Ambrosia – The Food Of The Gods
Our story starts over 100 million years ago. Our world was very different. Two huge land masses dominated, Gondwana in the South and Laurasia in the North. The landscape would have appeared very different to our modern world – towering conifer forests, the first flowering plants had just started to bloom; dinosaurs ruled the land, flying reptiles ruled the sky and giant marine reptiles ruled the sea. Our descendants were little more than small, nocturnal mammals living in the shadow of the mighty T-Rex, Iguanodon and Triceratops.
The first flowering plants hailed the introduction of the hero of our story – the bee. The oldest record we have of a bee dates to over 100 million years ago, preserved perfectly in amber, and bees had probably been around for over 30 million years previously.
Humans and bees
Since the dawn of agriculture, humans have been in a relationship with bees. Nine thousand years ago our first interactions with bees were recorded on the walls of caves, and every civilisation since has understood the benefits of this association. From honey to wax, royal jelly, venom, and bee pollen, the nutritional, medical, and health benefits of bee products are well documented and understood.
Honey might be the most obvious bee-human link, but bee pollen was even more venerated.
A powder that gives life
The ancient Egyptians called bee pollen “the powder that gives life.” The nutritious mix of nectar, flower pollen, enzymes, honey, wax, and bee secretions was placed in their tombs to nourish them in the next life. Bees were seen as the servants of the gods, delivering messages and healing powers.
In ancient Greece, bee pollen was called Ambrosia – the food of the Gods. It was said to be imbibed with the power of immortality and eternal youth. Its health benefits were well established and both the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, and the philosopher Pythagoras prescribed bee pollen for its healing properties.
The Romans considered bee pollen to be a panacea. Roman soldiers carried dried pollen cakes with them to provide sustenance.
The ancient cultures of China, India, and the Far East have the same references to the power and therapeutical benefits of bee pollen. To many, it was a necessary dietary staple. Native Americans, like the Romans before them, carried bee pollen in bags around their necks to give them energy on long journeys.
In New Zealand, the Māori have a long tradition of using bee pollen for food. In 1881, the Reverend William Colenso stated, “another highly curious article of vegetable food, was the pungapunga, the yellow pollen of the raupo flower.” The pollen was regarded as a delicacy and used to make pua, a type of steamed bread.
A complete food
Bee pollen is regarded as one of the most complete foods in nature. It certainly has all the right ingredients, containing 30 percent protein, all the amino acids required for our diets, and an abundance of vitamins, minerals, trace elements, hormone precursors, carbohydrates, and fatty acids. It contains more amino acids, gram for gram, than fish, beef, cheese, or eggs.
Researchers at the Institute of Apiculture in Russia have shown “honeybee pollen is the richest source of vitamins found in nature in a single food”.
It is so complete as a food that we can survive on roughage, bee pollen, and water alone.
Millennia after early civilisations correctly identified its nutritional power, pollen is once again becoming an important part of the human diet. Modern researchers have analysed its constituents and work continues to comprehensively map its nutritional and medical benefits. Bee pollen is linked to reduced inflammation, improved immunity, and wound healing, and is said to relieve the symptoms of menopause and help digestive issues, weight control, and depression. Whilst all the therapeutic benefits of bee pollen are still being researched, it is clear that bee pollen supports optimum nutrition.
The ancient Greeks saw it as the source of eternal youth; today we rightly regard it as a superfood.