Bees’ functions & services

Insects and other invertebrates are invaluable components of most ecosystems on Earth. They are not only a major node of most food webs; they are also the most important of animal pollinators. Among them, European Honeybees (Apis mellifera) stand out because in natural ecosystems and on a global scale, they are now the most frequent single pollinator species, accounting on average for an astonishing 14% of all pollination services, more than twice that provided by all bumblebee species combined (1).

For us specifically, the pollination services of honeybees are an important indirect source of food. About 35% of our crops global production depends at least partly upon animal pollinators (2), among which honeybees play a major role: On average, 39% of flower visits in these crops are made by honeybees (3). Honeybees’ pollination services also appear to significantly improve cotton production (4). Even though a majority of pollination services is still naturally fulfilled by countless other wild insect species, the honeybee is a special pollination actor because of its generalist nature (it will pollinate a wide variety of plant species) and because it is now very widely distributed. Needless to say that the recent mass dying off of insects (5,6) can potentially lead to substantial money losses (7,8) and more generally to a great nutritional and cultural impoverishment of our societies (2)…in other words, a loss of life quality.

Honeybees are also a direct source food, providing high quality products. Honey is for example a good source of simple sugars (9). Pollen contains on average 20-30% of proteins and several important vitamins like provitamin A and vitamins E, D, C, B1, B2, B6 (10,11) and even significant amount of vitamin B12 in some pollen (12). Royal jelly is also high in proteins and contains a large number of bioactive substances, filling one with energy (13,14).

Another, less well-known service provided by honeybees is the use of bee products in apitherapy for medicinal purposes. Propolis, royal jelly, and honey are the best known bee products for their medicinal properties, but pollen, beebread, and bee venom are also well-known and they all help for an impressively wide range of ailments. Those medicinal properties are the result of generally high concentration of bioactive compounds such as polyphenols and flavonoids in bee products. These products generally help neutralizing toxins, boosting the immune system, improving the energy balance of tissues, and much more (15):


Honey: Honey has been shown to have very beneficial effects on the nervous system (16) and has long been known to be an extremely potent healing agent for wounds and burns (17-19), often leaving no scarring at all or a very minder one. It has also been shown to have antioxidant, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammation properties (19,20). Honey also seems good against cough (21), gastrointestinal tract diseases, cardiovascular diseases and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer, depression, and dementia, and it improves fertility and learning processes (19).

Pollen: Besides being an amazingly rich source of food, pollen also favors digestion and nutrients absorption (15). Pollen has also been demonstrated to have antioxidant, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-androgenic, anti-inflammation, and anti-cancer properties (11,15). It is also known to help boost the immune system during severe diseases like leukemia and to be highly effective in the treatment of depression and alcoholism (11,15). It has beneficial effects on brain, liver, and heart functions and helps to minder the side-effects of chemotherapy in cancer treatments (15). Finally, it increases physical fitness in case of excessive exercise load (15).

Propolis: This is a product made by the bees from the balsam they collect on the buds of many different tree species. They use it to sterilize the hive and to block any unwanted holes in it. Propolis has been shown to have detoxifying, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-caries, anti-ulcer, anti-inflammation, anti-cancer, and antioxidant properties, and to help with various other conditions such as diabetes, depression, or the side-effects of chemotherapy against cancer (see reference 22 for a detailed list of the scientific literature regarding the medicinal properties of propolis).

Beebread: Beebread is a fermented product prepared by the bees inside the hive where they put pollen in honeycomb cells adding honey, digestive enzymes and organic acids. Hence, it has a similar composition than pollen but generally has a richer chemical composition, a higher nutritional value and, through the fermentation process, a higher digestibility and assimilation rate for both bees and humans and is thus normally more effective (15). Beebread has been shown to be an excellent source of vitamins (B and K), to help restore strength and proper digestive functioning, to boost the immune system, to have detoxifying, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, to improve concentration and memory, to reduce allergic reactions to pollen when properly used, and to be beneficial to the heart and liver (15).

Royal jelly: This “royal food” helps developing healthy neurones and improving cognitive processes and it appears to have a fortifying and tonic action on the body, combatting chronic fatigue (14). It also shows anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, antioxidant, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammation properties, helps reducing stress and dealing better with it, helps by wound healing, and helps combat diabetes and depression (13,14). Royal jelly is also beneficial to the hormonal system and increases fertility, especially for women (14). Royal jelly is also believed to have a great anti-aging effect.

Apilarnil: Apilarnil is an extract from the larvae of drones (male bees). An anecdote says that the potential of this product was discovered in Romania where roosters fed with drone larvae appeared much stronger, shinier and seemed generally healthier than other roosters. Though to our knowledge very few scientific studies addressed this product, it is generally believed to reinforce the body in general, whether because one is sick or because one finds oneself in a period of particularly high physical or psychological stress (23).

