In 2006, beekeepers began reporting a strange trend—30 to 60 percent of their bee colonies went missing. Early on there was no explanation, but researchers have now identified the phenomenon as Colony Collapse Disorder, which occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear, leaving behind a queen, extra food, and a handful of nurse bees. Several factors have been cited as potential causes, including pesticide poisoning, stress due to frequent transportation for pollination, and pests or disease.
Hard-working honey bees aren’t just essential for honey production, but also serve a vital role as crop pollinators, helping at least 30 percent of the world’s crops and 90 percent of wild plants thrive. That means one thing’s certain—it’s essential to foster sustainable hives so we can continue enjoying nature’s bounty! Companies like Beekeeper’s Naturals are ahead of the game, making natural honey products like superfood blends and raw wildflower honey, partnering with bee research institutions, and spreading awareness about these mighty insects.
Q&A With Founder Carly Stein
An obsession with all things honey began when Carly woke up with swollen tonsils in Italy. Gelato helped ease the pain, and when she made her way to a local pharmacy, Carly was prescribed propolis, a sticky substance bees make from collected plant and tree resins. Read on to learn more about her journey to sustainable beekeeping and how Beekeeper’s Naturals is making the world a better place for bees.
Why is sustainable beekeeping such an important part of your mission?
At its core, Beekeeper’s Naturals is a company with a cause. We’re a beekeeper-led organization with the goal of providing people across the globe with healthier, more natural healing solutions to their health issues—and we want to save and support the bees while doing it!
Of course, we can’t make our products without the help of bees, but our relationship with bees and pollinators runs much deeper. In order to sustain our food supply and ecosystem at large, it’s critically important that we all step up, learn about the problem, and become a part of the solution.
Do you harvest honey all over the country, or just in certain regions?
To practice sustainable beekeeping, we need to get as far away from pesticide-covered areas as possible. We work with apiaries across North America that meet our standards of sustainability and quality. As the company grows, we continue our hunt for clean apiaries and regions across the globe so we can continue delivering pure, clean, pesticide-free products made with love. Unfortunately, as consumption increases and mass agriculture practices spread, finding clean grounds for our bees to forage is a constant challenge.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about honey or beekeeping that you wish people knew?
Misconception #1: Bees only make honey.
Propolis, bee pollen, and royal jelly (just to name a few!) are other powerful hive superfoods. Cultures around the world have used these ingredients for centuries, but most people in North America are only familiar with honey.
I’m always surprised when people think that our immune-supporting propolis spray is a honey derivative. Propolis is a completely different substance and it’s used differently for humans and bees alike. In the hive, propolis functions as the bees’ immune system and is used to protect the hive from bacteria, parasites, and viruses. It lines the inside of the hive, the front entrance and more. For example, if a mouse gets inside the hive, the bees will sting it to death, then mummify it with propolis to prevent the bacteria and any viruses from the decaying mouse to infect the rest of the hive (gross, but also amazing!).
Honey, on the other hand, serves as the bees’ energy source. The bees eat honey as a key part of their diet while propolis functions more like a medicine. The bees also make royal jelly, which I like to think of as the hive superfood and longevity elixir. It’s used to feed all baby bees and serves as the queen bee’s exclusive food source. Bee pollen is eaten as a protein source and beeswax is used to build cell walls. I could go on for days, but all of these bee products vary in material, function and nutritional profile—so yes, the bees make much more than honey!
Misconception #2: Honey has an expiration date.
It’s true—archeologists recently discovered raw honey in a tomb in Egypt that was still good! Hardening (or crystallizing) is a natural process that occurs in raw honeys. Honey crystallizes at different rates depending on a variety of factors such as storage conditions, floral source, and ratio of glucose to fructose.
Misconception #3: Bees are creatures to be feared.
Honeybees are typically quite docile, and will only attack to protect themselves or the hive if provoked. When a female bee stings a human, her barbed stinger gets stuck in our flesh, ripping out her abdomen and leading to her death. Bees are true friends to the human race as they work hard to put food on our tables and cover our environment with flowers. Yes, they can sting—but it’s not their life goal. Rather than swatting at them, just let them pass by. You likely won’t get stung, and you just might save a bee’s life.
Can you tell us more about your personal experience with propolis and how gelato played a role?
