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Honey & Hayfever

Exerpt taken from the Telegraph 13th April 2009

By Cassandra Jardine

 

Under a microscope, pollen looks charming – little spiky balls like those used in Pilates classes. Up the nose, however, it is such a menace that a fifth of the population dreads the coming of summer. Dry, sunny days when the pollen count is high make their noses run and eyes stream.

 

Most of the remedies for hay fever aren't very attractive either. You can lock yourself indoors next to an air-conditioning unit, feel drowsy on anti-histamines, or worry about what steroids are doing to your body. So, swallowing a spoonful of honey a day is a delightful alternative. 

 

Most supporters of honey as a remedy recommend raw, unfiltered honey, but David Bondi, chairman of the Honey Association, which represents commercial producers, says any local product should work. "Honey isn't a processed product. All we do is strain it to take out the impurities and heat it gently to 40-50C to get it into jars.

 

Straining shouldn't matter as the strainer holes are much bigger than the pollen. Heating wouldn't kill off the pollen, which is very robust – you can still find honey in ancient Egyptian tombs. And it makes no difference whether the honey is clear or set, that's just how it crystallises."

 

Unfortunately, British honey production is at an all-time low because of the last two wet summers and the varroa parasite that weakens its bee hosts, reducing the honey yield and making hives vulnerable to viruses. Production in England has halved, and Scottish production has also been affected.

 

Britain is now only making 3,000 tons a year, just 15 per cent of national consumption, so most commercial pots contain imported honey unless stated. But, with 30-40,000 beekeepers in the UK – the vast majority with just a hive or two in the garden – local honey can still be found, with a little effort. Look out for "Honey for sale" signs by the roadside. Farmers' markets are another good source.

 

The British Beekeepers Association also lists local associations of its 12,000 members.

City dwellers who can't find local honey should not worry, says Howat. "It doesn't matter too much if the hive is on your doorstep, because the flora will be fairly similar throughout large areas, such as the south of England. Opt for multi-floral honey as that will contain a good mix of pollens. Avoid heather or borage mono-floral honeys."

 

If you want to see whether it works for you, start now; don't wait till you start sneezing. And if it doesn't work, honey can do little harm – except, perhaps, to your waistline.

For details on raw honey and its anti-allergenic properties, contact the British Beekeepers Association (02476 696679, www.britishbee.org.uk)