By Grai St. Clair Rice
Winter can be tough on us, even if we like the cold and snow. Reaching for fortification from nature at hand, however, is easy for a beekeeper who can use products from the hive as a medicine cabinet.
Think of what we all contend with most winters: Dry, chapped hands; sore, scratchy throats with a nighttime cough; or the feeling that we are just barely on the good side of health; plus the winter funk of stale indoor air and darkness fatigue with the long winter nights. A balm for many winter ailments can be found, or made, with raw honey, propolis, and beeswax. All exquisite substances from a hive.
For the uninitiated, definitions are probably helpful here. Raw honey means: honey that has not been heated (leaving enzymes and essential plant oils intact), is only slightly strained (allowing for the protein-rich pollen particles to remain) and has not been adulterated in any way. Propolis is tree and plant resin that is collected and transformed by honeybees. Both honey and propolis have antibacterial and antiviral properties. Beeswax is pure fat. It is generated by wax glands in honeybees, and transformed into the hexagonal combs they live on. Each of these substances are part of the immune system of the superorganism of a honeybee colony.
A growing array of consumer products harnessing the value and interest in these healing substances are available at natural health stores. Luckily, with the burgeoning trend in backyard beekeeping, the Hudson Valley is also home to many small beekeepers who may be able to supply you with raw material to make your own. Here are some ideas for boosting winter heath with the help of honeybees:
Soothing Coughs and Colds
Simply keep a jar of raw honey and a spoon next to your bed to soothe a cough at night. If I need extra care, I make a jar of lemon, ginger, and honey which adds Vitamin C and antibacterial qualities of these nourishing elements to cut the phlegm, alkalize my body, and boost immunity. Here’s how: zest two lemons and slice 1/4 cup peeled ginger. Simmer in a cup of water for 15 minutes, partially covered. Strain, and as it cools, stir in the cup of raw honey and 1/4 cup lemon juice. Store in a glass jar with a plastic lid. Keep a small amount at room temperature by your bed for nighttime use, and the remainder in the fridge for up to a month.
Additionally, honey and cinnamon both have antiviral properties that can help keep colds at bay or perhaps shorten the sniffles. Mix honey and cinnamon and keep it handy in a sealed container. Consume three teaspoons a day or dip apples or bananas into it for a healthy boost.
Ceylon cinnamon is considered the best—however, for short term use, a Cassis cinnamon variety, which is commonly available, will be fine.
Skin-protecting Salt & Honey Scrub
Most of us neglect our skin, which is our largest organ. It is a barrier which protects the rest of our body and is integral to our immune response. Wind, cold, and dry air can stress our skin and soap can alter its proper pH, which leans towards the acidic end of the scale. There is a salt-honey body scrub I use all year, but am particularly drawn to during the winter months. It feeds my skin and my soul.
Mix these ingredients and keep in a wide-mouthed jar by the shower. Follow the recipe for enough to share as gifts, or cut the amounts in half to make just enough for you. Four cups of Epsom Salt, which feeds magnesium to our bodies. 1/2 cup sea salt, which provides additional minerals. One cup of honey, partially crystallized is perfect—it adds an antibacterial, moisturizing and pH-balancing element. One half cup sweet almond oil. 10 drops of clove oil if you want warming or tangerine oil if you want invigorating. Apply to wet skin and let stay on for a couple of minutes, or whatever is comfortable, before rinsing off with warm water.
Now, on to that mid-winter funk. Candle light is elemental. Its dancing flame melts the surrounding darkness with a gentle light. Beeswax candles also exude the delicately sweet smells of a hive in August, warm honey scented beeswax which lifts the spirit. One hundred percent beeswax candles also have unique air-purifying properties. They create negative ions as they burn, negating the positively charged ions of dust, dirt and toxic particles in the air.
Reverence is also good for your health, so understanding that a honeybee works hard all her short life and makes only one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime is something to savor and be thankful for. Bee Well!
Grai St. Clair Rice teaches beekeeping with HoneybeeLives in New Paltz and Brooklyn. Visit honeybeelives.org for more info.