There are few things more luxurious than a jar of pure, raw honey.
There are few things more luxurious than a jar of pure, raw honey.
Image: 123RF / Tatiana Andrianova

I — like luxury English car marques, Gucci and Beyoncé’s biggest fans — am a little obsessed with bees and their honey. And there are few things more luxurious than pure, raw honey in a glass jar as a pantry staple. Especially when you learn that a lot of what is placed on many grocers’ shelve is mixed with, or is all, syrup — and coupled with alarm bells sounding that our bees are vanishing.

While not all plants (corn, rice and wheat) need bees to pollinate them, if we lived in a world without these insects, the BBC says our supermarkets would have half the amount of fruit and vegetables we enjoy, plus we’d lose all the animals that eat those plants. Bees — along with bats, beetles, birds and butterflies — are a key part of why we have a wide variety of juicy and nutritious food, never mind the liquid gold they share with us. Imagine breakfast without licking that spoon of fynbos honey meant for your hot, buttered sourdough.

Air pollution, colony-collapse disorders, drought, exposure to pesticides, loss of habitat and climate change have mostly been at fault for falling bee numbers; but domesticated honey-makers may also be putting the wild populations at risk. However, the SA National Biodiversity Institute says that, though the hives managed by beekeepers can start to compete for sources of nectar and pollen, keeping them away from conservation areas or banning them may not be the answer.

It’s complicated, too, when we see how beekeeping can provide direct income, and create indirect jobs through entrepreneurship drives such as Sappi’s African honey bee project in Mpumalanga and Northern Zululand, and local honey-making project Moatane Atang run by Constance Mogale in the North West.

Further afield in the UK, a few companies are mixing corporate responsibility and pleasure. Rolls-Royce built a “250,000-strong honey bee workforce at its bee apiary in Goodwood, West Sussex, to help the environment”, which are gifted to those with keys to their Phantoms, Wraiths, Dawns, Ghosts and Cullinans.

Bentley challenged themselves to make 200 jars of honey — which are just for co-workers and VIP site visitors, for now — from five beehives before the harvest ended last year to support the local honey bee community and improve biodiversity in the region. Jaguar Land Rover introduced native honey bees to its plants across the UK as a way to help employees with anxiety, depression and stress by using beekeeping as a form of therapy.

Raw honey, aka liquid gold.
Raw honey, aka liquid gold.
Image: Pexels / archana

Not only can bees be used to help treat mental health issues, some swear by bee venom therapy (apitherapy) to alleviate the inflammation caused by arthritis and multiple sclerosis, though this is still scientifically unproven.

If you want to enjoy the bee’s medicinal benefits without getting stung, then get your hands on real, unprocessed honey. Honey has polyphenols and prebiotics with anti-bacterial, anti-viral and immune-boosting properties that become ineffective when blended with other products. Use it to sweeten your cup of rooibos tea and soothe a sore throat, or use it as a home-made moisturising face mask — honey has numerous benefits.

However, unsurprisingly, you generally have to pay top dollar for the real deal since there is still a global shortage of raw and fair-trade honey.

It’s these “powers” that have also made honey bees popular as a sign of nobility, appearing as design motifs on coins, rings and accessories throughout history. And when news spread that they were in danger, the fashion industry seemed to fall in love with them all over again. Gucci first used the bee logo in the 1970s and it reappeared in 2015, as calls to save the them started getting louder. Dolce & Gabbana followed suit with embroidered details in their menswear show that same year.

In 2020, Kenzo’s spring/summer collection paid homage to beekeeping as “one of the ancient collaborations between humans and nature”.

The bee motif has become a recognisable signature of Gucci products.
The bee motif has become a recognisable signature of Gucci products.
Image: Gucci.com

And despite dating back millennia, the fashion industry’s renewed interest has certainly helped amplify the buzz around bees. Even Beyoncé — the true Queen Bey — has her own beehive of 80,000 bees, harvesting honey to help ease children’s allergies.

WHERE TO BUY THE BEST HONEY:

1. Peel’s Honey & Comb has a piece of honeycomb in honey. 340g, R103.

2. Flame Thorn Honey is unprocessed honey from Ohrigstad, Limpopo. 500g, R250. 

3. Centauri Honey comes from a cave in Turkey, and is the world’s most expensive honey. 500g, £4,350 (about R90,000).

4. Api Manuka Honey from New Zealand is said to have special enzymes not found in other honeys. 250g, R560.

SOME SWEET VIEWING:

1. Honeyland 

A Macedonian woman beekeeper tries to uphold the ancient traditions of cultivating honey, but her livelihood is challenged when a nomadic family moves in next door. Filmed over three years, Honeyland was nominated for two Academy Awards, and won three Sundance awards.

WATCH | Trailer for Honeyland:

2. Vanishing of the Bees

Narrated by Elliot Page, this documentary shows how disappearing bees impact the world, ecologically, economically and politically.

WATCH | Trailer for Vanishing of the Bees:

3. Rotten (Lawyers, Guns & Honey)

This episode of Rotten takes a closer look at honey fraud and the sweet little lies we’ve been told.

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