ("Russian Penicillin"):
A secondary but equally virtuous beehive product is made from locally gathered vegetable substances composed of 30 percent beeswax, 55 percent resins, 10 percent aromatic ethers and oils and five percent pollen. Bee propolis is a resin secreted by trees and then metabolized by the bees. Bees deposit their bee resin or propolis into their hive to make it one of nature's most sterile environments. Propolis' venerable antibiotic quality retards the growth of bacteria, virus and fungi. This 45-million-year-old inherently antibiotic substance of nature was discovered by bees who recognized particular trees emitted a bud sap to protect themselves from infection. Once bees harvest the sap they combine it with their own secretions, depositing it into their beehive to avoid the threat of bacterial contamination as thousands of bees converge into a single hive. Scientists have noted the inside of a beehive may well be more sterile than a hospital environment.

It is no wonder countless reports and medical researchers have recognized propolis' health virtues, specifically its antibiotic properties (taken in liquid or capsule form for colds, flus, inflammation of the sinuses, lungs, sore throats and periodontal infections) and topically applied to ulcerations, tumors, boils, burns and a diversity of skin disorders. Additional studies have confirmed its hypotensive action. According to an Australian scientist at the University of Western Australia, propolis has the ability to potentiate other medications, including penicillin, at "10 to 100 fold." Confirming this research, Russian physicians acknowledge that the bacteriostatic activity of propolis enhances or fortifies the antibiotic activity of conventional medications including tetracycline, neomycin and streptomycin-a prime example of blending traditional with complementary medicine.

Researchers emphasize two key virtues of propolis worth remembering: Bacteria stop multiplying under the influence of propolis and there is an increased disease resistance activated within the organism. As a result, the body is strengthened and enabled to fight off foreign invaders while those already present are intercepted and can no longer proliferate. Since propolis is neither a medicine nor a drug but a product of nature, it is a natural supplement in the truest and purest sense of the word.

Pollen:
Another nutrient dense delicacy provided to us through our busy bees is bee "pollen," (also dubbed "life giving dust," or "ambrosia")-the grains of flower pollen collected by honeybees from a diversity of plant species. Carrying their shopping "baskets" on their legs, bees harvest pollen as their primary food source. It is up to the bee keeper to harvest bee pollen with their "screens" as the bees enter their hive. Quality, color and texture vary considerably depending on location, environmental conditions (pesticide spraying) and flower species. Pollen is the male reproductive part of plants, containing an exhaustive list of complementary organic nutrients balanced nutritionally by nature. It includes vitamins, minerals, amino acids, trace elements, essential fatty acids (including omega-3 and 6), enzymes, carbohydrates (simple and complex for sustaining high levels of energy), carotenoids, bioflavonoids, phytosterols, beta carotene, lycopene, quercetin and rutin (a blood cell wall and capillary strengthener). A live food chock-full of readily absorbable, concentrated nutritive material, pollen is primed to have a positive impact on the most feeble individual.

Remy Chauvin, M.D., of the Institute of Bee Culture in Paris notes pollen's antibiotic and bacteriostatic properties are inhospitable to Salmonella and E. coli which "cannot live in bee pollen." Unlike synthetic hormones, natural hormones in pollen stimulate tissue and bone growth, increase muscle tone, build muscle and increase fertility, without the negative side effects associated with conventional synthetic hormones.

Pollen's palatability is not a cause for concern. Eaten right off the spoon or mixed into smoothies, yogurt or pollen candies (a combination of ground raw nuts, seeds, pollen, carob powder and organic almond butter rolled into balls and dipped in coconut), there are creative, tasty ways to serve "bee nectar." Health legends and pollen advocates Dr. Bernard Jensen and Royden Brown regularly consumed raw goat's milk and beehive products as part of their dietary mainstay-health practices that are reminiscent of the many Biblical references to honey as a "glorified food."

Royal Jelly:
The créme de la créme of beehive products is royal jelly or "milk of the bees," secreted by the glands of nurse bees to provide sustenance to the queen bee and her hatched larvae. If the old adage "seeing is believing" is true, then the many virtues assigned to royal jelly can readily be observed by its profound influence on the queen bee, including her increased longevity (queens outlive regular bees 50/1), size, fertility and aesthetics (a queen bee radiates beauty). Scientific studies using royal jelly to feed other insects testify to its impact on longevity and fertility.

