What better way to celebrate National Honey Month and Utah as the Beehive State than to get the low-down on honey! Author and beekeeper Marina Marchese was kind enough to talk with us about her new book, Honeybee: From Hive to Home, Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper. Honeybee is a fascinating look at both the history and the current state of beekeeping, as well as an in-depth look at honey and other bee products in all their forms and uses.
JN: Honeybee is incredibly comprehensive–you document everything from your own experiences becoming a beekeeper, to the history of bees in culture, to recipes for food and remedies, and beyond. It’s also clearly a labor of love. How long did it take you to put it all together?
MM: Honeybee was written in a one-year period but the actual experiences and knowledge was compiled in my ten years of keeping and living with honeybees. During those years I attended beekeeping meetings around the country in between my work in China and travels to Italy. I had the opportunity to meet beekeepers, taste their amazing honeys while being exposed to the countless wisdom the honeybee had to offer. The wealth of material that I uncovered and diversity of the honeybee was overwhelming, much of it ancient. In my book, I wanted to expose as many of these facets to illustrate how the honeybee touches everyone in a unique way and I hope my writings inspire people to dig deeper and embrace the honeybee and her value to our planet.
JN: You note in the book that there is a honey revival going on in the US. What do you think started it?
MM: Across the country we’ve seen an increase in the number of farmers markets and interest in eating local foods. More and more people are raising honeybees, chickens in an effort to control the quality of their food, to know where it is coming from and to give back to the earth. It all began with the Slow Food movement in Italy and France where the quality of the food is respected and geographical regions are protected. In Europe when they harvest their wine and olive oil they also harvest their honey. Honey is highly respected as a food and medicine in other countries often found in pharmacies and even wine stores. Unfortunately, this is an unknown concept for most Americans and as the blight of Colony Collapse Disorder continues to affect our honeybees and our source of fresh foods we are forced to pay attention.
With that insight comes nature’s oldest and most ecologically friendly sweetener, esteemed honey.
JN: As a honey neophyte, I was particularly surprised to see the links between bee products and medicine. What’s the most surprising use of honey/bee products as a remedy that you’ve found?
MM: It was at a beekeeping conference that I first learned about Apitherapy: healing with the honeybee and the products of the bee hive (honey, bee pollen, propolis, royal jelly and bee venom). Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine was one of the first humans to use honey as a remedy for health and healing as the ancient Egyptians and Romans. I found all of this absolutely intriguing and as I spoke with other beekeepers around the world it became clear that using honey and other bee products were accepted as customary. When I decided to make honeybee products available through my company Red Bee, they were literally unknown to the general public and launching them required tremendous amounts of education for our customers. Generally, I am most surprised how little the honeybee and the wonderful gifts she gives us from her beehive have been celebrated here in the US when it is second nature around the world.
JN: You talk a bit in the book about making the (often difficult) transition from working for a company to being a small business owner. Has being a local, sustainable business helped make that transition easier and attracted customers? What’s been the biggest challenge?
MM: I knew early on as a young person I would be independent and follow my dreams I had no idea it would be the honeybee that would take me there. My vision for Red Bee was based upon concepts that I feel strongly about and ideas I unraveled abroad. My mission was to take honey and the other products of the hive and create one complete line that encompassed them all, something that had never really been done here in the US. Using my creative talents and design sensibilities, I was able to take bee products and package them to be user friendly and extremely appealing in a boutique style. There is a tremendous amount of education that goes into selling and marketing products and my job is more difficult because bee products are not mainstream. The first few years of selling were challenging at the markets as customers would ask what do you do with honeycomb or what is so special about the bees wax in your skin care. It was important for me to answer each and every question thoroughly until the customers were excited enough to try our products. Once they tried them, they were hooked and returned with their friends.