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  The Tea House Times Guest Blog - Linda Villano
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Honey, Honey by Linda Villano

Monday, September 29th 2014 @ 2:21 AM

September is National Honey Month and there’s no denying that Tea & Honey certainly pair well. Tea is an ancient elixir but honey dates back further.  The first written mention of nature’s sweetener was made by the Egyptians in 5,500 BCE but bees were busy making honey long before that. 

Cave drawings and archeological findings suggest that bee-keeping existed in ancient China and, like tea, the origin of the honeybee is believed to be Southeast Asia.  Domesticated honeybees are said to have “traveled” from Africa then to Europe and prior to being brought over by colonists in the 1600s, honeybees were unknown to North America.  And surprisingly, there were no honeybees in California until they were imported by ship in the 1850s. Tea was sweetened with honey before the introduction of cane sugar (which also originated in Southeast Asia) in the mid-1800s ~ the pair have become quite cozy over time.

The source of the nectar (pollen from flowers) will determine the flavor of the honey which is a complex mix of natural sugars (80%), water (18%) and minerals, vitamins and protein (2%). Like tea there is pure, single origin honey as well as blends made from various origins.  Grades of honey are determined by specific qualities: flavor & aroma, absence of defects, and clarity.

Honey is not just delicious, it’s good for what ails you. Who wasn’t taught to drink tea and honey when under the weather? Medicinally, honey has been used both internally and topically as a salve. In ancient Egypt it was a main component for embalming; many of India’s age-old Ayervedic treatments include honey and it plays an important role in traditional Chinese Medicine.

For many cultures honey also has religious significance. In Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Islam honey served as offerings in holy ceremonies.  Ancient Greeks and Romans, in addition to cooking with honey, offered it to their gods. Mayans worshipped a Bee God and considered honey food of the gods.

 

If you love honey and trying new (old) things you might enjoy mead. This fermented beverage made with honey and yeast is often associated with Medieval Festivals and Monks but dates back more than 9,000 years with references sprinkled through European, Indian & African history.  With its resurgence and blossoming popularity, tea is sometimes introduced in the modern version for variety.  To learn more about this unusual drink visit Monks Mead’s site (www.monksmead.com).  This Georgian meadery pairs tea and honey along with yeast to produce an alcoholic concoction that would make a Viking proud. According to the American Mead Makers Association, mead sales exceeded growth rates for beer, wine & spirits in 2013 & the number of meaderies in the US has grown from 60 three years ago to 194 today.  

 

With all the goodness honey brings us, it would be wise to take greater care of ensuring the healthy future of honeybees. Contemplating what life would become without these incredibly hard workers that are crucial to our food supply is disconcerting. Honeybees pollinate hundreds of fruit and vegetable crops that we depend on for food.  There is great concern of late due to the deadly and mysterious phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). In the US alone up to 30 percent of bees are being lost each year and in turn an increasing reliance by farmers on migratory bees ~ bees that are rented out and moved from farm to farm.  Bees are threatened by at least three major enemies: diseases, chemicals (pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, etc.) and habitat loss and the latest studies confirm what many have suspected all along: there is a directly correlation between pesticide exposure & CCD.  We’re all in this together and must understand how important it is for each of us to do our part to help save the honey bee while also increasing the population of other types of bees which are pollinators ~ there’s power in numbers when it comes to the business of pollination.  Simple ways to contribute include: planting flowers that attract bees; turn the lawn into a beautiful blanket of colorful wildflowers; avoiding all pesticides and chemicals in the garden; buying local honey as well as local produce.  Back-yard hives are de rigueur ~ for the brave ones out there, why not take a course & try it!

 



Three cheers for the Honeybees that work so hard pollinating and making glorious honey ~ hard work from which we benefit greatly.   Enjoy the fascinating HONEY BEE TRIVIA chart (courtesy of The Nibble).

 

Bees have been producing honey from flowering plants for 10 to 20 million years.

 

 

Honey bees must tap two million flowers to make one pound of honey.

 

 

A hive of bees flies 55,000 miles to make one pound of honey (more than the distance to the moon and back). A bee must fly the equivalent of three times around the globe to gather a single teaspoon of honey.

 

 

A healthy colony of bees can produce 300 to 500 pounds of honey per year.

 

 

A bee visits 50 to 100 flowers during one collection trip.

 

 

Bees are not fast fliers; while their wings beat over 11,000 cycles per minute, their flight speed averages only 15 miles per hour. In comparison, a true fly in the genus Forcipomyia beats its wings over 62,000 cycles per minute. The Australian dragonfly Austrophlebia costalis has been clocked flying at a speed of 36 mph.

 

 

Bees possess five eyes. The three ocelli are simple eyes that discern light intensity, while each of the two large compound eyes contains about 6,900 facets and is well suited for detecting movement. In fact, honeybees can perceive movements that are separated by 1/300th of a second. Humans can only sense movements separated by 1/50th of a second. Were a bee to enter a cinema, it would be able to differentiate each individual movie frame being projected.

 

 

 

Honeybees communicate with each other by “dancing.” Scout bees dance to alert the other bees to where nectar and pollen are located. The dance explains direction and distance relative to the sun. Bees also communicate with pheromones.

 

 

Mathematically, honeycomb is the second strongest structure in the world after the pyramids.

 

 

In addition to honey, honey bees produce beeswax and help pollinate agricultural crops, home gardens and wildlife habitats.

 

 

 

The honeybee is directly responsible for 80% to 85% of all vital pollination. This accounts for more than 2/3 of the food we eat (from almonds to peaches to scores of other crops that cannot self-pollinate effectively enough for commercial agriculture). Every year, migratory beekeepers are contracted all over the country to pollinate roughly 85% of all food crops.

 

 

 



~ Linda Villano, SerendipiTea

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LINDA VILLANO co-founded SerendipiTea.com in 1995 with Tomislav Podreka. With a passion for all things Tea, she oversees all aspects of the business; including client consulting, concept and design, staff training, sourcing and product development (recipe creations). Having grown up in a family of restaurateurs and chefs, she considers her role as a purveyor of premium teas & tisanes a natural continuation of her family’s culinary tradition.   Linda is a published illustrator and writer. Her illustrations appear in Tomislav Podreka’s book, SerendipiTea: a guide to the varieties, origins and rituals of tea, and she writes articles about tea for trade publications.

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