May the honey bee with you

It is estimated that honey bees (Apis spp.) fly nearly 90,000 km to make just one jar of honey, that’s more than twice the circumference of the Earth.

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Honey has been consumed by humans for over ten thousand years: the Egyptians were the first to practice the art of beekeeping and it has been reported that the Romans used honey instead of gold to pay their taxes. This sweet substance not only contains a complex mixture of sugars but has many other natural constituents. It is a combination of these that make it a unique and nutritious food, for both bees and humans! The composition and concentration of these constituents varies and depends on honey floral and geographical origin, honey processing and storage, and seasonal and environmental factors. Honey can also contain many contaminants mainly due to anthropogenic activities.

The reported biological properties and health benefits of honey produced by honey bees are vast. Honey contains flavonoids and phenolic acids, and many studies have shown that a high concentration of total phenolics is strongly correlated with high antioxidant activity. Food antioxidants have been shown to prevent oxidative stress and thus prevent oxidative damage.

Frame of brood

The aims of my PhD research are to determine the type and quantity of phenolic acids and flavonoids present in Irish honey. To date, the results show that Irish heather honey has the highest total phenolic content out of three Irish single origin honeys (heather, ivy and oilseed rape), whilst oilseed rape honey has the lowest. Interestingly, urban honeys have a higher total phenolic content than rural honeys. Irish heather honey shows similar physiochemical characteristics to Manuka honey from New Zealand, and has a higher total phenolic content than Manuka honey. This suggests that heather honey may be as medicinally effective as Manuka honey and that the potential health benefits of Irish heather honey should be explored.

With the exciting launch of Trinity’s Pollinator Plan and the establishment of a hive on campus, honeys will be compared from DCU, TCD and UCD. The results will be revealed in a future blog post.

Saorla Kavanagh is an IRC-funded PhD student, registered at DCU, supervised by Blánaid White (DCU) and Jane Stout (TCD).

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