« Previous  
 Next »

Greene: Weed Honey

09/03/12 7:55AM By Stephanie Greene
 MP3   Download MP3 

(Host) By watching the honeybees in her garden, commentator Stephanie Greene, a freelance writer who lives on her family farm in Windham County, has made some surprising discoveries.

(Greene) It's high season for bees, with hot sunny weather that allows for optimal gathering of pollen and nectar. Honeybees will not gather in the rain, which is why hives can starve - even in summer - if their keepers are not paying attention, and feeding them sugar water when necessary.

One of my gardening pleasures is to look for the satisfying sight of bees working the plants in flower. It's great: I can goof off and watch them work.

As always, there are revelations in store. For one thing, my bees seem to prefer weeds.

I shouldn't be surprised. Bees always go for the plant with the highest sugar content first. When farmers first imported hives for the massive pollination of orchards and large crops, they were dismayed to discover bees ignoring the apple or apricot blossoms, only to head straight for the dandelions.

I have yet to find a bottle proudly labeled Dandelion Honey, even though most parts of that much vilified plant have been used medicinally. For centuries dandelion leaves and roots have been used for liver cleansing tonics. In fact, the Apaches so prized the plant they traveled long distances to find it. (They should have come to my yard.) This is the same plant we spend millions in herbicides to eradicate.

I also wonder at the labels on jars claiming them to be "Clover Honey". Just how do they keep the bees where they are supposed to be? A honeybee's range is three miles. Who has three miles of nothing but clover?

Another thing: I've read it's the white clover that honeybees prefer, and indeed, that's what I see my honeybees working. Red clover I've only seen worked by bumblebees, because they have the longer proboscis required to get to its nectar. So it would seem that bees are quite able freelancers already. Hence the umbrella term Wildflower Honey serves it well.

This spring I began to get nervous, not seeing many honeybees in my gardens. I even worried briefly about Colony Collapse Disorder. It was not until the Johnson's Blue, that ubiquitous Cranesbill perennial geranium, bloomed, that the bees deigned to visit.

I'm probably spoiling them, but I don't yank my bees' favorite weeds. If there are bees working it, the impudent weed stays, at least during its bloom. In fact I managed to annoy the gentleman who hayed our fields by asking him to wait a bit so the bees could work the milkweed, and then the goldenrod.

Anyway, I've often thought of putting in an extensive medicinal garden that would yield a wildly healthy honey, justly prized and celebrated. So far so good: the Echinacea is blooming. And happily, the bees love it.

It turns out that both milkweed and goldenrod have been used medicinally, while Cranesbill has historically been used as a natural astringent and antiseptic.

Now we're getting somewhere. Perhaps my weed honey contains medicinal properties after all. As usual, we humans are way behind the insects.
comments powered by Disqus
Supported By
Become an Underwriter | Find an Underwiter