A spoon full of Scarborough…

The hay fever season is here and many welcome it with a sneeze.

Besides just enduring it, most suffering from seasonal allergies know only two options: either take medication to calm down the oversensitive immune system or get expensive allergy shots from an immunologist to build a tolerance against the pollen.

However, a growing number of people are discovering a much cheaper and less aggressive third solution: a spoon full of raw honey from a local bee hive.

The approach is very similar to that of a flu shot or the allergy shots from an immunologist. The raw honey contains small amounts of allergy causing pollen. In such low doses, the immune system can develop a tolerance against them.

Bees are collecting the local pollen you are allergic to. Eating that honey can help you build immunity

— Brian Hamlin

However, according to Scarborough beekeeper Brian Hamlin, your ordinary mass market honey from the supermarket will not cut it.

“Bees are collecting the local pollen you are allergic to. Eating that honey can help you build immunity,” said Hamlin. “However, heating destroys the enzymes of the honey and its natural vitamin and mineral content. Also the pollen will lose its effectiveness. Heating the honey just turns it into sweet syrup with no nutritional value.”

Hamlin emphasizes the importance of the honey being not just raw, but local too.

“Bees can travel up to two miles, but it is a lot of work for them. Honey from bees closest to where you live will be most effective,” said Hamlin “That doesn’t have to be within a mile or two, but because of the range of pollen can be up to 60 to 80 miles.”

Hamlin started a local bee colony on the rooftop at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus in 2010. He now has four hives producing local honey that due to the pollen’s range, could be used to prevent allergies throughout Scarborough.

To emphasize the local nature of his honey, Hamlin sells his UTSC honey in jars featuring a map showing its origin.

Erica Van Alten of the Ontario Beekeepers Association only remembers positive feedback from her customers regarding the “sweet” treatment.

“I get a lot of feedback from people that are taking local honey and had great success with reducing their allergies,” said Van Alten. “A common reaction we get is ‘Wow, it’s been in front of my nose all along.’”

The benefits of raw honey are nothing new. Van Alten said that her family has known about this for a long time.

“[From time to time], there are spurts of interest when people get very excited about it,” said Van Alten. “There has not been a lot of research done in Canada about this. One reason is that it’s a natural product and another is that it would put brands like Claritin out of business.”

Raw honey is considered safe in low doses, but should not be given to infants as it can trigger botulism.

“There is no risk involved with the honey itself. It’s very much a trace amount of pollen. It cannot set off an allergy,” said Van Alten.

Dr. Janice Li said she is not aware of the benefits of using raw local honey to alleviate seasonal allergies. However, she is not very concerned either about the safety of trying it in small doses.

“It is essentially the same thing as getting allergy shots with the exception that the concentration of the allergen is not controlled,” said Li. “But I don’t see it being harmful.”

In order to get the most out of local raw honey, Hamlin and Van Alten recommend starting with low doses a few weeks before the beginning of the allergy season.