Many of the natural products and supplements we use today are far from new discoveries. In fact, most of them have been around throughout much of human history. One category that often flies under the trend radar: health products that come from bees.
According to a study published in Nature, humans have been reaping the benefits of substances bees can produce for at least 9,000 years. Not only did our prehistoric ancestors use honey for food and medicine, but for a whole host of other purposes, from waterproofing clay pots and bowls to embalming the deceased, says naturopathic doctor and clinical nutritionist David Friedman, N.D., D.C.
Today, products that come from bees—such as pollen, honey, and propolis—are as popular as ever. And we’ve now got modern science to identify the array of beneficial nutrients they offer. “The substances that come from bees contain vitamins, essential minerals, amino acids, antioxidants, enzymes, and essential fatty acids,” explains The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, R.D.N.
In addition to these nutrients, bee products also offer immune-supporting benefits and can help the body respond to threats such as injuries and infections, according to Toronto-based naturopathic practitioner Rachel Corradetti, N.D. Specific compounds called phenolic compounds and flavonoids take the credit for these benefits.
If you haven’t tapped into them yet, this guide breaks down all of the different health products that come from bees—and the benefits you can reap from using them.
While you might think of pollen as the culprit behind seasonal allergies, thanks to its vast array of nutrients, bee pollen is also regarded as a superfood. “Bee pollen is a mixture of flower pollen, nectar, enzymes, honey, wax, and bee secretions, so it is chock-full of essential amino acids, fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins, including A, B, C, D, E, and K,” says Friedman.
Thanks to all of these nutrients, bee pollen promotes good health in a variety of ways. In addition to supporting heart health and liver function, it can help out your immune system amidst pesky allergies, Friedman explains.
Typically, you’ll find bee pollen in small yellowish-orange to dark brown or black granules. “The pollen has a sweet, floral taste that varies depending on which plants the bees gathered it from,” notes The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist, Karen Cooney, M.A., C.N., C.H.H.C. She recommends using a tablespoon of bee pollen granules in smoothies, yogurts, salads, or cereal.
Try: The Vitamin Shoppe brand Bee Pollen Complex or Y.S. Organic Bee Farms Bee Pollen (Whole Granules).
Probably the bee-derived product you’ve used the most, honey begins as flower nectar collected by bees, breaks down into simple sugars, and is stored inside the honeycomb, explains Friedman. “The design of the honeycomb and constant fanning of the bees’ wings causes evaporation, creating a sweet liquid that contains vitamins, minerals, and up to 22 amino acids, including the eight that are essential for human growth and development,” says Friedman.
Honey also contains a ton of antioxidants, which help the body ward off environmental toxins and boost immunity. “Honey contains 16 antioxidants known for their ability to target and destroy free radicals,” says Friedman.
What happens to honey in the process of going from that honeycomb to a jar in your home, though, has a major impact on the potential benefits it offers. “Honey is often pasteurized, filtered, processed, and mixed with syrup in an effort to cut costs, which can cause it to lose some nutrients along the way,” Friedman explains.
Read More: 5 Melt-In-Your-Mouth Recipes Starring Raw Honey
The healthiest, most unadulterated, and most nutrient-dense honeys out there, though, are raw, unpasteurized, and unfiltered, according to Friedman. Also, as a general rule, he recommends opting for darker colored honey, which has a higher nutritional content and has been shown to possess more health-promoting properties than light honey. “The darker the honey, the less water it contains, which in turn means a greater concentration of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants,” he explains.
What about Manuka honey, you ask? Manuka is probably one of the best-known types of honey out there—and for good reason. Unlike traditional raw honey, Manuka contains high levels of certain compounds (including Leptosperin, DHA, and Methylglyoxal or MGO), which give it potent immune-supporting properties, according to Friedman. In addition to being a powerful natural food for supporting your immunity, you can also use it on your skin to support collagen production, restore the skin’s natural pH, and remove dead skin cells, he suggests.
Try: L.R. Rice Local Hive Northeast Raw & Unfiltered Honey or Wedderspoon Raw Monofloral Manuka Honey
Honeybees produce this creamy, milky-white substance to feed their young as well as the queen (hence the name “royal”). It’s rich in a myriad of different nutrients, including protein, fat, B vitamins, and trace minerals. Plus, “royal jelly is the only natural outside source of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which helps cells relay messages in the body and is essential for the memory process and learning,” Friedman says. “Royal jelly is also the only known source of a compound called 10-hydroxy-2dekenoic acid (10-HAD) that has been shown to benefit the gastrointestinal tract.”
Read More: How To Make The Ultimate Immune-Boosting Meal
While there’s no official recommended amount of royal jelly to take daily, Friedman suggests a minimum of 300 milligrams per day to reap its health benefits. “You can take it by the spoonful and add some to your daily tea, incorporate some into your morning smoothie, spread it on toast, or even add it to cereal or oatmeal,” he suggests.
Try: Y.S. Organic Bee Farms Super Ultimate Strength Royal Jelly
Also known as “bee glue” due to its sticky texture, propolis is actually resin that bees gather from trees to repair damage to their hive, according to Corradetti. In addition to being a fabulous hive fixer, propolis is also packed with flavonoids, vitamins, and minerals, she says. It’s also been hailed for its immune-supporting and gut-loving properties.
While we can consume small amounts of propolis by consuming more raw honey, Michels suggests taking a supplement to really reap the immunity benefits. Try one 500-milligram capsule per day.
Try: The Vitamin Shoppe brand Bee Propolis Extract or Y.S. Organic Bee Farms Propolis 1000
In the process of creating their nests, bees create beeswax—and it just so happens to offer a host of benefits for humans, too. In fact, you’ve probably used lip balm that contains beeswax, which can be incredibly nourishing for dry, cracked skin. “Beeswax is commonly used as a thickener, emulsifier, and stiffening agent in cosmetics and is also used to make soaps, hand creams, balms, and salves,” says Friedman. Look for it in all sorts of natural skin-care products.
And in case you’re wondering, yes, you can consume it, too. “Beeswax can also be ingested and may help strengthen the body’s defenses,” Friedman says. Less common, but still a thing.
Try: Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm with Vitamin E and Peppermint
Who should not use bee products?
While bee products are generally considered safe to use, they may not be suitable for anyone with a bee or pollen allergy, Cooney says. Just to be safe, she recommends checking with your doctor before adding any of these products to your routine.
“Even if you have no history of allergies, it’s best to start small,” she adds. “Some brands recommend taking one raw bee pollen kernel or a drop of royal jelly under your tongue to start, then slowly increasing your dose every day.”
If you experience any reaction—such as swelling or shortness of breath—call your doctor immediately.