The importance of the Malibuna bee in gastronomy, traditional medicine and Mexican cultures

We can assure you that we have all treated ourselves more than once with honey, we love its taste, but few of us know that there are thousands of species of bees and that each has different goals in nature, medicine and gastronomy. Let’s take a tour to learn about the characteristics of the Mexican Millepona bee.

What distinguishes Milebuna bees

Melebuna bees

Stinging bee visiting basil flowers / Photo: Lazaro Arroyo

According to Lazaro Arroyo, Tree Planting Project Coordinator at Ecosur’s Abejas Team (La Frontera Sur School), San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas:

There are about 20,000 species of bees known worldwide, among which 550 are Melliponas or non-stinging species.

In Mexico, we have nearly 2,000 species, 46 of which do not have a stinger.

All these native bees are distributed throughout the country. For example, in Yucatan, the Mellipona Beachyknown as the sacred Mayan bee or xunaan kaab.

This non-stinging species has been cultivated for hundreds of years by indigenous peoples, who have held it sacred for their honey’s healing properties.

It was the importance of bees that our pre-Hispanic ancestors conducted four to six ceremonies annually in their honor and used their honey to honor them.

And what makes malebunas different?

Melebuna bees

Melebuna bees

Mellipona Beachyvisit the flowers Vernonia spp. Photo: Lazaro Arroyo

Malibuna bees produce pollen, wax, propolis and pollination, but only They make one and a half liters of honey annually, Compared to European bees which produce up to 30 liters.

“This is due to the size of the clusters that can be found in the Mellipona cell, for example, in the case of Mellipona Beachyoscillates between 1,000 and 3,000 individuals per cell.”

“Whereas an Apis mellifera cell can house anywhere from 20,000 to 60,000 individuals,” Luis Martinez explains, PhD student in science major Ecology, at the Institute of Ecology, AC (INECOL) Campus Baguio Regional Centerthe CEO of wild bee project.

Although the production of malibona honey has decreased, which significantly increases its costs, its medicinal properties have been used since ancient times.

Diversity of Millepona bees in Mexico

Melebuna bees

Melebuna bees

Mexican Scaptotriogone Visit Nourat Coffee (Arabic coffee) / Photo: Lazaro Arroyo

Mexico has a large number of Millipona bee species. Among the most used are Tetragonesca angstolaalso known as Maiden, Melepona SolaniThe Scaptotrigona hellwegeri and The Mexican Scaptotrigonain Puebla, and Yucatan Melibona, in Yucatan; The Melipona fasciatain Oaxaca, or in Puebla, and Mellipona Beachy in Campeche.

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The best known and managed species in Mexico are Milipuna Beach, Milipuna Yucatanica, s Mexican Scaptotrigona.

The organoleptic and chemical properties of their honey have to do with the type of flora in their areas.

If we talk about the organoleptic properties that will distinguish one honey from another:

“We can say, for example, that honey Mellipona Beachy best time Mexican Scaptotrigona and the Melepona SolaniThey tend to be a little more acidic.

In terms of colours, there is a great variety, precisely because of the vegetation, the types of bees and the amount of moisture present in each type of honey.

There are also biological characteristics of each bee that add specifics to each type of honey, as well as some symbiotic relationships that bees have with certain microorganisms that benefit the stability and nutritional properties of honey.

Medicinal uses of malibona honey

Melebuna bees

Melebuna bees

View of brood cells, stinging bee Pisilnekmej (Scaptotrigona mexicana) / Photo: Lazaro Arroyo

The use of Malibuna honey is embodied in two very important books of Mayan culture: Shylam Balam from Shmail s The rites of the kebabsboth from Maya texts written after the conquest, where he found abundant information on the uses of honey.

This honey is used, mainly in traditional medicine, to treat certain diseases, such as eye problems, clove removal, dry eyes and cataracts.

It also helps in wound healing, prevents the growth of harmful bacteria, and for pregnant women and after childbirth, as it provides energy.

Two remedies that have transcended in Mexican culture in general, the use of honey to relieve gastritis problems, and fasting, a tablespoon twice a day.

Or as a treatment for throat diseases, as it helps to expel phlegm when combined with lemon.

It also relieves ailments of the ears, skin, mouth, and internal organs, and soothes fevers, insect bites, and poisonous animals such as lizards and snakes.

