The ABC of medicinal practice


The process of fermenting honey is explained by the nectar changes and properties in the result of bees' activity. Bees collect honey directly from the nectaries, or glands, in plant blossoms, stems, and leaves, whereas bees get honeydew secreted by insects, feeding on sap, as a secondary product. Bees turn nectar and honeydew into honey. The composition of nectar is different from the composition of sap. Mainly a watery solution of the sugars fructose, glucose, and sucrose, it also contains traces of proteins, salts, acids, and essential oils. Sugar content varies from 3 to 80 percent, depending upon such factors as flower species and soil and air conditions. Fermenting nectar into honey is a complex physiological and physical process, in which all the occupants of the bee colony take part. Nectar contains 50-75% of water, 13-45,3% of saccharose, 20-31% of monosaccharides, mineral substances, organic acids, vitamins, ferments, essential oils, aromatic substances, antimicrobal ferments and other compounds. All these gives honey its peculiarities. Honeybees gather nectar mainly with 50% of dry substances, and rarely gather nectars having less than 15 percent sugar content, otherwise it would be too thick.

Worker bees gather nectar. In summer they make 8-10 flights and bring 20-25 grams of nectar each time. A bee gathers nectar with its "tongue" through which nectar is sucked into mouth and into stomach. A secretion of bees glands is added to the collected nectar while it is sucked into the mouth. After having gorged with nectar, it flows to the hive and gives passes nectar over to other worker bees whose duty is to accept it and then returns to her collecting job. Young bees in the hive start treating honey with its mouth organs, sucking it and slowing it many times. A considerate amount of water evaporates from it, it enriches with ferments, organic acids and other secretions of bees. Then the nectar is put into free cells, which are not filled and the process of fermentation goes on. After having become thick the nectar is put in other cells, where it finally converts into honey. At this time the nectar is influenced by warm air which circulates in the hive. With there quick wing flapping bees ventilate the hive. Changes which take place in the process of converting nectar into honey are not well studied yet. The main processes are decomposition of saccharose into glucose and fructose and water evaporating. Honey invertase has the properties of A or B glucosidase that's why honey contains more fructose than glucose.

Together with saccharose decomposition the fermentation of oligosaccharides by partially breaking down more complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides) takes place in the process of nectar conversion into honey. In the result of this reactions the amount of saccharose is lowered and the amount of fructose, glucose and oligosaccharides increases. The growth of mineral substances and acids concentration leads to a certain buffer system and to a definite pH ratio. Changes that take place in the process of honey conversion are given in chart one.

Chart 1. Changes of nectar (orange) composition in the process of its conversion into honey.

Indices Nectar Honey
Water 76,5 16,0
Fructose 6,3 41,0
Glucose 5,2 34,0
Glucose /fructose 1,2 1,2
Saccharose 13,0 4,1
Acid 13,0 0,12
Ash 0,02 0,1

Bees seal combs with honey after the humidity has reached 18-20%. Honey stays in the hive no less than 7-10 days. Honey extracted before this period has a heightened humidity and saccharose content. It quickly goes back. Mature honey can be kept for a long time, and fermentation processes are prevented by high concentration of sugar in it. Fermenting processes still go on after the cells have been sealed but at a lower speed.

Wax, pure pollen, pollen fermented by bees' glands, propolis, bees' venom, royal jelly are very valuable beekeeping products. secreted by the worker bee to make the cell walls of the honeycomb. Beeswax is secreted by special bees glands. It ranges from yellow to almost black in colour, depending on such factors as the age and diet of the bees, and it has a somewhat honeylike odour and a faint balsamic taste. It is soft to brittle, with a specific gravity of about 0.95 and a melting point of more than 140 F (60 C), and it consists mainly of free cerotic acid and myricin (myricyl palmitate), with some high-carbon paraffins. Although insoluble in water, it can be dissolved in such substances as carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, or warm ether. It is used more than in 40 industries, namely aircraft industry, in textile, electrotechnical, tanning, pharmaceutical and other industries. It is also used in medicine, cosmetics, and perfumery.

Pollen, which bees collect from plants and flowers is rich in monsaccharides, mineral and protein substances, ferments, vitamins, thyroid hormones, and some aromatic substances. It is necessary for the rearing of young bees and for stimulating the glands that produce royal jelly, beeswax, and ferments. Pollen is used in medicine, cosmetics and for nutrition.

"Perga" is collected by bees pollen, sealed in combs and poured over by honey. Under the influence of ferments, lactic acid fermentation takes place, and lactic acid conserves the mixture of honey with pollen and converts it into perga. In its composition there are proteins, sugars, fats, mineral substances, ferments, lactic acid, vitamins and hormones. It is an important protein source for bees and it is used in medicine as a prophylactic and curing remedy.

Honeybees also collect propolis, a resinous material from buds of trees, for sealing cracks in the hive or for covering corpses of mice, insects and other foreign objects in the hive that they cannot remove, for polishing comb cells to make them more solid and sterile.

Plant resins are the main constituent of propolis, also wax, essential oils, pollen. it also contains some microelements, vitamins, bactericidal substances. Specialists have stated that propolis has bactericidal, antitoxical, anti-inflammatory, anaesthetic and stimulating properties. In this connection it has been very widely used in medicine and veterinary practice.

Bees venom is the product of secretory activity of special glands. It is a transparent, thick fluid with a characteristic strong odor and with a bitter burning taste. Medicinal preparations, produced my pharmacy are widely used in medical practice. Royal jelly is the secretion of young bees, with which they feed queen larvae. It is a a whitish food with the consistency of mayonnaise with a specific odor and sour taste. There are all the components necessary for the development of an organism: proteins, carbohydrate, lipids, vitamins, amino-acids, ferments, hormones and antimicrobal substances. Due to its properties royal jelly is a highly nutritious and biologically active product. It is used in medicine as a prophylactic and beneficial remedy, in cosmetics for manufacturing creams. Specialist are studying its physiological and pharmacological spectrum of effects. But the importance of beekeeping is not limited to manufacturing these highly qualitative products. Bees play a great role as pollinators of entomophilous plants. In our country there are 150 species of entomophilous plants: sunflower, buckwheat, maize, flax, clover, cotton-plant, melons and gourds ( water melons, melons, cucumbers) and other plants.

As pollinators, bees make harvest 30-60 % higher, and the quality of the seeds and fruits of many cereals, industrial crops, fodder crops, herbals and aromatic plants improves. Indirect income that can be gained from using bees as pollinators can exceed a direct income obtained from bees management and rearing.


English translation © Irina Yelsukova