By D. A. Selianakis, President of the Greek Scientific Center of Apitherapy Board.
The bee is a member of Hymenoptera, a large order of insects. It is considered as the most important insect for nature and man. It accounts for 60% of plant pollination (i.e. their fertilization), a process of great significance for the reproduction and perpetuation of flora as well as for the preservation of food sources for fauna. So, it is no wonder that the bee is called the ‘Guardian of the environment’, since its extinction would pose a major threat to all living creatures on this planet.
Its existence on the earth dates back to more than 50.000.000 years ago and, according to many scientists, in all probability, it even exceeds 100.000.000 years. It’s one of the oldest living inhabitants of our planet. It first appeared together with flora, when the pollination process was developed by nature with the aid of insects-pollinators. The former agreed to let them feed on nectar on condition that the latter would transfer pollen from one flower to another for pollination to occur. Appearances can be deceptive; despite its size, the bee yields a lot. A single beehive is capable of pollinating more than 100.000.000 flowers on a daily basis!
A beehive is the bee’s home, where the queen (the only one to lay eggs, hence, the mother of all bees), the worker bees (the busiest bees in the hive) and the drones (the laziest ones, which do nothing but fertilize the queen) live. A hive houses an average of 50,000 bees and is renowned for its social organization. Tasks are assigned among the members of the beehive depending not only on age and gender but also on skills, according to recent findings. Some bees are responsible for foraging, others harvest honey and pollen, some feed the larvae, and others take on guard duties. The guardians, in fact, are characterized by self-denial while passionately defending the beehive, all too often losing their own life.
Man, even in prehistoric times, tried to take full advantage of the bee. Cave-paintings in Spain depict a hunter harvesting honey from a wild beehive 8,000years ago! Later on, people managed to ‘tame’ the bee by providing it with shelter in artificial beehives so that they could taste their sweet honey. Soon, bee products proved to be beneficial to health. The ancient Greeks, Sumerians and Chinese used bee products for therapeutic purposes. Even today, beekeeping is widespread in many rural parts of the world. All bee products are useful for man. Sweet honey has been the unique natural sweetener on earth for thousands of years until sugar was discovered. Even nowadays, numerous studies bear testimony to its nutritional value. Pollen, propolis and royal jelly are used as nutritional supplements to boost our nervous and immune system and invigorate us. They can also be used as raw materials for cosmetics. Science never ceases to discover more and more benefits of bee products. Bee venom is administered to treat serious diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis. Finally, beeswax has a wide range of applications, from making candles to polishing wood and leather!
Such an admirable insect was the bee that it was deified by all ancient civilizations. The Greeks, Hindu and Egyptians worshipped it. In India, it was called ‘Brahmi’, the Bee Goddess. It was also appointed to perform important tasks for their gods. One of Zeus’ nurses was called ‘Melissa’ (i.e. Bee). The priestesses of Artemis were also called ‘Melisses’ (i.e. Bees). For the Egyptians, honey was even considered as gods’ tears! In the Koran, the bee is mentioned as a God-given gift to man. Finally, Dalai Lama has made a special reference to the bee, and I quote, ‘However developed and civilized we are, the bee is vastly superior!’