The honeybee is the world’s most popular insect. Colonies of bees are found all over the world except in Antarctica, and much of the world’s wildlife could not exist without them.
Bees provide some of the world’s most popular foods. There is no better source of natural sugar than honey. There are few more versatile antioxidants than propolis, and there is no better balanced source of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals than royal jelly. But there is one bee product that can work minor medical miracles that most of us have never considered. It’s bee pollen.
What Is Bee Pollen?
Most people react to the subject of bee pollen with a comment on the lines of “What? I thought pollen was made by flowers, not by bees.” And most people are absolutely right.
Bee pollen is not pollen that is made by bees, but instead, it is pollen that is collected by bees on their feet as they buzz around and inside the wells of flowers that provide the nectar they collect for making honey.
Contrary to what some people believe, it is also not an animal product, it is a plant product that is made by the plant during the normal reproductive cycle. The pollen is simply the male “egg” that fertilizes the female’s egg (though unlike most humans plants usually contain both male and female reproductive parts). Unlike honey, royal jelly, or propolis, bee pollen is suitable for vegans and vegetarians. It is also low in sugar so that it is acceptable for diabetics and dieters and anyone who has to deal with high and low blood sugar levels.
Collecting the pollen from the hives does not deprive either plants or bees of the food they need. It only takes one grain of pollen to create a seed. Because most plants propagate themselves far and wide, they make tens of thousands or even tens of millions of grains of pollen for each future seed. Busy bees collect 20,000 to 50,000 grains of pollen every day, mixing them with tiny amounts of honey to keep them together.
Pollen provides the male element the plant uses to create a seed. When pollen lands on the pistil of the flower, it grows a tube down through the pistil and generates two sperm that travel down the tube and have the potential to fertilize the egg. Until the pollen reaches the flower it will pollinate, it has to contain all the nutrients needed not just to keep the pollen grain alive but also to protect it from sun, heat, cold, and infection. The need to pack nutrition into such a tiny package is what makes it such a great food.
Pollen Comes from Picky Plants
Picky plants choose bees for pollination. These entomophilous (insect-loving) plants make very tiny grains of pollen that can’t survive travelling in the wind. Each particle of pollen from a bee-loving plant has to be packed with all the nutrients needed for its survival and almost nothing else, so it will be small enough to stick to the legs of the honeybee that carries it to the next flower. And because bees choose plants on the basis of their nectar, the plants bees pollinate always have parents that are especially attractive to the next generation of bees who keep the species going.
Pollen is almost too small to be seen by the naked eye. The “grains” of pollen we can see in honey and in bee pollen products are actually “balls” of pollen that bees collect in tiny sacs on their legs. Since bees collect far more pollen than the hive can consume, beekeepers have devised tiny traps that capture some (but not all) of the balls of pollen bees deposit as they “wipe their feet” before going into the hive.