Experiments using royal jelly on humans have generated equally positive correlatives. Nourished by continuous feedings of royal jelly, a queen bee lays up to 3,000 eggs per day during nectar-gathering season. It is no wonder "royal jelly has developed a reputation as a superpotent food, able to supply unusual glandular support." One thousand three-day-old queen cells are needed to obtain a single pound of royal jelly, a product readily subject to deterioration. It has been made available for human consumption in liquid and lyophilized form including capsules, tablets and soft gels.

Nucleic acids, gamma globulins and decanoic acid (infection-fighting and immuno-stimulating factors), natural hormones, sterols, fatty acids, vitamins A, B complex, C, D, E, protein, gelatin (a precursor of collagen known to be a potent anti-aging compound) and sulfur are part of the diverse spectrum of nutrients identified in royal jelly with a remaining three percent unknown substances thought to yield additional health benefits. This protein-rich (a whopping 12 percent) compound contains acetylcholine, a vital substance for nerve transmission whose deficiency is correlated with an increase in our vulnerability to such nervous conditions as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease and MS.

Since royal jelly helps normalize blood fats, it is readily apparent how it impacts blood vessel integrity and cognition (in addition to its nucleic acid-rich content), including arteriosclerosis-"the consequence of a disturbed lipid metabolism." When blood vessels are flexible, supple and elastic, oxygen-rich blood flows easier throughout the body, unimpeded by atheromatous plaque. Arthritic patients frequently notice a regression (when regularly consuming royal jelly) in pain and stiffness-a consequence of improved circulation, enabling nutrients to reach their target destination. Maintaining collagen integrity is vital to maintaining joint integrity and preventing arthritis. Royal jelly contains a particular protein known to feed "collagen"-a ubiquitous nutritional supplement for arthritics.

The natural hormones contained in royal jelly are influential in producing positive results on female conditions such as PMS and menopause. Royal jelly's ability to both stimulate and regulate endocrine function and hormonal secretion potentiates its rejuvenative and regenerative powers, including its positive impact on the "stress mediating glands," the adrenal glands, that secrete numerous steroid hormones. Royal jelly's significant concentration of pantothenic acid (part of the B complex of vitamins), referred to as "the longevity factor," is a critical nutrient and catalytic factor in reviving secretions of the adrenal glands, thus increasing one's resistance to infection and inflammation while reducing the effects of stress. Royal jelly vitalizes the glandular system while boosting cellular regeneration, thus having a positive impact on disorders related to brain neurochemistry (anxiety, depression, senility), enabling one to reestablish biological balance.

Bee Venom:
Historically bee venom was an ancient medicament to treat a variety of ailments including rheumatic and skin disorders. More recently bee venom has been administered to people with pronounced allergic reactions to bee stings. Jensen notes some scientists conclude bee venom "triggers a reaction in the body in which chemicals (and perhaps antibodies) are released to neutralize the poison and counteract its effects." When researchers decipher why the venom responds positively, they can then proceed to duplicate their results in a laboratory setting and conduct qualitative and quantitative experiments. Until then, the field is ripe for research and certainly worth the exploration, given bees' prolific health history and contribution to providing and sustaining various life forms.

Epilogue:
As our modern day stress levels continue to mount at exponential rates, "that quest for an all natural medicine that will counteract the ravages of time, heal injured or diseased tissue and supply energy promoting nutrients seems somewhat futile," states author Rita Elkins. She adds "yet the honeybee continues to thrive in a world literally teeming with foods regarded throughout history as nothing less than miraculous." Superior quality live food, complex and intricate in its biochemistry, beehive products are engineered from start to finish by our apiary friends and pollinators. Despite the bees' ability to inflict a pronounced sting, they are just doing what comes naturally, as any of us would to avert being preyed upon by a perceived predator. Bees instinctively live out their life in similar fashion to other living species-dedicated to fulfilling their purpose in life, focused on sustaining their life and the life of others, plant and human.

A precautionary note:
Buyer "Beeware"-some individuals are allergic to beehive products and are vulnerable to reactions from bee stings, so always "test" a product first. Quality control may also influence allergenicity-storage conditions, pesticide-laden plants and processing (chemically fumigated or heat dried) and diluted raw material all factor into the final product. It is commonly suggested when first trying bee pollen to begin with a single granule and gradually increase the dosage. Royal jelly readily spoils, so be sure to refrigerate or purchase stabilized royal jelly capsules. Since liquid royal jelly has a bitter aftertaste, combining it with some honey is an ideal way to consume it.