Thursday, 16 July 2009
Since antiquity, honey has been a source of food and energy. From the first hunter gatherers, to the ancient civilizations of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans; records show the value of the bees and their honey.
If we journey back 4000 years to ancient Egypt, hieroglyphics show the story of the bee’s life. So primitive man had discovered the delight of honey — for centuries it was the only sweetener available.
In the 4th century BC, Aristotle wrote of the bee. Three hundred years later, Virgil the poet and Pliny the naturalist, carried the story further.
In England under Saxon rule, honey was accepted by some landlords as part-payment for rent from tenants. The bee had truly earned a valuable place in society.
In 1792 a blind naturalist, Huber, published a book in Geneva on bees and honey. The honey industry that we know today began to grow.
Honey that is sold in shops comes from honeybees (Apis mellifera). Honey produced by other bees or other insects has very different properties.
Honey is created by bees as a food source. In cold weather or when food sources are scarce, bees use their stored honey as their source of energy. By contriving bee swarms to nest in artificial hives, people have been able to semi-domesticate the insects, and harvest excess honey.
Generally, honey is classified by the floral source of the nectar from which it was made. Honeys can be from specific types of flower nectars, from indeterminate origin or can be blended after collection.
The bee's value however is not confined to making honey. Honeybees also help our fruit and vegetables grow. When the bee gathers nectar, her body becomes dusted with pollen. As she moves from flower to flower, the pollen passes from male to female stigma and cross-pollination (or fertilization) takes place which leads to new seeds and plant regeneration. Without bees, trees and flowers may not make fruit, nuts or seeds and there would be no honey.
The honeybee is not native to Australia. The colonists who came to Australia in its early days missed many of the comforts and treats of “home” (England) that they tried to introduce many of them to their new country. Plants, trees, animals, birds and many other reminders of home were introduced during those early years. One of these treats were honey. In 1810, Samuel Marsden brought the first honeybees to Australia but the attempt to start a bee colony failed. In the early 1820’s, a second shipment of honeybee was brought to Australia aboard the ship Isabella. She arrived in our waters in 1822 and adapted so successfully that other bee species were introduced from Italy, Yugoslavia and North America (thankfully the bees are one of the few introduced species that did not wipe out our unique eco system!)
Typically, honey is made up of:
~ 80 per cent natural sugars (mainly levulose, dextrose and glucose)
~ 17 per cent moisture
~ 3 per cent mineral traces
The honeybee is a most amazing insect. Its family (hive) consists of workers, drones and a Queen Bee. The bees collect nectar, pollen and water each day to take back to the hive so that future generations can live. The raw nectar comes from flowers. They mix this with secretions from their glands, thereby transforming it. It is then deposited in the comb where it ripens into honey.
In a day’s work, bees produce:
~ Honey – to provide food reserves for the hive (which we use as a sweetener)
~ Bees wax – to make honeycomb (traditionally used for candles and cosmetics)
~ Pollen – to nurture their young (which when dried and preserved is a valuable nutrient)
~ Propolis – to seal their hive from wind and rain (which can be used as an antiseptic)
~ Bee venom – to protect itself (which can be used to relieve arthritic and rheumatic pains)
Source: Wikipedia, Honeybee.com.au and Honeybee.org.au