Beehive air: Through their wing movements, bees send in the beehive air many essential oils, wax, propolis, pollen, and flavonoids. So far, much anecdotal evidence (including our own) points to the fact that breathing beehive air (through a suitable system) greatly helps the respiratory system, though active research on the subject for scientific recognition is still ongoing and not yet available. Illnesses and symptoms for which it seems be particularly efficient include Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, bronchitis, asthma, sinusitis, discomfort from allergies, rheumatism, neuro-dermatitis, and even depression (24).

Bee venom: Since bee venom can be very dangerous in case of allergy, one should be extremely careful using it. If one can use it, bee venom has incredible anti-inflammation properties, greatly helping in ailments such as arthritis (25,26). It also appears to have anti-cancer properties and to act as a pain release, reducing neuralgia and musculoskeletal pains (26,27). It has also of course anti-bacterial properties (28). There are many more anecdotal medicinal effects of bee venom, but more scientific research is needed to clarify many claims.

***Note that the use of bee products does not replace a visit to the doctor when health problems occur and that one should be extremely careful when using some products (especially pollen and bee venom) because of the risks of intense allergic reactions. A medical advice is therefore recommended before using such products.

***Note also that for bee products to be effective and safely used in medicinal interventions, those products must be of high-quality. This means with the highest possible content of bioactive compounds such as polyphenols or flavonoids, and without harmful contaminants such as pesticides or heavy metals (29). So buy organic and certified products! Of course, permaculture can help increasing bee product quality!

Finally, note that the list of medicinal properties presented here is far from being exhaustive. Many more have been scientifically studied, especially for propolis, honey, and royal jelly, or would need to be more thoroughly studied.


  1. Hung et al. 2018. The worldwide importance of honey bees as pollinators in natural habitats. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 285: 20172140.

  2. Klein et al. 2007. Importance of pollinators in changing landscapes for world crops. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 274: 303-313.

  3. Rader et al. 2016. Non-bee insects are important contributors to global crop pollination. PNAS 113:146-151.

  4. Cunningham. 2014.. CSIRO Agricultural Productivity Flagship.

  5. Kluser et al. 2010. UNEP 2010 - UNEP Emerging Issues: Global Honey Bee Colony Disorder and Other Threats to Insect Pollinators.

  6. Hallmann et al. 2017. More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PlosONE, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0185809

  7. Losey and Vaughan. 2006.. BioScience 56: 311-323.

  8. Gallai et al. 2009. Economic valuation of the vulnerability of world agriculture confronted with pollinator decline. Ecological Economics 68: 810-821.

  9. Escuredo et al. 2013. Nutritional value and antioxidant activity of honeys produced in a European Atlantic area. Food Chemistry 138: 851-856.

  10. Feás et al. 2012. Organic bee pollen: Botanical origin, nutritional value, bioactive compounds, antioxidant activity and microbiological quality. Molecules 17: 8359-8377.

  11. Komosinska-Vassev et al. 2015. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Volume 2015, Article ID 297425.

  12. Bishr and Desoukey. 2012. y and Nutrition Sciences 2: 50-56.

  13. Ramadan and Al-Ghamdi. 2012. Bioactive compounds and health-promoting properties of royal jelly: A review. Journal of functional foods 4:39-52.

  14. Pavel et al. 2011.

  15. Kieliszek et al. 2018. Pollen and bee bread as new health-oriented products: A review. Trends in Food Science & Technology 71: 170-180.

  16. Rahman et al. 2014. Neurological effects of honey: current and future prospects. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Volume 2014, Article ID 958721.

  17. Efem. 1988. Clinical observations on the wound healing properties of honey. The British Journal of Surgery 75: 679-681.

  18. Molan. 2006.

  19. Rao et al. 2016. Biological and therapeutic effects of honey produced by honey bees and stingless bees: a comparative review. Revista Brasileira de Farmacognosia 26: 657-664.

  20. Yaghoobi et al. 2013. Evidence for clinical use of honey in wound healing as an anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-viral agent: A review. Jundishapur Journal of Natural Pharmaceutical Products 8 : 100-104.

  21. Goldman. 2014. Canadian Family Physician • Le Médecin de famille canadien 60: 1107-1110.




  25. Lee et al. 2005. An overview of bee venom acupuncture in the treatment of arthritis. eCAM 2: 79-84.

  26. Son et al. 2007. Therapeutic application of anti-arthritis, pain-releasing, and anti-cancer effects of bee venom and its constituent compounds. Pharmacology & Therapeutics 115: 246-270.

  27. Lee et al. 2008. Bee venom acupuncture for musculoskeletal pain: A review. The Journal of Pain 9: 289-297.

  28. Fennell et al. 1967. Antibacterial action of a bee venom fraction (melittin) against a penicillin-resistant Staphylococcus and other microorganisms.  Bureau of Medicine and Surgery Work Unit MFOO2.03.08-0004

  29. Stângaciu et al. 2015. Quality parameters needed for bee products used in apitherapy. Bulletin UASVM Animal Science and Biotechnologies 72: 66-71.

Loranger - Permaculture

Hannah & Jessy Loranger

Eduard-Mann-Str. 1-7

67280 Ebertsheim, Germany

© 2020 Jessy Loranger