Bee Food or Human Food?
Benefits of Eating Bee Pollen
By Aliya Bree Hall Bee pollen has been in the news for years as celebrities such as Victoria Beckham and Gwenyth Paltrow have boasted about the benefits of this superfood and its potential to solve a wide variety of health problems, including reducing the effects of chemotherapy and allergies.
Despite these claims, there hasn’t been enough research to determine the merits of bee pollen’s health benefits, according to Ramesh Sagili, associate professor of apiculture at Oregon State University.
“It’s a valuable product for bees for sure, and I ask people to consume it if they have pollen available,” he said. “There may be benefits, but we don’t know because of a lack of conclusive evidence at this time.”
Bee pollen is primarily collected by bees as sustenance for their larvae and is critical for colony growth, Sagili said. It is high in protein and lipids, vitamins, and minerals. Although pollen has yet to be confirmed as a health cure-all, Sagili said that it doesn’t mean humans can’t benefit from eating it.
“There are similar properties we can obtain as well,” he said. “It has nutritional value for sure.”
Sagili said he encourages people to eat fresh, natural pollen. “I only have anecdotal evidence, but there are people who have said they have benefited from it,” he said.
Ross Conrad, owner of Dancing Bee Gardens and author of Natural Beekeeping, said that pollen has become known as a superfood because “it’s so packed with nutrients.”
The best way to eat bee pollen is unheated, Conrad said, because heating the pollen will destroy the nutritional benefits. Sagili added that it’s the protein content, specifically, that goes down when pollen is heated so people “won’t get the protein you’re expecting.”
Instead of cooking with pollen, Conrad recommends sprinkling it in smoothies and on top of salads, cereals, or granolas.
Beekeepers collect bee pollen by using pollen traps at the hive entrance. The opening is big enough for a bee to squeeze through, knocking the pollen pellets off their hind legs into a collection drawer. To ensure there isn’t any negative impact on the bees, Conrad said that beekeepers alternate days when they keep the trap up and remove it. That way, the bees and their larvae aren’t starved for pollen.
Conrad also said that pollen is highly perishable and labor-intensive to collect because keepers have to return out daily to collect it.
“You can’t let it sit, or it’ll start to grow mold,” he said, adding that the best ways to preserve the pollen are through drying it or freezing it.
Another essential thing Conrad noted is that one of the primary ways for pesticides or toxic residues to get into hives is through pollen collection.
“It’s very important for people who consume pollen to make sure it is clean,” he said, adding that there would be an adverse effect to eating pollen that contains pesticide residues.
When it comes to the benefits of eating bee pollen, Sagili said the most common question he gets is from people asking, “If I start eating local pollen do I get rid of my allergies?”
“It’s a good logical question,” he said, “but what I tell them is that you may be allergic to a specific pollen, not all pollen.”
In Corvallis, Oregon — where Sagili is located — grass seed is a big industry linked to allergies, but he said that bees don’t collect pollen from grass seed. That doesn’t mean there is no benefit to eating bee pollen to combat allergies because a bee’s body hair has a static charge, so when it flies through the air, it may unintentionally be getting that pollen on its body.
“There’s some benefit to eating local honey and pollen, but there’s no conclusive evidence,” Sagili said.
Sagili said that it should be safe for consumption for people allergic to bee venom. “As long as (no bee venom) is in there, I think it’s safe to eat pollen if cleaned well, and there’s no bee venom sack,” he said. “If it’s relatively clean pollen, I would not be worried about eating (it).”
Conrad said there could be adverse effects for people allergic to bee pollen itself. It is recommended to seek guidance from a physician before consuming bee pollen. OSF Health Care in Michigan also wrote on their website that there is some evidence that bee pollen can interact negatively with some blood-thinning medications and recommends talking to a health provider before consuming bee pollen if on those forms of medication.
Although bee pollen does have benefits as a dietary supplement, whether it can help ease other health problems remains to be seen.
Originally published in the April/May 2022 issue of Backyard Beekeeping and regularly vetted for accuracy.