Honey is the main source of energy for bees. Worker bees collect nectar from plants and carry it back to the hive in a special pouch on their gut, called a crop, before passing it to the house bees. These bees add enzymes and place the nectar near the entrance of the hive, fanning it with air to dry it out, creating sticky sweet honey.

The bees then store the honey in cells of the honeycomb and cover it over with wax to keep it fresh for the winter. The strongest colonies can store up to four times as much honey as they actually need, and it is this spare honey that beekeepers collect and sell to us.

Two different types of honey is sold in shops - runny and set. All honey is runny when first collected but usually it sets within a few weeks, so the only real difference is the texture. As well as a food source we also use honey as a medicine. In the World Wars we used honey to treat the wounds of soldiers and to fight infection before penicillin was discovered. Today it has even been used to preserve parts of human eyes for transplants. This is all thanks to honey's antiseptic properties.

A photograph of honeycomb

A photograph of honeycomb
Photograph by Merdal licensed under Creative Commons.

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