Local Honey and Allergies
by Tom Ogren
As one who makes his living by writing about allergies and asthma I am often asked about the potential health benefits of using local honey.
Honey contains bits and pieces of pollen and honey, and as an immune system booster, it is quite powerful. Frequently, I get emails from readers who want to know exactly what I mean by local honey, and how “local” should it be. This is what I usually advise:
Allergies arise from continuous over-exposure to the same allergens. If, for example, you live in an area where there is a great deal of red clover growing, and if in addition you often feed red clover hay to your own horses or cattle, then it likely you are exposed over and over to pollen from this same red clover. Now, red clover pollen is not especially allergenic but still, with time, a serious allergy to it can easily arise.
Another example: if you lived in a southern area where bottlebrush trees were frequently used in the landscapes or perhaps you had a bottlebrush tree growing in your own yard, your odds of over-exposure to this tree’s tiny, triangular, and potently very allergenic pollen is greatly enhanced.
In the two examples used above, both species of plants are what we call amphipilous, meaning they are pollinated by both insects and by the wind. Honeybees will collect pollen from each of these species and it will be present in small amounts in honey that was gathered by bees that were working areas where these species are growing. When people living in these same areas eat honey that was produced in that environment, the honey will often act as an immune booster. The good effects of this local honey are best when the honey is taken a little bit (a couple of teaspoons-full) a day for several months prior to the pollen season.
When I’m asked how local should the honey be for allergy prevention I always advise to get honey that was raised closest to where you live, the closer the better since it will have more of exactly what you’ll need.
It may seem odd that straight exposure to pollen often triggers allergies but that exposure to pollen in the honey usually has the opposite effect. But this is typically what we see. In honey the allergens are delivered in small, manageable doses and the effect over time is very much like that from undergoing a whole series of allergy immunology injections. The major difference though is that the honey is a lot easier to take and it is certainly a lot less expensive. I am always surprised that this powerful health benefit of local honey is not more widely understood, as it is simple, easy, and often surprisingly effective.
The following is taken from B & G Honey Farm's website:
B & G Honey began as a hobby for my wife and I in 1989. My dad had bees when I was a kid and years later we visited a cousin who lived in Crestview Florida who had about 100 bee hives. He and I looked at and talked bee talk all weekend. On the way home I told my wife I wanted some bees. So in 1989 I got our first hive. As more people found out we had bees, they would call me whenever a swarm arrived and I slowly started added more and more hives. Within a few years we had built up to some 450 hives, but when the Colony Collapse Disorder hit in 2006/2007 we lost over 300. Over the next few years we would add more hives then sell some as the occasion would arise, slowly rebuilding our colonies. Since then, my interest has grown from a hobby to second source of income – renting out my bees to pollinate farmers crops in South Georgia as well as collecting honey to sell.
For the past several years we have tried to use all natural methods to care for our bees to produce the best honey possible. We actively select and develop naturally strong honeybees that are resistant to disease and pest without the use of chemical treatments.
We offer local wildflower honey, which is collected from the Ogeechee river to the Altamaha river. We have delicious tupelo honey from the tupelo trees along the banks of the Ogeechee river. We also have honey sticks which are naturally flavored, small wedding and party favors as well as other honey related items.
We are members of the Coastal Empire Beekeepers Association, the Georgia Beekeepers, the Mississippi State Beekeepers, the North Carolina Beekeepers Association, and the Florida Beekeepers Association. In addition we give talks to local clubs and schools on bees and for the past nine years we have occupied a building at the local Kiwanis Fair where we talk bee talk, display two observation hives, give out bee literature, encourage new beekeepers and last, but not least, sell honey.