Shop for honey and you'll see that some are lighter, others are darker. In general, the darker the honey, the better its antibacterial and antioxidant power. Honey was known to the Greeks as the "food of the Gods."

Honey was used in WWI to treat soldiers wounds. It is still used in wound dressings  today - medical grade honey is found to work against bacteria and fungi by creating a moist healing environment that is antibacterial in nature.

Why Do Bees Make Honey?

Honey bees are special in that they overwinter as a colony, unlike wasps and bumblebees (see Biology). The colony does not hibernate but stays active and clusters together to stay warm. This requires a lot of food, which is stored during the summer. Although a hive only needs 20-30 lb of honey to survive an average winter, the bees are capable of collecting much more, if given storage space. This is what the beekeeper wants them to do.

Bees have been producing honey in the same way for over one hundred and fifty million years

How Much Honey Can One Beehive Produce?

One hive can produce 60 lb (27 kg) or more in a good season, however an average hive would be around 25 lb (11 kg) surplus.

Bees fly about 55,000 miles to make just one pound of honey, that’s 2.2 times around the world. Romans used honey instead of gold to pay their taxes.

How Does The Beekeeper Get The Honey From The Bees?

The queen bee is kept below the upper boxes (called ‘supers’) in the hive by a wire or plastic grid (called a ‘queen excluder’), which the queen is too large to fit through. As the bees cannot raise brood above the queen excluder, only honey is stored in the supers. As the season progresses the beekeeper adds more supers until the time to harvest the honey.

A special one-way valve is then fitted in place of the queen excluder and gradually all the bees are forced into the lowest part of the hive. The beekeeper can then simply lift off the ‘super’ boxes containing the honey comb. The honey is extracted from the comb using centrifugal force in a machine called a spinner, which looks like an old-fashioned upright spin dryer.

Do The Bees Miss The Honey That Is Taken?

No. A strong colony can produce 2-3 times more honey than it needs. If necessary the beekeeper can feed sugar syrup in the autumn to supplement for the loss of honey.

Why Are Some Types Of Honey Clear And Runny And Other Types Opaque And Hard?

The type of honey made by the bees is dependent on the types of foliage and flowers available to the bees. Crops such as oil seed rape (the bright yellow fields in the spring) produce large quantities of honey that sets very hard, so hard that the bees cannot use it in the winter; garden flowers tend to give a clear liquid honey. If the beekeeper wants to produce a monofloral honey, e.g. pure clover, orange blossom, etc, the beehive is put out of range from other floral sources. This can be difficult for the hobby beekeeper, who normally produces a blend of the season’s honey. In the autumn, some beekeepers move their hives onto the moors to harvest the nectar from wild heather. Heather honey is thought to be the king of honeys and has a clear jelly consistency.

How Do Bees Make Honey?

Bees take nectar, which is a sweet sticky substance exuded by most flowers and some insects (honeydew), and mix it with enzymes from glands in their mouths. This nectar/enzyme mix is stored in hexagonal wax honey comb until the water content has been reduced to around 17%. When this level is reached, the cell is capped over with a thin layer of wax to seal it until the bees need it. This capping indicates to the beekeeper that the honey can be harvested. Capped honey can keep almost indefinitely. For the school swot: Sucrose (nectar) + inverters (bee enzyme) = fructose + glucose = honey. Perfectly edible honey comb was found in the tombs of the Pharaohs, over three thousand years old. How’s that for ‘Best Before Dates’.

Does Honey Contain Additives?

Unfortunately there is a lot of mass-produced adulterated honey around at the moment. The most prevalent problems include:

  1. dilution with different syrups
  2. harvesting immature honey
  3. using ion-exchange resins to lighten colour
  4. mislabelling origin

If you buy your honey direct from a local producer in the UK, these problems shouldn't exist. It should have it's source clearly labelled and be in its 'raw' form i.e nothing added to it, simply filtered to remove the comb and wax  after spinning. You can find your local branch to buy honey from here.


Melissopalynology is the study of pollen in honey. It originates from the Greek, Melisso for honey and Palynology for study of small particles. Palynology is a very established science, allowing the vegetative landscape over millions of years to be analysed through the pollen extracted from soil samples. However, it is not just limited to analysis of historical landscapes, it is equally applied to our modern-day environment, for example in solving criminal cases or predicting hay fever levels (Leitch and Salvage, BBKA News 2018).