By: Jaclyn Ross
If you’re anything like me – and 400 million other people worldwide – you suffer from seasonal allergies. Year after year, as Springtime ushers in warm weather and beautiful flowers, so too comes itchy eyes, scratchy throats, and runny noses. The most common allergen causing these aggravating symptoms is pollen – the yellow, powdery-substance which male plants release in order to pollinate the seeds of female plants.
As notable horticulturalist Tom Ogren has documented, a noticeable increase in seasonal allergies over the last decade is directly related to what he calls “botanical sexism.” In order to avoid the messy seeds created by female trees, city planners have been exclusively filling our cities and lining our streets with male trees. With no females to collect the pollen, we not only have unnaturally high levels of pollen being produced in our cities – we don’t have anywhere for that pollen to go. Except, of course, up our noses.
Enter: bee pollen. Bee pollen is the little pellets that forager bees collect on their back legs as they visit from flower to flower. After it’s collected, the pellets are brought back to the hive for the worker bees to turn into food for baby bees and the rest of the hive. The result is a mixture of flower pollen, nectar, bee secretions, and enzymes - and it's being lauded as the next great superfood.
Compared to honey, bee pollen is less sweet and much more granular. Nutritionally speaking, it’s an excellent resource of simple sugars and protein that can be easily added to your smoothie, yogurt, ice cream, oatmeal, or any other food product.
But the hype around bee pollen hasn’t been coming from the nutritional label alone. Many herbalists claim that adding the very pollen you are allergic to into your diet is a resourceful way to keep those seasonal allergies at bay. Let’s dig in...
Why people claim it works
Think of taking bee pollen as a sweet, natural version of exposure therapy. Small doses of the allergen can help lessen your symptoms over time, but it’s important to source the pollen from bees in your local area. This way, you’re exposing your body to the allergens it’s already familiar with.
While bee pollen is readily available in many health food stores, running to the nearest Whole Foods is not the best way to hop onto this trend. Rather, finding local beekeepers who sell bee pollen made from the local flora is the best way to go. Not only is purchasing bee pollen locally a great way to support small businesses, but mass-produced pollen is unlikely to contain pollen from the particular flowers in your area.
So keep in mind: while store bought pollen may be a great nutritional supplement, it isn’t going to act as the microdose that could ease your allergy symptoms.
Researchers have yet to find conclusive evidence that bee pollen can reduce your seasonal allergies. However, the results are inconclusive because there is no real way to standardize bee pollen; it not only varies from region to region, but from hive to hive and bee to bee. Each bee is collecting a different amount of pollen from different sources every time she goes out to forage. So it’s difficult to find repetitive, conclusive resources.
Additionally, taking bee pollen can have serious consequences if you are allergic to bees and bee products. Taking bee pollen can cause severe reactions. Both pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are highly discouraged from taking bee pollen supplements because of the danger it poses to small children whose allergies are unknown.
There is no doubting the nutritional value of bee pollen, especially since it’s an easy way of adding protein into your diet. And while there is no conclusive documentation, microdosing on allergens is a proven way to mitigate allergic reactions. All in all, supporting small businesses, adding some extra protein, increasing your appreciation for the work of humble bees – and potentially stopping your hay fever – all seem like positive takes to me.