The recipes in El Ritual de los Bacabes also reveal that the Mayans used honey for disorders of the respiratory, digestive, circulatory, and immune systems.

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Some uses of malibona honey in food taste

Melebuna bees

Melebuna bees

One of the tonics in nutrition is the combination of ginger, honey and lemon. // image: private.

Just to give an example of the tradition of consuming malibona honey, in Yucatan Saka, it is prepared, which means maize in the Maya, a preparation from corn that is salted with water.

This drink had a ritual character and was dedicated to Chak, the god of rain, so he preferred the fields with rain, and it is still brewed in Mayan societies, in times of cultivation.

Other recipes we see on a daily basis across the country are amaranth from Tlaxcala, chilitol From Michoacan or buñuelos from Veracruz.

It is also found in ancestral dishes and drinks that continue to be prepared in certain regions.

They highlight the TALKIZALIwith cocoa Choco for thatwith corn, cocoa or atole hard mass, all from the Valley of Mexico, so they come from Mexico and Teotihuacanos.

Melebuna bees

Melebuna bees

Isabel sampling honey from a rural colony with horticulturists from Chiapas/Photo: Lazaro Arroyo

The team coordinated by Lázaro is responsible for training horticulturalists in the knowledge of honey and its properties. They have worked with Indigenous Cooperatives for 20 years.

“In this accompaniment we also have the opportunity to study the characteristics of each type of honey, how they change by region, the types of bees and flowers, as well as the exact characteristics that occur due to the effects of climate change,” Lazaro tells us.

Lazaro and Isabel are part of the Monitoring and Analysis Team for Honey, Diversity, Taxonomy and Pollination within a multidisciplinary team of approximately 25 people.

In addition to doing science, they have to bring in information functional communities through training processes in organic farming and ecological culture.

“It’s not just about teaching them about bees, it’s about starting from what people know in their communities, recognizing their knowledge and working from there.”

Publication of Ecosur’s bee team work in cooperatives

Melebuna bees

Melebuna bees

Luis Raul Martinez Garcia / Photo: Luis Martinez

It is clear that spreading this work is not as simple in these societies as it might be in cities with more infrastructure.

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This work is being carried out by students like Luis Martinez, to spread knowledge about local bees, their management, ecology, and science among the Abejas team and cooperatives.

Lewis adds: “As this comes out, we are reaching out to many people who are making proposals. It is important for the general public to know that these bees exist.”

“Land management and agriculture are crucial to ensuring the survival of the native bees in Mexico. We need to make noise to ensure conservation.”

Bees are involved (almost) in everything we eat

Melebuna bees

Melebuna bees

Apis mellifera honeycomb frames and tablets / Photo: Luis Martinez

Bees pollinate up to 85% of the fruits and seeds we eat in the country in Mexico, because up to 90% of wildflowers depend on pollination.

It is known that for tropical crops, up to 70% of them are completely dependent, such as pumpkin, watermelon, watermelon, vanilla, passion fruit and macadamia nut.

Chewing gum, avocado or apple can have a bee-assisted pollination dependency of up to 90%.

Others such as coffee, strawberry, guava, nopal, mustard, cotton and soybean only count between 10% and 39%.

Although the dependence on pollinators in these latter crops is not high, the quality, number and size of fruits are superior to those without insect pollination.

Bees do not equal honey, bees equal earth

Melebuna bees

Melebuna bees

Shades of non-stinging honey from left to right: Milipuna Yucatanica (Guatemala), Milipuna Vachata (Oaxaca), Milipuna Solani (Chiapas), Milipuna Pechi (Quintana Roo), Scapotrigona Pictorialis (Chiapas), Scapotrigona Mexicana (Pricegra) (Veracros) , Nannotrigona perilampoides (Chiapas), Tetragonisca angustula (Chiapas) / Photo: Daniela Gallardo

Lewis concludes: “We must consider that the equation is not bees equal to honey, but instead that management of malibona bees, and other native solitary bees results in territorial management.”

“By focusing on the Malibuna bee, we also study geographic expression, flora, culture, andTypical dishes and medicines from every region, other than honey as a product.”

If you want to learn more about malibona bees and other pollinators, come this weekend Forum Celebrating Our Pollinators 2022, in Patzcuaro, Michoacan.

And if you want to know more about Types of honey produced in Mexico, stop here.

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