How do bees actually make honey?
Bees do not create honey; they are actually improving upon a plant product, nectar. The honey we eat is nectar that bees have repeatedly regurgitated and dehydrated.
A bee colony or hive consists of one queen bee, hundreds of drones, and thousands of busy worker bees -- sterile females who gather pollen, produce beeswax, build honeycombs, and make the honey that feeds the other bees. The honeybee uses her tubular tongue to suck nectar from the flower into her abdominal honey sack (the bee's second stomach or "honey stomach"). In the sack, complex plant sugars in the nectar begin to break down into simpler, more digestible sugars. When the sack is full, the bee returns to the hive to offload droplets of nectar to another food- processing worker bee. That bee will distribute it to the young or place it into the honeycomb for long-term storage.
At the hive, "fanning" bees dehydrate and preserve the stored substance by flapping their wings to reduce its moisture content. Later, the individual cells of the comb will be sealed with beeswax, also secreted from the worker's abdomen, and synthesized with the help of honey, to safely preserve the bee's food supply.
It takes about 2 million flowers and over 55,000 miles in flight to make a single pound of honey. A typical hive can produce 60 to 100 pounds per year. As bees forage for honey, they transfer pollen (which sticks to their feet) from male to female plant parts -- this pollination of crops is essential to human agriculture and to our food supply.
Subtle flavor and color differences in honey depend on floral varieties and local weather. In the U.S., there are over 300 sources of honey, including popular varieties like clover, alfalfa, buckwheat, and orange blossom, and regional specialties like fireweed, tupelo, and macadamia nut honey.
Healers, herbalists, and medical practitioners through the ages have recognized the healthful properties of honey as a local dressing for wounds. New research suggests it's also a potential dietary antioxidant, especially if it's dark in color. Keep in mind that honey is not safe for infants under one year old -- they are at risk from botulism spores that do not pose a threat to older children and adults.