I live in a farming community, and among my favorite visitors are honey bees. They live in a great stack of hives across the road from my barn, except when they and their hive boxes get hauled to differing fields to assist in crop pollination.

Most of earth’s inhabitants need bees to survive and live healthy lives. Nuts, seeds, fruit, grains, flowers, trees—75 percent of agricultural crops and 90 percent of wild plants—rely on bees for pollination and successful growth. Our nutrition depends on these crops, which makes supporting your local beekeeper important to your health. But the health benefits of bees go far beyond pollination.

Honey is a naturally occurring sweet food. Like white sugar, it contains calories and can contribute to weight gain and blood sugar imbalances. For many though, life without sweet is not so sweet, and honey is healthier than white sugar, brown sugar, or synthetic sweeteners. Honey contains antioxidants, nutrients that improve blood vessel and cellular health, and trace amounts of essential vitamins and minerals. Because honey tastes sweeter and metabolizes more slowly than sugar, people often need less honey than sugar to feel satisfied. Reduce calories and improve health by substituting 2⁄3 cup honey for 1 cup sugar in your recipes for baked goods, beverages, dressings, and desserts.

Honey is also a great medicine. I’ve used it frequently with patients to speed wound and burn healing. Simply spoon honey directly on a clean wound or burn, cover with sterile, non-stick gauze, and leave in place for up to 24 hours. It is important to remove the gauze and check your wound or burn every 24 hours, monitoring for infection and reapplying fresh honey. Note: If your wound is deep or your burn severe, seek medical help immediately and before using honey.

I also prescribe honey to patients with ulcers, gastritis, and bowel inflammation. Honey is soothing to these gastrointestinal wounds. Take honey as medicine for these conditions in a medicinal herbal tea. The best herbs for gut problems are peppermint, spearmint, catnip, and chamomile. Use one tablespoon of dried herb per 16 ounces of boiled water. Let it steep five minutes, and then add one tablespoon of honey. Drink up to 32 ounces of hot, honeyed tea daily, taken at least an hour away from meals and at bedtime.

Honey can be a great cough suppressant. Eat it slowly directly off a spoon, or add a liberal amount to a cup of hot tea.

Bee pollen is also good medicine. It’s almost 23 percent protein, low in calories, and, like honey, contains vitamins and minerals. Pollen boosts immune health, can reduce allergic reactivity, and may help in heart, liver, and bone health due to its easily absorbable nutrients. Take bee pollen as a food: Buy loose bee pollen (it should be yellow/brown granules) and add a spoonful to a serving of yogurt, cereal, fruit salad, or a smoothie.

Caution: If you are allergic to weeds, flowers, or fungi, avoid bee pollen and honey as they may contain trace amounts of these allergens. Also, children under 1 year of age should not consume honey due to a risk of botulism.

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