All about Honey!
Before the first dynasty in Egypt, humans were already hunting honey. A cave painting found in Valencia, Spain that dates back 8,000 years clearly depicts a person using baskets and a ladder to retrieve honey. And as early as 2100 BCE, honey was mentioned in Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform writings, the Hittite code, and sacred writings of both Egypt and India – so basically, people all over the world were obsessed with it.
In China, the art of bee keeping has been in existence since the time immemorial but has been documented in a book from the Spring and Autumn Period (771-476 BCE). The book, Golden Rules of Business Success by Fan Li, mentions the art of bee keeping and the importance of the bee box being made of quality wood, as it can affect the taste of the honey. Across the ocean, the Maya used honey from the stingless bee and in Egypt, honey bees had been kept since the 5th dynasty. Pots filled with honey were found in the grave goods of pharaohs – including King Tut. But the Egyptians figured out that honey was very useful for other purposes as well.
Honey is perfect for preserving things. Because of its high sugar content, it is unable to ferment as long as it’s sealed correctly. That said, honey can actually last forever – so if you’re stocking up your storm cellar, honey’s a pretty good item to put on your grocery list. Honey that was sealed in tombs of Egypt thousands of years ago is actually still good enough to eat – and people have. If it’s sealed incorrectly, however, its hydrophilic properties pull moisture in, eventually diluting it and allowing it to ferment, so make sure the lid’s on tightly.
But bees have been around way before the earliest ancient civilizations. The first bees showed up on earth during the cretaceous period, which lasted from 145.5 – 65.5 million years ago. (This is the period of time just after the Jurassic period, so there were still dinosaurs…they’re that old.) However, not all of the species were able to survive. The European honey bees are thought to have gone extinct 35-40 million years ago, after Gondwana broke apart and the Earth’s temperature cooled dramatically. However, Indo-European honey bees survived and began to speciate, resulting in a cavity-nesting honey bee (like the ones we have today) that spread west to Africa and Europe 6 million years ago.
Today, there are over seven recognized species of honey bees in the world and in the United States alone, there are over 300 different types of honey. It’s flavored with the nectar and sweet deposits from plants and trees that the bees gather – and they go pretty far to get it. On average, honey bees have to tap 2 million flowers to make one pound of honey and in the process end up flying a distance nearly equal to three times around the world. And it takes a sizeable swarm to do that. On their own, a honey bee doesn’t produce very much honey at all. The average worker bee produces 1/12 a teaspoon in its entire lifetime.
Though it may take a bee a long time to produce a sizable product, they certainly do a lot of work in the process. While they’re collecting nectar from flowers and trees, they’re also pollinating them, a service that’s measured in billions of dollars. So while we may be a little nervous when we hear the soft hum of a buzzing bee, it’s okay to realize that they’re a valuable part of the ecosystem that deserve respect and a little less swatting at.