Bees on honeycomb
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How Do Bees Make Honey?

It begins when a honeybee stops at a flower and sucks out the sweet liquid nectar. She stores the nectar in a special sac called a honey crop, where enzymes break it down into simple sugars. Back at the hive, other bees move the nectar into honeycombs. They hover above the cells, creating a breeze that dries out the nectar until it becomes honey, and then seal the cells with wax. Bees visit 2 million flowers to make a pound of honey.

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Honey bee
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Is Honey Really Bee Barf?

When they’re hunting for nectar, bees do store it in a special second stomach just for honey. And while they do sort of throw it up when they get back to the hive, it isn’t quite the same. The truth is that since the nectar was never in the bee's actual stomach, it isn’t really vomit.

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Bee keeper
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Where Does Honey Come From?

Most honey comes from farms where bees pollinate crops like berries, vegetables, fruit trees, and nut trees. In 2017, U.S. beekeepers gathered 148 million pounds of honey. The top honey states are North Dakota, California, South Dakota, Florida and Montana. Bees pollinate more than one-third of our crops and increase the value of harvests by at least $15 billion.

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Woman pouring honey
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How Long Have People Used Honey?

Humans have gathered honey for thousands of years. Rock art in Spain from 6000 B.C. shows people harvesting honey. Beeswax from around 8000 B.C. was found in cooking pots in Turkey. By 2400 B.C., the Egyptians were skilled beekeepers. When early people cleared forests into pastures, they created bee-friendly habitats where flowers and bushes grew. As farmers moved into new areas, honeybees followed. 

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Female beer tester
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How Is Honey Used In Brewing?

The oldest known fermented drink was made with honey. Scientists found it preserved in 9,000-year-old pottery jars at a site in Northern China. The recipe also included rice and fruit. Today, brewers use honey to make beer sweet or dry, or to add aroma, flavor, and roundness. Many brewers also make mead, which is fermented only with honey. But mead isn't beer.

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Honey sugar comparison
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Honey vs. Sugar

In this debate, honey may have an edge. It has healthy antioxidants, amino acids, and vitamins. But some experts say honey’s benefits are too small to matter. Besides, a teaspoon of honey has 21 calories, compared with 16 for sugar. Don’t give honey to children under 1 year of age. It may have trace amounts of botulism that will make them sick.

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Woman sneezing
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Will Honey Help My Allergies?

Honey contains pollen, and because of that, some people eat local honey for relief from hay fever and other allergies. The idea is similar to how allergy shots work. But the types of pollen in honey are rarely the types of pollen that make people sneeze or cause their eyes to water. The science is clear: Eating honey won’t help most people with seasonal allergies.

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Child’s bruised knee with bandage
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Can Honey Help You Heal?

The use of honey to treat wounds and burns has been part of traditional medicine for centuries. Ancient Egyptians used it on wounds. It has natural compounds that fight bacteria, promote healing, prevent infections, and ease swelling. To be safe, buy medical-grade honey from a drugstore before you treat a wound or burn. Always see your doctor if the wound is serious.

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Hieroglyphics on ancient chamber walls
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How Long Does Honey Keep?

Honey has an amazing shelf life. Scientists found pots of honey in Egyptian tombs that were thousands of years old -- and still safe to eat! Its low moisture, strong acids, and antibacterial compounds make it almost impossible to spoil as long as it’s sealed. Keep it in a tightly closed jar in a dry, cool place like a pantry. If it gets crystals, put it in an open, nonplastic container in a pan of warm water until it’s clear again.

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royal jelly
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What’s Royal Jelly?

Royal jelly is superfood for bees. Every newborn bee eats it for a few days. But bees destined to become queens are fed royal jelly until they’re adults. That’s why queens are bigger and live longer than other bees. Some people say royal jelly is also a superfood for humans and can treat everything from baldness to menopause and arthritis. But claims about royal jelly are more hype than fact.

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Manuka honey
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What Is Manuka Honey?

This dark honey, made from the nectar of manuka trees in New Zealand, is a popular folk remedy for wounds, burns, and ulcers. It has an antibacterial compound that is unique among honeys. That’s why it’s drawn interest from scientists. Recent studies support the use of manuka to heal wounds and skin disease, and to fight deadly bacteria. It also shows promise as a treatment for some cancers. 

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Girl eating honey
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Can Honey Ease Cold Symptoms?

Your parents were on to something when they gave you honey for a cold. Studies show that a small amount helps children cough less and sleep better, compared with the drugs in many well-known syrups and allergy pills. Just don't give it to any little ones less than 1 year old. It could cause botulism.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 5/25/2018 Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on May 25, 2018

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Nature: “Spanish rock art depicting honey gathering during the Mesolithic,” “Widespread exploitation of the honeybee by early Neolithic farmers.”

National Public Radio: “Farmers Have Been Enjoying The Fruits Of Bee Labor For 9,000 Years.”

Graham, J. The Hive and the Honey Bee, Dadant & Sons, 1979.

News release, University of the Basque Country.

University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology: “The Earliest Alcoholic Beverage in the World.”

Beer Judge Certification Program; “Honey In Beer.”

Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau: “Alcohol FAQs.”

University of California, San Francisco: “The Sweet Science of Honey.”

North Dakota State University Extension: “Honey or Sugar.”

American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: “Will honey relieve my seasonal allergies?”

Wounds: “Honey: A Biologic Wound Dressing.”

Indian Journal of Plastic Surgery: “Wound healing through the ages.”

University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health: “Wound Healing -- Old Solution for an Old Problem.”

Indiana Public Media: “Why Doesn’t Honey Spoil?”

Smithsonian: “The Science Behind Honey’s Eternal Shelf Life.”

University of Missouri Extension: “Using and Storing Honey.”

The University of Arizona College of Agriculture & Life Sciences: “The Life of the Bee.”

Columbia University: “What is royal jelly?”

Foods: “The Composition and Biological Activity of Honey: A Focus on Manuka Honey.”

NCCIH Clinical Digest: “The Common Cold and Complementary Health Approaches: What the Science Says.”

Harvard University Research Guides: “Busy as a Bee.”

Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium: “The Colony and Its Organization.”

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on May 25, 2018

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.