Like all great love stories, there’s gelato involved! In short, I’m allergic to antibiotics, so getting sick always presents a whole host of challenges. Naturally, on my gelato-fueled college semester abroad, right at the peak of my cultural exploration as a bright-eyed student, I developed a nasty bout of tonsilitis that even made breathing a challenge.
Determined to heal myself (and stay in Italy, of course!), I scoured every health-food store searching for a solution that wouldn’t cause an adverse reaction, and found a cure in a pharmacy in Florence. The pharmacist took one look at my chipmunk cheeks and handed me a black bottle of some mystery substance called propolis. In about two weeks, the swelling subsided and scratchy sore inflammation was soothed.
For me, propolis functioned the way antibiotics do for most people but without my typical adverse reaction to them. I made a full recovery with this mystery substance from the hive and got right back on that gelato train to continue exploring. When I returned home after the following semester I had a hard time finding my magic superfood, so I did what any college kid would do—I started beekeeping to make it myself!
Fast-forward a few years and propolis is a staple in my health routine. When I feel run-down and need to up my body’s natural line of defence, I give myself some extra sprays to fend off any bug that’s going around. I use all the hive superfoods in my daily routine, but as the single solution to my (previously) constantly sick, run-down immune system, propolis will always hold a special place in my heart.
How can consumers do their part to help #SavetheBees? Tell us more about this campaign!
First thing’s first, take a look at your grocery haul. We often forget, but it’s a simple truth: Every time you purchase something, you’re endorsing it! So when you fill your shopping cart, it pays (literally) to make sure that every item aligns with an ethos you can stand behind. Next time you buy a jar of honey, or any other bee product, give the label an extra scan: Is it unpasteurized? Raw? Sustainably made? Are your fruits and veggies organic? After you’ve committed to only buying organic groceries and bee products that will keep the bees in business for years to come, here are some next steps you can take:
1. Spread the word
Teaching others about the critical role bees play in our food supply and ecosystem helps others take action, reduce pesticide use, and much more. Tell your friends and teach your kids that bees are our friends and they need our help!
2. Get planting
One of the main issues affecting the bees is related to pesticide exposure. By planting your own garden, setting up a few growing greens on your balcony, or leaving a potted plant on the outside of your window sill, you’re providing a clean food source for our pollinators. The more the merrier. Make sure to buy untreated, organic, and heirloom seeds to give our bees some non-chemical coated forage. Every little bit helps!
3. Make a bee bath
Like all of us, bees get thirsty too! A great way to support bees—particularly in the summer months—is to set up a little bee bath for them to perch and hydrate. All you need is a shallow bowl full of water with some rocks, leaves and moss for the bees to perch on! Not only is it heaven for the bees, it will ensure that your garden receives lots of pollinator love.
4. Give back
We partner with UC Davis Bee Research in the US and the Canadian Bee Research Fund in Canada to support important research efforts going towards helping our pollinators. You can donate here, and we also give 10% of the profit from our “Save the Bees” hats and tees to our charity partners if you want to rock the cause.
You’ve been on the frontline of seeing Colony Collapse Disorder affect the bees. It sounds dire, but are there things to be optimistic about? How have you seen the industry adapt over the years?
The past few years have been rough for bees and beekeepers alike, but with public awareness growing around the issue, we’re seeing more momentum to reduce pesticide use. We have a long way to go and standing up to the large organizations that coat the land and plants in toxins is no easy feat, but we’re continually inspired by our growing community and its local efforts to make a difference. With a greater emphasis on transparency and a growing base of conscious consumers who care about where their food is coming from, we’re starting to see a larger shift take place. Now we just need all the amazing people out there to share the facts and stand with us in this fight to save the bees!
What are your personal favorite products, and what’s been most popular with the fans?
Propolis is my go-to when it comes to protecting my body and making sure I don’t get sick. This was the product we started the company around and many customers keep multiple bottles handy at all times for themselves and their kids (think pocket, desk, bedside table, etc.). For an energy boost and daily dose of nutrients, I take a teaspoon of Bee Powered. Just one teaspoon gives you a powerful dose of all the hive superfoods (royal jelly, propolis, bee pollen and honey). I love taking a spoonful of Bee Powered first thing in a.m., but it’s also a great way to boost your smoothie or add some superfood fuel to your yogurt or toast.
Our customers are also loving our newest product - B.LXR Brain Fuel. B.LXR is made with royal jelly and other plant-based adaptogens to support memory, focus, and concentration. For me this natural nootropic is just what I need when I have a lot of things going on and need the added support to get things done!