Practical Pot Watcher: Local beekeeper offers a sweet solution to allergies

Practical Pot Watcher: Local beekeeper offers a sweet solution to allergies

Honey is one of our oldest, most versatile and most wholesome sweeteners.

It may drift out of fashion from time to time, but it’s always there, just waiting for an upsurge in popularity when the new generation puts a modern spin on knowledge held by our distant ancestors.

Right now, honey is enjoying one of those fashionable periods. A sure way for cosmetic companies to attract attention to their lotions and potions, soaps and salves, is to give honey or bee pollen a prominent place on the label. Any article expounding on favorite home remedies is sure to include honey for a host of ills ranging from sore throats to hangovers.

And even the smallest farmers’ markets tend to have one or more stalls proudly offering local honey and raw honey.

If you’ve been wondering about the recent emphasis on raw and local, it’s all pretty simple.

It boils down to a matter of allergies. For some years, food experts have been debating the possibility that honey could benefit those suffering from environmental allergies. Then the argument was offered that only local honey was beneficial. And next came the idea that the honey should not only be local, but also raw.

What’s so special about raw honey?

“Two things,” said south Lake beekeeper Mark Russell. “First, it’s the heat. When honey is heated, beneficial enzymes are destroyed. Also, raw honey is not filtered. When honey is fine-filtered, the pollen suspended in the honey is lost.”

Pollen consumed in raw honey acts sort of like a vaccine, encouraging development of immunity to the allergy.

“Some people apparently need the honey from the particular plant to block the allergy,” Russell said. “Others can benefit from raw honey in general.”

Russell is a familiar figure in downtown Clermont, where he sets up the Apis Eden booth at the Clermont Farmers’ Market on Sunday mornings. “Apis is the Latin word for bee,” he said, “and Eden refers to the Garden of Eden.”

The apiary presently offers four types of honey for sale: orange blossom, palmetto, autumn wildflowers and four seasons. Four seasons is a mixture of the different types of honey harvested throughout the year. When the honey is harvested, it is stored in 5-gallon containers, and when a container gets down to about the quarter mark, it is set aside for the mixture. “This is the one people buy for allergies,” Russell says.

Apis Eden has been in business only about a year and a half, but Russell has been working with bees for more than 20 years. It is work he came to unexpectedly, and, in the beginning, with some degree of reluctance.

“I wasn’t interested in beekeeping. I’m a horticulturist, and I was working as a horticulturist for an education center. Then the beekeeper left, so they needed a new one, and my boss called me in and told me I was it. I didn’t want it. I didn’t know anything about it. I wasn’t even interested, but my boss said, ‘You’re the new beekeeper,’ and I had no choice.

“So I read about it, and I talked to people. And I fell in love with it.”

Needless to say, his knowledge of plants has proved invaluable throughout the years of beekeeping.

Apis Eden is “still a very small operation, just getting started, and honey production is our main focus,” Russell says, but he sees the operation as having a three-pronged mission: honey, plants and people. Nectar-producing plants are of course vital to the survival of bees and the production of honey. And the public needs to be more aware of the vital role that bees, as pollinators, play in the nation’s overall agricultural production.

Russell feels that it’s important to encourage the spread of backyard beekeeping and has plans to offer programs that will give people an opportunity to “suit up and have a hands-on introduction to bees.”

“And even if you don’t have a hive or two of bees yourself, you can still plant nectar-producing flowers in your garden, and practice responsible use of pesticides.”

Mary Ryder is a food columnist for the Daily Commercial. Email her at

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