This idea comes from the book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers
by Stephen Harrod Buhner. The book is overall a difficult read (except for the chapter called Alcohol: Aqua Vitae, the Water of Life
, which covers the common mythology across the globe surrounding the discovery of fermentation and how, until recent western practices of isolating alcohol from its "whole food" source, i.e. distillation, alcoholic beverages were considered healthy, strengthening, and healing), but has a lot of great ideas in it. The book generally changed the way I looked at my homebrew and set me on the course to learning more about making homemade wines, meads, etc.
For example, once I learned about the health benefits of yeast, I no longer leave the sediment in my bottle-conditioned brews in the bottle. I've started to look at perfectly clear beers and wines (with some exceptions, sometimes the aesthetic of a perfectly clear wine is too much to resist) with the knowledge that the perfect clarity comes at the price of removing a lot of the "whole food" ingredients (yeast above all else) that actually add some nutrition to the drink, as well as possibly containing unnecessary additives to clear it that may or may not be healthy for you.
At any rate, back to the idea of "whole hive" mead. This is based on the theory that original mead-makers would cut down a whole hive and boil the whole thing, rather than trying to isolate the honey. There are a ton of things that would end up in the whole hive mead produced this way that isn't in our modern meads where we just add the honey (also note that wild bees would collect pollen from many different flower sources, diversifying the nutritional content of the honey they produce, so I only use wildflower honey in my meads now).
The main ones of these are:
- bee pollen
- royal jelly
- bee venom
Assuming the hive remnants and dead bees are then strained out before fermentation, all of the above would probably have been introduced into the must during the boil. Here is a brief description of these ingredients and their healthy/nutritious properties:
: Along with propolis and royal jelly, this product is actually sold in health food stores as a supplement. Bee pollen is the pollen collected from flowers by the bees and brought back to the hive. The bees mix the collected pollen with some digestive enzymes and other secretions when they collect it, and there is some evidence to suggest that bee pollen (as opposed to plant pollen - which is the pollen before it is collected by the bees) is more nutritious. It is certainly higher in protein than honey, thus providing a nutritional boost to the bees' diet that honey doesn't provide.
: Propolis is the result of a resinous substance gathered from trees by the bees and used mainly to hold their hive together. The gathered resin is mixed with the bees' own pollen, wax, nectar and enzymes to make the final propolis mixture. The propolis mixture is anti-viral and anti-bacterial, protecting the hive from infection (a trait that honey and other bee products share). According to the book, "Propolis has more bioflavonoids than oranges... and contains all the known vitamins except vitamin K and all the minerals needed by the body except sulphur."
: Royal jelly is the only food the queen bee eats. Again, quoting from the book: "Royal jelly has remarkable effects upon the queen bee. Born no different from other bees, her life is extended from the usual six weeks that most bees enjoy to live years.... The queen lays approximately 2,200 eggs each day (200 times her body weight), more than 2,000,000 in her lifetime - a feat no other creature on Earth equals."
: I'm not sure if there's any way to obtain bee venom for use in a whole hive mead, but the book does discuss it as a powerfully healthy medicine, and would presumably be present in some quantity in the ancient whole hive mead as the bees would pretty pissed off that their hive was being carried off and thrown into a boiling pot of water.
I am not including links or sourcing material (other than the book I'm discussing), the book itself is heavily footnoted and anyone interested in the research about the healing/nutritional properties of bee/hive products can google it easily enough.
So back to the whole hive mead. I used the recipe in the book as a framework and made the following batch:
5 gals water
12 lbs. raw
2 oz. propolis
2 oz. bee pollen
2 oz. royal jelly
Pasteur champagne yeast
I didn't boil mine, preferring to try and keep as much of the enzymatic activity alive as possible, I warmed the water to approximately 130*, just enough to properly dissolve the honey. The propolis, bee pollen and royal jelly were added during cooling. Make sure the undissolved solids from these ingredients make it into the fermenter.
A note on nutrients: I did NOT use yeast nutrient or energizer in this batch. The whole hive ingredients all contains significant quantities of vitamins, minerals and protein (nitrogen) that honey is lacking in. The mead fermented dry with no problems.
I never racked, and bottled while the mead was still cloudy and before it was fully dry, about 1.004, hoping it would carbonate slightly and finish in the bottles, which it is doing.
I was a little worried about the propolis in particular, as it has a very weird smell and I was concerned it would add an odd flavor to the finished product, but it really doesn't. The mead is very tasty, even unaged, although it has the appearance of lemonade (cloudy), I take that as a good sign for this project, after all, if the concept is correct, that cloudiness is nutrition. My girlfriend is loving it as well, in fact, we're drinking the young mead so fast I'm going to have to put the 2nd case somewhere hidden so we can let it age.
I'm sure some people will disagree with some of what is said here, but I'm enjoying drinking something that I can feel good about putting in my body, instead of thinking of anything with alcohol in it as "bad."
I encourage anyone with an open mind about such things to read the book, as you'll learn a lot.
Thanks for reading!