Honey has been used as a medicine since time immemorial; as a remedy for digestive problems, bad circulation, breathing difficulties and – of course – as the ultimate elixir for a sore throat.
But honey is also an effective antiseptic and antibiotic, with the power to ward off wound infections, reduce inflammation and promote healing.
The medicinal molten gold includes germ-killing inhibins, which slow down the production of bacteria, and the protein defensin-1, which helps stimulates the immune system.
Besides honey, bees also produce other useful substances, such as propolis. This is a yellow, waxy resin bees use to seal the cells in their hive. They collect it from the sap of trees, and when these trees have strong antibiotic properties – as the poplar, willow and birch do – the propolis transfers these antibiotic benefits to the hive, and thus to the honey itself.
As Professor Henri Joyeux explains, the uses of propolis are endless: “We realized that propolis could have had antiseptic effects, as an antibiotic or anti-inflammatory. And when the bees leave the hive, we will are able to extract it, and purify it. This purification is such that one can produce a small alcoholic extract, which can help, because it is quite thick, fat, and contains considerable vitamins, minerals, and has a very interesting effect on bronchoalveolar respiration. For example, if you have a child suffering from a little asthma, you put 5 drops of propolis in his breakfast, you mix it, and it’ll solve the problem immediately.”
Bee therapy’s most prized product, however, is still royal jelly; a concentrated honey made exclusively for queen bees.
To increase production of this much-sought after product, the queen bee is removed from the hive and her larvae stored in special cells. The remaining worker bees then intensify their production of royal jelly in a desperate bid to nurture a new queen.
Despite claims royal jelly has youth-enhancing properties thanks to its high concentration of the protein royalactin, for many the buzz is unwarranted.
Professor Joyeux says it is much more interesting for what it can do for dementia conditions: “If I was an elderly person who is afraid of having Alzheimer’s – because someone in my family has Alzheimer’s, or because I do not know exactly where the car keys are – then I would take royal jelly on a regular basis. Not just once a week, but every day.”
Another coveted product is bee venom, but in order to get a bee to sting you have to threaten it. Once the venom is harvested it is usually processed in a laboratory, where it is turned into a variety of products.
Bee venom therapy, as its known, is used to treat to conditions like arthritis, either as a cream or in its purest form – via the sting. Whilst this method remains scientifically unproven, it still has its fans – among them former French discus champion, Maryse.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an auto-immune disease, she decided against treatment with conventional drugs, like steroids, and turned instead to apitherapy. As she explains, this was because she was already keenly aware of the healing potential of bees: “I decided to go with apitherapy because I belong to a family of beekeepers. Some people in my villager with rheumatism used to come to see my father to relieve their pain problems. And my father would use the bees to sting them wherever it hurt most.”
Maryse set up her own hive at home and has been successfully treating herself with a sort of makeshift bee-acupuncture.Researchers believe certain compounds in the venom reduce inflammation and help the body to release natural healing compounds.
Since Maryse began her sting operation, her symptoms have gone into remission.