Every March like clockwork, our youngest Chihuahua gets the sniffles. She sneezes and snores, right in time with the increasing pollen count in our Appalachian mountains. She’s not alone; many humans suffer along with her during this time, and if you’re one of them, you know how miserable seasonal pollen allergies can be. But there’s a sunny side to it all. Pollen is pretty amazing stuff, and if you can get a handle on its drawbacks, it becomes easier to appreciate it for all its incredible uses.
Here are five reasons to put down the tissues and learn to love pollen.
1. Pollen Feeds Us
Pollen is the reproductive magic of the plant world. Through its movement between flowers—carried out in large part by bees, other pollinating insects and (of course) the wind)—it fertilizes fruit-bearing plants to allow the full reproductive cycle to take place. When this occurs, we get food.
2. Pollen Feeds Honeybees
Honey, the product that originates as nectar, is the primary source of sugars and carbohydrates for the honeybee, but pollen offers the vital proteins that bees need to stay healthy and raise their brood. Bees store pollen just as they do honey, convert it to what we call “beebread” with their magical digestive enzymes, and use it to feed their brood year round.
3. Proportionally, Pollen Has More Protein Than Beef
You heard that right. Pollen is richer in protein than most animal meats. It also has additional health benefits including several essential vitamins such as B12 as well as folinic acid. (“Folic acid” is the labratory derived version.)
4. Pollen Can Help Seasonal Allergies
Sometimes the culprit is the cure. Have you ever heard of eating raw honey to help with seasonal allergies? The wisdom behind this holds that tiny fragments of pollen are present in the honey, and it offers an inoculation of sorts against the allergies. Of course, you’d need honey harvested from the same flowering plants that trigger your allergies for this to be effective. That said, eating pollen will do the same thing—faster and more effectively.
5. Pollen Is Highly Medicinal
While research data is limited, bee pollen has been consumed by cultures around the world throughout history for its medicinal properties. It’s said to aid in digestion, relieve allergies, strengthen the immune system and boost energy levels.
Honeybee pollen can be easily harvested by placing a “catch” guard or pollen trap at the entrance of the hive during peak season. This small trap reduces the entrance size that bees can fit through, and as they re-enter the hive from foraging trips, the tight squeeze knocks off the pollen from their baskets and catches it. Many versions exist, and while they’re a wonderful tool for the beekeeper to have, I strongly recommend using it sparingly. Bees need the pollen more than we do; if we can strike a balance with harvesting the pollen just as we do with harvesting the honey (leaving enough for the colony, first and foremost), then beekeeper as well as honeybee can enjoy the benefits.