Oh for the love of bees! Are you as obsessed as I am? Probably not, but I am a little special that way. My passion for bees knows no limits, as the amazing things they produce are infinitely mind-blowing! If you’ve been back in the archives, you’ll know I am a huge raw honey fan, and don’t even get me started on beeswax, but that is only scratching the surface when it comes to the bee products that fill my home, my tummy, and my life.
Let me introduce you to bee pollen. I have wanted to write a post about this for quite some time now because it is one of my absolute favorite superfoods. Not only is it delicious, versatile, and astonishingly inexpensive, but also is oh-so-good-for-you, like times infinity. But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
What is bee pollen?
First, let’s distinguish between bee pollen form airborne pollen, the latter being the pollen that causes hay fever and other related allergies.
Bee pollen on the other hand is actually the collected pollen that the bees take back from the flowers and store in the hive for food. The bees obtain it by going from flower, scraping the powdery loose pollen from the stamen with their jaws and front legs. They moisten the pollen with a sticky substance secreted from their stomachs so it will adhere to their rear legs. The jagged bristles of their rear legs are used to comb the powder from their coats and front legs. The outsides of their tibias form concave areas used as pollen baskets, into which they press their golden deposits. When each of these baskets is fully loaded, the microscopic dust has been tamped down into a single golden granule – and that is the bee pollen that you can eat!
Why the heck would I want to eat plant sperm collected by bugs?
Because I said so.
But if that doesn’t convince you, how about some concrete reasons?
First off, bee pollen is a super high-energy whole food that supplies us with nearly every single nutrient the human body needs to survive. Wow. Surprisingly, it is very high in protein, containing between 20-35%, including all 22 amino acids.
Bee pollen is loaded with enzymes, something quite lacking in many modern diets. Enzymes are the little compounds that help us break down and digest food, one reason that eating raw foods is so important. Supplementing the diet with bee pollen is excellent all the time, but especially when we’ve been indulging in, ahem, falafels at 2 a.m. on Friday night. I also find it a great travel companion, as I know that I can give my body all the nutrients it needs if I can’t find the all-u-can-eat organic vegetarian buffet at the airport, for example.
And to top it all off, bee pollen is jam-packed with vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, and phytonutrients – I’m telling you, everything! If you were stranded on a dessert island, theoretically, you could survive off the stuff (although I have yet to meet someone who has tested this out).
As illogical as it may sound, many people actually experience relief from seasonal allergies by introducing small amounts of fresh, local pollen in to their diet. This could be due to the high levels of quercitin it contains, which is known for its ability to minimize or neutralize the histamine response (I discussed quercitin here). According to the Journal of Allergy, one study of allergy sufferers showed a majority of people with hay fever enjoyed a dramatic improvement after eating bee pollen, while some of the study’s participants reported showing a 100% improvement in their condition with supplemental intake of bee pollen.
Okay great, but how does it taste?
The flavour of bee pollen is quite special – I guess I would refer to the taste as floral (go figure). Of course the taste of your bee pollen will depend on where your pollen comes from and the flowers that the bees were dippin’ into.
If you eat bee pollen on its own (which I would encourage at least the first time around), let it dissolve on your tongue to absorb and revel in its amazing complexities of flavour and texture. Mind blowing! And consider the unbelievable concentration of energy that it contains; literally the fertile male element of plant life! Holy cow.
Buying Bee Pollen
Because of its highly concentrated nature, and the fact that it is harvested from flowers, sourcing bee pollen gathered in a pesticide-free environment is important. And it’s also advisable to buy local bee pollen, as it will help to tune your body into your surrounding environment – kind of in line with my “zany” ideas about eating warm food in the winter and cool food in the summer.
Most health food and natural food shops now carry bee pollen. Sometimes it can be found sitting on the shelf right next to the honey, but the best quality bee pollen may be found in the fridge of freezer section of the shop.
Bee pollen comes as small granules in various shades (see photo). One bag from a single source can have a remarkable colour range, which comes from the various flowers the bees collected the pollen from. The granules should be relatively soft (never crunchy!) and dissolve easily on the tongue.
Do not buy bee pollen that comes in tablet form – heating the pollen during compression will destroy its enzymes and vitamin C content. It is a raw food and should be enjoyed as such!
Once purchased, store opened containers of bee pollen in the fridge, and unopened containers in the freezer for the longest shelf life.
The Price is Right
Totally wanting to take supplements, but don’t have the cash? Well, you’ve struck gold with bee pollen, as it’s loaded with the good stuff without the outrageous price tag. Score!
Taking Bee Pollen
Considering it is such very powerful food, it’s best to introduce bee pollen to the body in a responsible manner, (i.e. slowly). Sometimes with supplement and superfoods, we can react in unexpected ways, so it’s best to start off with small amounts and work your way up just to make sure your body is cool with what you’re putting in your mouth.
Adults: Start with 1 teaspoon, and then increase your intake every day by a few grains until reaching 2 teaspoons a day (10 ml). Daily intake should be a maximum of 1 tablespoon (15 ml).
Children: Start from 3 grains, increasing by 2 grains every few days until reaching 1/2 tsp. a day.
***Note: A small percentage of the population is severely allergic to bee pollen (particularly if you are allergic to bees or other bee products). Please use caution and common sense before introducing this food to your diet.
If you are interested in reading more about the production, medical uses, nutritional values, or are just curious about the life and anatomy of bees, an outstanding source is R. Krell’s paper on Value Added Products From Beekeeping published in 1996 – the pollen section is specifically relevant to this post.
I thought I’d start with a simple smoothie recipe to get ya’ll in the mood for pollen, but there are many ways of incorporating these amazing golden granules into your daily diet. Sprinkle it on your morning cereal or lunch-time salad, top your desserts, add to salad dressing, or fold it into your raw food snacks (like The Raw Brownie perhaps?).
Bee Pollen Smoothie
1 cup nut milk (or other milk)
1 cup blueberries (frozen are fine)
1 frozen banana, in 3 or 4 chunks
1 Medjool date, pitted (optional)
1 hunk of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tsp. bee pollen (to start, work up to 1 Tbsp.)
1. Put everything in a blender and whir it up! Drink immediately.
You can make your smoothie out of anything you have on hand and/or what is in season – this is simply what I had today!
And yes, that is a glass straw. After all the thought and care I put into buying organic foods, and preparing them in a healthiest way possible, I could not consider slurping my beautiful smoothies through a plastic straw that is potentially leaching harmful toxins. Absolutely not, I say!
Also, glass straws are a far better alternative for the environment, as they are reusable. Those plastic straws, however small, still add up in the landfill.
I bought my glass straw from an artist in Mendocino county (of course) last fall and I am really in love with it. One of those things I constantly told myself I could live without is now something I use almost everyday and get so much pleasure from. You buy them online from many different vendors (just Google glass straws). They aren’t that expensive, and surprisingly durable. Thumbs up!
Am I finished yet? Yes, I am.
source: Haas, Elson M. Staying Healthy with Nutrition. Berkley, CA: Wiley, 2006.
Jubb, Annie & David. Life Food: Living on Life Force. Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2003.
Value-added Products from Bee-keeping: http://www.fao.org/docrep/w0076e/w0076e00.htm#con