[The events here reported took place in June 2013 – yes, I’m very late in my posting]
I moved from Ohio to Oregon in 2005. Besides Oregon’s beautiful landscapes, the mountains, the Pacific ocean, the great roads for motorcycle riding, there was something else making Oregon a really welcoming state: I had no allergies here. To me, spring and fall did not exist when I lived in Ohio, I would simply muddle through Midwest’s best time of the year by staying indoors or being on a semi-conscious state from the allergy symptoms or from the side-effects of allergy drugs.
Oregon was a relieve from all those allergies. I was free! Whenever I bragged about my newly-found allergies-free condition while in Oregon, people warned me:
You just wait. If you had allergies in other locations, eventually they will catch up with you. Oregon will not be an exception and here it may actually be worse than in other places. All you need is a few years of exposure to allergens and in time it will happen to you.
And right they were, the honeymoon was over in about five years. Five very short years. Slowly it started happening and I started accumulating allergy pills in my medicine cabinet. At least in the five years between the time I left Ohio and the time I started experiencing allergies in Oregon there has been a new set of allergy medicines made available over the counter which claim to be non-drowsy and still effective.
This last Spring, as I struggled with allergies like never before. I heard people talking about it being one of the the worst years for allergies in the Willamette Valley. It has been speculated that this year’s extremely high pollen count was a result of an early start of spring from a relatively dry and mild winter, then a return to winter when it got cold and rainy at the end of winter, followed by a set of warmer than normal days when spring officially arrived, bringing several allergens to peak at the same time.
On one of the allergy forecast sites Eugene remained top of the nation for weeks in a row. There was one week when Eugene was the only city in a red zone (highest allergy level). I checked that site every day only to confirm the reasons why I was feeling so miserable. How perverse it was that I left Ohio, an allergen infested region to move to Eugene, the allergy headquarters of the United States, if not North America.
Allergy became the focus of conversations around here during those days. Pharmacy shelves empty in the allergy section. In talking about my allergies to Susan, a colleague of mine who lives in Vermont (our project has six partner offices across the country) and whose husband is an organic farmer, I learned the daily consumption of a spoon of local honey, made from the very pollen that causes allergies, will lessen the onset of allergies. She also sent me a link to an organic local farmer in the valley, the Honey Tree Apiaries.
The following weekend after I got the information from Susan, I mapped a route to go and check the Honey Tree Apiaries. I saddled the Orange Triumph, and went out on my quest for local honey. Is this going to be a Don Quixote-like quest? Will local honey do its promised deed?
The Honey Tree Apiaries was located in the valley, not too far from Eugene. Too close from home, so I needed to make it a longer ride, let’s put some mileage on that Triumph, let’s make it a real ride. I left town on the back roads going through Junction City and from there to Harrisburg, circling around and cutting across I-5.
Who wants to ride on a free-way? And when riding a nice motorcycle, why not make it an even longer route? Therefore, let’s continue the large circle going towards Brownsville via Diamond Hill before coming back towards my destination via Hwy 99.
When I finally arrived at the Apiaries property, the “street” address took me to the front of the property, and it did not seem to be a business front. I could see some bee hive boxes, but not a driveway. But I spotted another road going by the back of the property.
I turned around and tried that next road and voila, found the apiary sign and went in. I parked my bike, dismounted, and a dog started barking and slowing coming towards me in full attention posture.
I grew up around dogs. As a matter of fact, a pack of them in the summers. But I’m still learning about dogs. I’ve been watching Cesar Millan’s Dog Whisperer National Geographic series and I have to say it has been extremely educational to me. Cesar Millan has helped me make sense of a lot of things I somehow already knew about dogs but could not elaborate on them or turn them into appropriate positive action when around dogs. As a result of several episodes of the Dog Whisperer, I was able to interpret the dog’s bark, realizing it was just and unsure dog, not being or wanting to be aggressive. Being calm, unaffected by the dog’s behavior, I proceeded to ignore the dog. I turned my back to the dog and removed my helmet. The dog stopped barking, came to greet me, smelled me and showed its true personality: a tame and friendly dog as can be seen on the picture below, with ears back, tail relaxed, and accepting direct eye contact. A nice, calm and submissive dog, just a little bit unsure.
The owner later explained to me his dog is not used to motorcycles, and in fact, very few people show up to his property, so the dog is not accustomed to that sort of thing. I learned also the bee keeper sells honey almost exclusively at the Corvallis Farmers’ Market. I explained to him how I got his information and followed the directions I had found on his website.
I bought two jars, one from wild flowers, the other from turnip. Just because he had lots of jars of turnip honey. He labeled the turnip jar on the spot.
For the wild flowers jar, which I think is the one that would more likely give me the most allergy fighting benefit, we went inside his facility. Below is a photo of where he works with the bee hives to extract the honey and fill up the jars. Bees were flying all over the place. Have I told you I’m also allergic to bee stings?
I finalized my transaction, left with two jars of raw and unfiltered locally produced honey. The hunt had been accomplished. Got on my motorcycle and rode back home with the bounty safely accommodated in the pelican box.
