Bees are a common talking point in environmental and agricultural circles, and for good reason: 70 of the 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world’s population rely on pollination by bees. Besides this, honey bees make many important medicinal products that are used cross-culturally, including: honey, beeswax and propolis.
The issue of Colony Collapse Disorder is massively increasing each year, resulting in beekeepers losing about 30% of their hives annually. This mass bee death is caused by viruses and the mites that spread them, as well as by crop pesticides that kill bees and lower their immune system, climate change and the decreasing access to bee’s natural medicines. These bee medicines we are referring to include a variety of pollen available from diverse plant sources, as well as secretions of polypore mushrooms that grow in forests. Pesticides on plants further exacerbate the problem by compromising the bees’ gut microflora, which they use to ferment pollen into ‘bee bread’ – a main food source for worker bees and larvae.
Interestingly, the same mushrooms that can be used to treat a variety of human illnesses are also used by bees to strengthen their immune systems and as natural antivirals. The most well-known examples being: Reishi (Ganoderma Lucidum), Amadou (Fomes Fomentarius) and Chaga (Inonotus Obliquus).
These bracket fungi grow on dead wood and trees that have sustained damage to the bark (often from bear or wild cat scratches). Bees dig into these mushrooms to feed on the mycelium beneath their surfaces. In studies done by famous mycologist, Paul Stamets, bees fed with medicinal mushroom extracts showed significantly improved chances of overcoming viral infections.
Bees are going through a tough time in the 21st Century, navigating the mass use of agricultural chemicals, noise and air pollution, purposeful extermination by scared and uneducated humans, monoculture and habitat loss. The most well-known honeybees, as well as the lesser known wild bees like bumblebees and solitary bees, are all in serious decline. Some effort is being made to curb this but it is really not nearly enough, especially considering that human beings would likely face extreme famine if bees became extinct. This would be due to the lack of plant pollination as well as the knock-on effect up the food chain.
Global warming is compounding the problem – as unusual temperature changes cause bees to remain in hibernation at the crucial time in the beginning of Spring when flowers first open. This results in the first wave of flowers receiving little to no pollination while the bees become weakened by an unnaturally extended period with no food.
In short, the usual suspects are to blame: bad agriculture, habitat loss and climate change. As conscious consumers, we must focus on these mega-problems by looking at our personal choices and by working in groups to fight destructive practices by large corporations and governments.
Here are some steps to take in one’s own home to protect bees, and their medicinal mushrooms:
It is up to each of us to take responsibility to preserve the incredibly intricate relationships of the natural world.
Written By: Kelly Steenhuisen