If you live in the United States and suffer from fall allergies, ragweed is likely the culprit. But what does rag weed look like, and how can you help with those allergies without being pumped full of a bunch of medicines?
Identifying ragweed can be somewhat tricky, but not necessarily because it looks like another plant, but because public perception has a tendency to mis-identify this fall plant. Often the plant is confused with the goldenrod plant, and because there are two main types of ragweed, the most common short (common) ragweed (A. artemisiifolia) and then the giant ragweed (A. trifida) which is not very common. The giant ragweed plant is much taller, often taller than 6' high and has very broad leaves with similar flowing cones.
Common Ragweed Plant
The common ragweed plant, is as you could guess........ most common. The plant is often associated with fall allergies and can be miserable for those that suffer from the pollen. One of the benefits of the pollen is that the pollen offers a great protein source for honey bees in building up their winter honey bees.
The common ragweed plant has flowers that face mostly downward and it is difficult to determine when it is pollinating vs developing the flower. The best way to determine if the plant is pollinating is to gently run your hand or dark fabric across the flowers. The pollen is a vibrant yellow and quite easy to see.
Ragweed Pollen for Honey Bees-
Honey bees do not hibernate and rely on a special bee with added fat reserves, known as a winter bee. These bees survive much longer than a standard worker bee from the Spring and Summer, which only has a lifespan of approximately 6 weeks. Where the winter bees differences in biology allows them to survive the whole winter and up to 6 months. Part of the makeup of the honey bee development is the food sources in determining the type of bee is raised within a honey bee hive. A queen bee, drone, worker, and winter bee are all laid from the existing queen and depending on the fertility (a male bee (drone) is unfertilized egg) will determine its sex, but its the diet feed to it as a larva that determines if it will be a worker, future queen, or a winter bee.
Fall pollen sources with rich protein sources help provide the nutrition that is critical in developing a strong winter bee, which will help the colony survive winter. Bees require a hive temperature of 81ºF in the center of the cluster and 48ºF on the exterior of the cluster to survive winter. The winter bees do this by flexing their flight muscles and rotating within the cluster. These bees go through a lot of stress and food in surviving outside temperatures of -40ºF or worse throughout the winter.
Honey Bees Hauling Bright Yellow Pollen
The first time I witnessed ragweed pollen coming into the beehive, it was like neon pollen on the bees. At first I thought it was a different species flying into the hive, or something was wrong with the bees. The ragweed pollen is that bright and maybe what makes it identifiable to the bees.
Alternative Ragweed Relief- The Natural Way
The video above shows how much pollen is being brought into the beehive, which ends up in the raw honey. Buying from local beekeepers that place their hives on organic fields or is focused on providing a more natural product, will likely have a good source of ragweed pollen within their fall raw honey.
Now there is conflicting information on whether raw honey helps with allergies and much of it is conflicting within the methods of how the efficacy is determined. There can be many factors affecting outcomes, such as time period of the honey collected and the pollen affecting your allergies. Or the honey is adulterated, which is a serious issue within the honey industry, but thats another topic covered in our Faked Honey Post.
The outcomes of studies have been mixed, but a study done from 2010-2011 showed that raw honey in high doses and used for several weeks positively contributed to reducing allergies. You can find the study on raw honey helping allergies here.
Raw Honey for Fall Allergies-
Using any honey for allergies will not always work, because raw honey is quite different than pasteurized or filtered honey, which is often what is on the grocery store shelf. Raw honey, is unheated, not filtered and as close to the state it was in the hive, without being in the hive. Honey that has been filtered will likely contain hardly any pollen, which is key in using to fight allergies. It's important the raw honey you plan to use to help with allergies contains the pollen from the plant you have allergies from.
Selecting a raw honey from a local beekeeper can be a bit challenging, but often honey at farmers markets, online, or at local food Coop's will contain local raw honey. Be sure to verify your source of honey by checking out the beekeeper from their website, or by calling and asking the source and time of year the honey is collected. They should also be able to answer if the bees are collecting from ragweed or not.