Ruth Kennedy: If you can be anything, bee kind
What do strawberries, apples, almonds and peaches all have in common? Bees. These amazing creatures pollinate a whopping 35pc of all the food on our dinner plates.
Along with other pollinators, they're also responsible for up to 95pc of all our flowering plants. A staple beauty ingredient for millennia, Cleopatra is said to have bathed in milk and honey.
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But sadly, a third of our bees face extinction - they need our help, now. Instead of sitting there worrying about it, I decided to do something proactive and enrolled on a beginner beekeeper course earlier this year.
I'm now ready to really help these magnificent creatures. I've chosen to become a bee guardian - I won't harvest their honey, I'll just provide a home for them and make sure the devastating Varroa mite hasn't infected them.
It isn't all bad news, however.
It seems like we could even have a burgeoning Irish honey industry on the horizon, as recent studies by Dr Saorla Kavanagh of TCD have shown that Irish heather honey has similar physiochemical characteristics to the now world famous and best-selling Manuka honey.
There are hives all over Ireland in urban, suburban and rural areas - one of my favourite honeys, The Dublin Honey Project (left), is made in hives in UCD. There are even hives on the roofs of the Merrion Hotel, AIB, and Dundrum Town Centre.
If you fancy becoming a beekeeper, bee guardian or even a bee minder (by planting bee-friendly flowers), read on for great tips and beautiful honey products.
See irishbeekeeping.ie and pollinators.ie.
Ask the expert: Beekeeper Rose Breslin
Rose Breslin is a beekeeper I met while doing my beginner beekeeper course in Dublin (dublinbees.org) earlier this year. She gives us the low-down on honey's myriad benefits...
Why is honey such a brilliant beauty ingredient?
Honey has been used for thousands of years in natural remedies and beauty products. What makes honey such a good beauty product is its ability to attract and retain moisture. This helps to improve the complexion by keeping the skin hydrated while at the same time it can absorb moisture from spots and help dry them out. Warm honey smoothed on the skin removes dirt and grit from pores and so is the perfect natural cleanser. Finally honey, because it contains hydrogen peroxide, is an antiseptic and has antibacterial properties as well as being an antioxidant (which helps repair damaged skin and improves elasticity).
What's the best honey to buy in Ireland?
All pure Irish honey is equally good, and the best honey is always your local honey. Honey from local bees contains the same pollen that is in the local air and is considered to give increased immunity to people suffering from hay fever, although there is no direct medical evidence to support this. Also local honey hasn't travelled very far so has a low carbon footprint and that has to be good.
Is it easy to become a beekeeper?
Becoming a beekeeper requires two distinct elements: (1) Some basic theory and, (2) Practical experience. Anyone looking to get involved with bees would be advised to do a beginner's course. Here they will be introduced to the elementary workings of the hive, essential equipment, management of bees and be introduced to real live bees also. After that comes the practical experience and, all going well, that is a life-long learning experience.
If people don't have time or space for hives, what can they do to help bees?
Everyone can do their part to ensure the survival of pollinators. Among the practical things people can do are:
* Plant bee-friendly plants - most good garden centres indicate plants good for pollinators.
* Familiarise yourself with the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan - this covers areas like what one can do in the garden, in the local community, in schools and how businesses can help.
* Leaving areas of fields and gardens uncut and growing wild flowers and even, dare I say, "weeds" all help insects.
* Getting the family involved in 'Citizen Science Projects' is another good way to raise awareness and help.
Where can we learn more about bees?
YouTube is good for most things bee-related and some good books I recommend include Collins Beekeeper's Bible (collins.co.uk), Beeswax Alchemy by Petra Ahnert, and The Backyard Beekeepers Honey Handbook by Kim Flottum.
Six of the best
Nuxe is a bestseller in Ireland - standing at No1 in pharmacy sales for its skincare. Try this shower gel from its Reve de Miel range - Nuxe Face and Body Cleansing Gel, €14.95. This is a fragrant, lipid-enriched face and body wash with honey and sunflower oils that's absolutely amazing for dry, thirsty and sensitive skin. From pharmacies nationwide.
The bestselling natural beauty brand Burt's Bees was actually created by a beekeeper! Starting off with his cult classic lip balm, the line now has hundreds of natural beauty products. Why not slip one of its 100pc natural Bring Back the Bees Lip Balm, €4.99, into your bag? For each purchase, Burt's Bees will plant 5,000 wildflower seeds to help feed our bees! From pharmacies nationwide.
Clarins has sponsored a two-year research project into improving the survival rate of bees at Maynooth University. How lovely to see such a huge beauty company - which relies heavily on flowers and plant ingredients - giving something back! One of my favourites from its range is its Comfort Lip Oil, €21, in Honey. From pharmacies and department stores nationwide.
If you're wondering how to up your bee-friendly garden game while not breaking the bank, look no further than Lidl. The store wins my gold star this summer for its bee-friendly, eco status as it has just signed up for the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan and is offering a whole line of bee-friendly plants and flowers for as little as €1.50! Just look out for its bee logo. Lidl has also installed bat boxes (for night-time pollinators), insect "hotels" and pollinator-friendly plants at its head office. Brilliant! Available at Lidl stores nationwide.
Origins is a great addition to your beauty arsenal if you fancy making your beauty regime more earth friendly. Its Clear Improvement Charcoal Mask with Honey, €34, is made with bamboo charcoal, golden wildflower and fermented honey to clear impurities and nourish skin. Origins will even recycle your old packaging! From department stores and pharmacies nationwide.
Raise the roof
If you're on the search for a skincare line with impeccable eco and sustainable status, you won't get better than YonKa. All its products are 100pc natural and sustainably made, and it minds its bees extremely well! Any YonKa honey products are made at the YonKa bioclimatic honey farm. And for each bottle of the Limited Edition YonKa Lotion, €33, sold, €1 is donated to the 'A Roof For Our Bees' foundation. From salons and spas nationwide.