Contributed by Natalie White

Here in north Georgia, we have a lot of old wives tales and superstitions, most of which involve food. Today, let’s take a closer look at honey. You’ll bee sure to thank me later.

Got allergies? Got an ulcer? Got a burn? You know the drill. Grab some honey. Honey can kill bacteria, viruses, and even fungi. It can lower cholesterol, inflammation, and even be used to treat wound care. With honey truly being the bee’s knee of heart and whole body wellness, what’s there not to bee-lieve?

Friends, bee forewarned. That little plastic bear isn’t fooling anyone. According to the Institute of Natural Healing, an independent health research team, “76 percent of honey bought in U.S. grocery stores, isn’t actually honey. It doesn’t even contain pollen.” I may not go so far as calling all honey without pollen fake, but I will say it is incredibly important to know where your honey is coming from and not blindly purchase any store-bought honey bear.

But how are you supposed to know the difference? Before you reach for your next jar, here’s what all the buzz is about.

Let’s start with the lingo. What exactly is “raw” honey and is there even such a thing as non-raw honey? Bee-lieve it or not, there are essentially just two factors that determine the rawness of honey: temperature and texture. Beginning with temperature, the technical definition of raw honey just means not heated past pasteurization or 95ºF/35ºC. “This is about the temperature of an active hive,” according to Bee Expert, Acclaimed conservation biologist and environmentalist Dr. Reese Halter. When honey is at this temperature naturally, it is stable and alive, thriving with nutritional and beneficial qualities (which we’ll get into in a minute).

Now looking at texture we’re not just talking about how long it takes the syrupy sweet stuff to hit your three-ingredient pancakes. We’re talking about freshly harvested goodness that may even include a little of the harvesting process such as ground up honeycomb, beeswax, pollen, propolis, royal jelly, and yes, maybe even a few of the workers. Additionally, the consistency will also depend on how recently the honey was harvested. The most recent honey will be creamier with more of a liquid-like consistency.

So, to answer the question I know you are all thinking, yes, what you find in the store might not actually meet the definition of “raw.” The more honey is processed, shipped, and handled, the less likely it is fresh, local harvested, and filled with nature’s goodness.

Let’s switch gears for a minute and talk about these magical little workers.

Whether you are in sunny San Diego or in the rural north Georgia mountains, like myself, our ecosystems depend on our sweet bees. It has often been said that bees are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat. Most crops require pollination such as squash, cucumber, tomato and eggplants, even nuts, seeds, fiber (such as cotton), and hay (alfalfa grown to feed livestock) all require pollination. True, European honey bees get most of the glory for being the most well known pollinators, but there are also hundreds of other species of bee that contribute some level of pollination services.

But these little guys might not be around forever. Bee communities, both wild and managed, have been declining over the last half-century as pesticide use in agricultural and urban areas increased. Even just this year there have been a number of reports in the media about the mysterious disappearance of large numbers of honeybees called colony collapse disorder. This has many growers concerned about how they will continue to be able to pollinate their crops.

But consumers, like you and I, can help the situation. It’s simple. According to Dr. Halter, “shop local and shop often.” Support local farmers who practice organic methods that avoid the use of insecticides and pesticides. Organic farmers work with nature and the seasons to grow their crops. Take a trip to your local Farmer’s Market, meet the people who grow your food and admire the sheer variety of local and in-season fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs. Pre-packaged store bought produce will never look the same again, and buying organic benefits the bees, local farmers, the environment and your health.

If you’re feeling really adventuresome, start your own organic garden or become bee friendly by planting bee friendly flowers and shrubs. According to the British Beekeepers Association, “Hawthorn, Portuguese Laurel, Winter Honeysuckle, Lilac, Rosemary, Lavender, Fuchsia, Hydrangea” and even Bee-gonias (sorry, couldn’t resist) keep these captivating creatures refreshed and energized. Read more about ten bee-friendly flowers here.

Last but not least, what’s all the buzz regarding honey’s benefits? Well, your grandmother might have been on to something. We all know it’s a natural sweetener but did you know that honey can improve your athletic performance? According to Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture Magazine, honey is an “excellent ergogenic aid and helps in boosting the performance of athletes.” It is a great way to maintain blood sugar levels, muscle recuperation, and glycogen restoration after a workout, as well as regulating the amount of insulin in the body, as well as energy expenditure.

Hilary, The Girl Next Door Honey

But that’s just the tip of the honeycomb. Honey has been used for centuries for its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties making it a great natural supplement to aide in immune health.

With so many reasons to hive five, don’t just take my word for it. Find your local beekeeper, ask some questions and you bee the judge of this. If the thought of hosting your own hive sounds thrilling. Check out Hilary Kearney, urban beekeeper at The Girl Next Door Honey! Hilary is a San Diego local, but has awesome online Beekeeping Courses to help you become a professional master of hives! Year-round honey in my own backyard? Yes, please!