Probably the first thing you think of concerning bees, honey is produced from nectar in the honey sacs of various species of bee.

The nectar is ripened into honey by inversion of the major portion of its sucrose sugar into fructose and glucose and by the removal of excess moisture. Flavour and colour are determined by the flowers from which the nectar is gathered.
Bees also collect honeydew (nectar which has been partially converted by other insects) to make honey.

To help them to locate nectar better, bees have evolved to be able to see the ultraviolet wavelengths of light. In addition, bees use polarised light, which the unaided human eye is also unable to detect, for direction finding on partly cloudy days.

An evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) flower viewed in visible (left) and ultraviolet (right) light. In ultraviolet light, nectar-guide patterns are clearly visible.

Nectar itself is a sweet, viscous secretion from the nectaries in plant blossoms, stems, and leaves. Mainly a watery solution of the sugars fructose, glucose, and sucrose, it also contains traces of proteins, salts, acids, and essential oils. The sugar content varies from 3 to 80%, depending upon such factors as flower species and soil and air conditions. Honeybees gather nectar mainly from the blossoms, and rarely gather nectars having less than 15% sugar content.

Honeybees also gather pollen (which they do not eat themselves but feed to their larvae) in special ‘pollen baskets’ on their rear legs. In collecting pollen, they aid fertilisation of the flower species that they collect from. The economic importance of bees is based at least as much on their role as pollinators as on honey production.
The picture on the right shows a honeybee with filled pollen baskets.

Honey is water soluble, may granulate between 10° and 18°C, and is slightly acidic (pH 3.4-6.1). The sugars make honey hygroscopic (moisture absorbing) and viscous.
Honey was almost the only source of sugar available to people in ancient times, and was valued for its medicinal benefits. It was used to make mead, a fermented beverage, and was mixed with wine and other alcoholic drinks. In Egypt it was also employed as an embalming material.
Honey is a powerful antiseptic and antimicrobial agent. This is due to the high sugar concentration plus other factors including low pH, and the presence of hydrogen peroxide, flavonoids, phenolics and terpenes.
Honey has been used medicinally since ancient times (it is mentioned in Egyptian documents, the Talmud, and the Koran), and was still used as recently as World War One. Medicinal uses include aiding in the healing of wounds and burns. By keeping a wound clean, moist, and free from bacteria and the damaging effects of oxygen, the wound can heal much more quickly.

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