Since that time I have been eating honey, I finished those two jars and have purchased another jar of wild flowers from another local producer. But this time I got it from the Red Barn, my neighborhood market. I have the honey with my coffee in the morning: two cups of coffee a day, one teaspoon of honey for each cup, making my daily dose a two teaspoons of honey a day.
The $8.00 (and a half-day ride) question is: will it help me with my allergies? Well, it just happened that by the time I got the honey and started consuming it, spring allergy season was just about wrapping up around here, confirmed by my daily checks on the pollen website (Eugene lost its red spot in the US map, getting to green very quickly). Therefore, someone could say it was just coincidence when my allergies went away in about a week after I started consuming the honey.
Since it was an inconclusive test I decided to do a quick google search about honey and allergies. I came across a website with information from Tom Ogren. Thomas Ogren has a Master of Science in Agriculture, a specialist on plant flowering systems and the connections between landscape plant materials and allergy. It so happens Tom is the creator of the Ogren Plant Allergy Scale (OPALSTM), the first plant-allergy ranking system in existence, which is being used by the USDA to develop allergy rankings for all major U.S. urban areas.
According to Tom:
Local honeybees will collect pollen from [local species] and it will be present in small amounts in honey that was gathered by bees that were working [in the] areas where these species are growing. When people living in these same areas eat honey that was produced in that environment, the honey will often act as an immune booster. The good effects of this local honey are best when the honey is taken a little bit (a couple of teaspoons-full) a day for several months prior to the pollen season.
In my case, therefore, I can safely say it was the end of the allergies season which eliminated my symptoms, since I did not consume honey for several months, only a few days before the allergies went away. Furthermore, Tom also explains that honey only works when it is a result of bees gathering the pollen from the very species that cause the allergy. And I am not sure my allergies are originating from wild flowers or Turnip. Maybe it is from neither. But very likely it is from grass seeds, which happens to be the most common agricultural product in the valley.
I also went to Web MD and found this answer to my question:
Q: Can local honey help my allergies?
A: No. The theory that taking in small amounts of pollen by eating local honey to build up immunity is FALSE.
It’s generally the pollen blowing in the wind (released by non-flowering trees, weeds, and grasses) that triggers springtime allergies, not the pollen in flowers carried by bees. So even local honey won’t have much, if any, of the type of pollen setting off your allergies.
Studies show bees don’t just bring flower pollen back to their honeycomb. They bring “tree and grass pollen, in addition to mold spores, diesel particles, and other contaminants.” The problem is that it’s difficult to make a honey from just one kind of pollen (say, weeds and not grass). So, save your local honey for your tea and toast, not for your allergy medicine cabinet.
It doesn’t quite contradict Ogren’s view. Both perspectives emphasize that local honey will only work if we can guarantee the honey is made from the specific pollen that provokes the allergic reaction. I would need to find out what is or are the specific seeds that trigger my allergic reaction and from there locate the appropriate honey: the one containing some quantity of those specific sets of pollen that trigger my allergies.
Therefore, I am not expecting the local wild flower honey will prevent the onset of allergies next season. It may actually work, but I’m not counting on it. But I’m really glad I picked up this nice new habit: instead of a spoon of sugar, my morning coffee now tastes really good with a full tea-spoon of local honey. And although it may not prevent allergies, real honey is a good dietary supplement. And I like to promote local farmers. But is it pesticide and herbicide free?
As an important aside to this story, while doing my pseudo research,I found out the honey we buy in supermarkets is likely not to be honey. According to Food Safety News:
More than three-fourths of the honey sold in U.S. grocery stores isn’t exactly what the bees produce, according to testing done exclusively for Food Safety News.
The results show that the pollen frequently has been filtered out of products labeled “honey.”
The removal of these microscopic particles from deep within a flower would make the nectar flunk the quality standards set by most of the world’s food safety agencies.
If you want honey, buy it from your local farmer or from your local stores that buy from local farmers. It is the only way to avoid consuming some unknown substance, likely not to be honey. And because they do not have pollen, you will not know the real origin of what you buy on those chain stores.
Data from Food Safety News:
- 76 percent of samples bought at groceries had all the pollen removed. These were stores like TOP Food, Safeway, Giant Eagle, QFC, Kroger, Metro Market, Harris Teeter, A&P, Stop & Shop and King Soopers.
- 100 percent of the honey sampled from drugstores like Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS Pharmacy had no pollen.
- 77 percent of the honey sampled from big box stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Target and H-E-B had the pollen filtered out.
- 100 percent of the honey packaged in the small individual service portions from Smucker, McDonald’s and KFC had the pollen removed.
- Every one of the samples Food Safety News bought at farmers markets, co-ops and “natural” stores like PCC and Trader Joe’s had the full, anticipated, amount of pollen.
Have you eaten honey lately? Are you sure? Scary, uh? At least we know where it is more likely that we can find real honey.
Thank you for reading. Up next will be a report from my 1,000 mile trip to the California Sierras in the Multistrada (still in June 2013).
Update, June 2nd, 2014
Since the time of this post last year, I have been eating two spoons of honey every day.
Now we are back in June a year later and Eugene is back as number 1 on the national allergy map.
And I still have allergies, and I still had to turn to allergy medicine to maintain some level of normalcy in my live. But I will continue to have Honey with my two cups of coffee everyday. Real honey instead of sugar or sweeteners.