We’re in the slow quiet days of winter when the snow is deep and the plants are resting in the earth, the bees are clustered together staying warm in their hive, fed by the nectar and pollen that was gathered in the bright days of blooming flowers.
As we’re celebrating the longest night of the year and the returning light, this Winter Solstice we’re gathering around the hearth sharing stories, myths and lore about the honeybee and the magical work she does to sustain life and make the world continually more beautiful.
Honeybees are truly the first herbalists and alchemists, gathering sunlight in the form of golden sweet nectar and bright pollen from flowering plants and resins from trees to create some of the most healing, nourishing foods/medicines that exist in the world.
Come and listen to this special podcast episode with beekeeper, herbalist, and medicinal mead-maker Benjamin Pixie to follow the life of the honeybee and to unwrap the gifts she shares.
In this episode, you’ll hear:
- The long history of relationship between humans and honeybees
- The medicinal benefits of beeswax, honey, pollen, propolis, mead and royal jelly
- The historical and traditional uses of honey
- What we have to learn from bees specifically as herbalists
- Traditional myths, stories and poetry from around the world about honey, mead and honeybees
- Lessons from the bees on how to create a culture in harmony with the Earth
- How to be an ally to the bees, supporting flourishing hives and ecosystems during a time of environmental distress cause by extractive culture
Table of Contents
The Living Tradition of Beekeeping
Humans and honeybees have a long history of relationship. The practice of beekeeping has origins of around 10,000 years old, with a recorded history of petroglyphs from Libya and the Middle East depicting bees. Many many cultures from around the world have myths, stories and traditions of working with bees and revering the divine gifts from the hive.
One of the oldest fermentation vessels found dates back to 8,000 years ago in China. In this clay pot, residue of honey, rice, and barley was found– indicating a ferment. There is also archeological evidence in Israel from 5,000-6,000 years ago of complex clay hives and mead vats where mead was made from honey.
There is the ancient tradition of using honey to make alcohol and using this for libation– the pouring of a drink for a deity– in cultures around the world. You can find different aspects of bee medicine, whether that’s honey, propolis, or other parts in sacred ritual, found throughout the world. Beekeeping is a living tradition, and one of our vital connections to the plant world is through the bees themselves.
The Gifts of the Bees
“There’s an imperturbable grace that shines brightest through the darkest moments and makes sweet honey from the worst failures that truly makes a queen.” ~ Benjamin Pixie
Honey is truly a substance of concentrated sunlight.
Honeybees work together to provide for the hive. They collect nectar, a brief part of a plant’s life, and take it back to the hive. Once there, they add enzymes and store it in hexagonal wax cells, transforming it into honey. This symbiosis allows the brief nectar to become a lasting, immortal substance.
Honey, wax, pollen, propolis, and royal jelly are all powerful medicines unto themselves. These bee-made medicines can be taken for specific health benefits on their own, or they can be worked with synergistically with herbs in the preparation of herbal remedies.
Herbal honeys can be prepared by macerating an aromatic herb in a jar of honey and leaving it on a sunny windowsill for a few weeks before straining the mixture and using the honey. Honey can balance the energetics of some herbs, such as providing a demulcent action to hot and drying Osha (Ligusticum porteri).
Beeswax has inflammatory-modulating effects and is used as the base for many herbal salves and topical healing medicines.
Propolis is the quintessential bee medicine. It is a plant resin gathered from the bark that the bees use to medicate their host with and it serves as the vital ingredient in the wax cell walls of the beehive to prevent them from becoming too brittle and falling apart on itself. This substance prevents the spread of infection and stimulates the immune system.
Some people believe civilizations like the Egyptians and Incas learned to use propolis in their medicine and mummification practices. Overall, propolis is a powerful ally for human health and well-being, and you can use it to maintain healthy boundaries and prevent the spread of illness.
Pollen is the primary source of protein for honey bees, and freshly harvested pollen is superior to store-bought, dehydrated pollen, which has lost its nutritional value and vitality. You can consume this bee medicine in a myriad of ways, and most often it is used to support the immune system when adapting to local environmental allergens.
Lastly, royal jelly is a milky substance produced by worker bees and fed to the queen bee during the larval stage of her development and to all bee larvae for the first three days of their lives. However, the queen continues to receive royal jelly throughout her life. Royal jelly is high in proteins, vitamins, minerals, and other medicinal compounds.
The bees offer so much medicine, whether you favor working with honey, wax, pollen, propolis, or royal jelly, you can find ways to infuse this with your herbalism practice.
“One of the main roles of the herbalist is to learn to listen to nature, and one of the best teachers for that are the honey bees. There is no complicated or secret path to learning from them. All you need to do is observe them.” ~ Benjamin Pixie
When bees are flying, they swarm and change direction like they are a single collective being. Each bee carries not only its own life but that of all the bees that came before them. The larger the swarm, the higher the electricity is, and this energy is palpable when you work among them.
We can learn a lot from the bees. From the way they give back to their hosts to support the environment to how they work in unison for a greater goal, you can find bee medicine not only in the honey but in how they teach us to live in greater harmony with the living world around us. They are the original herbalists and alchemists, and by observing them, we can learn a lot about how to become better herbalists ourselves.
About our guest: Benjamin Pixie
“I felt myself as this messenger of this golden, sweet, bubbling spirit of delight”
~ Benjamin Pixie.
Benjamin caught his first swarm of bees in 2006, and that was the beginning of a lifelong marriage to those ladies who do the love work of the plants. In 2007, he began the Pixie Honey Company, the same year Colony Collapse Disorder was first recognized in the United States. Since then, he has developed beyond organic, treatment free, bee centered methods of tending bees that have enriched the health of the hives, and the medicines harvested from them. Benjamin has taken his background in botanical medicine and years of experience in potion crafting to offer truly unique and potent botanical meads that celebrate the plants and the bees, while returning reverence, magic, and medicine to the imbibing of alcohol.
Benjamin first crossed paths with Maeyoka Brightheart in a luscious meadow on a golden June afternoon in 2013. Over the years a love and eventually a partnership grew, fed by their mutual reverence for the honeybees and passion for the wild. Maeyoka brings to the table a decade of experience tending bees, working with herbal medicine, and deepening her embodiment of the lessons of reciprocity and interconnectedness imparted by the bees and plants. The Brightheart-Pixie family now calls that meadow where they first met home. Benjamin, Maeyoka, their four children, and a growing community are the stewards of a 160 acre honeybee sanctuary and retreat center, called Skalitude, a name that means “to live in harmony with nature”.
Benjamin is kindly offering a discount code for first time orders at www.spiritofthehive.buzz with the coupon code: evolution
Learn more about Benjamin below:
In this podcast, we also reference the books “The Global History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting” by Eva Crane
as well as Rudolf Steiner’s lectures on Bees, and beekeeper Jacqueline Freeman, “The Song of Increase”