Mérida, Yucatán — Stingless melipona bees produce a honey that the ancient Mayas considered sacred for its medicinal properties. Unfortunately, it is hard to find natural hives due to deforestation in the Mayan jungles.
So now a large part of Mayan honey production has moved to urban areas.
Biologist Gretel Castillo, who is among the beekeepers keeping the ancient tradition alive, said that it is fortunate that young people in cities show a growing interest in the craft.
In the Yucatán, 2,949 melipona hives have been counted. Around 87 beekeepers are at work in 24 municipalities.
Of the 47 bee species existing on the Yucatán Peninsula, the Melipona beecheii is most used for Mayan honey production.
“The chief characteristic of the melipona is that it is stingless and its honey is rich in nutrients and antioxidants with a high medicinal effectiveness that helps cure gastric ulcers, cataracts, conjunctivitis, carnosity, burns, cough, asthma and some respiratory ailments,” Castillo said.
At home she has a jobon, a hollow log the Mayas used as a hive and which, she said, is “worth its weight in gold.”
She also has 25 hives with five bee species.
Castillo appeared more than happy that the younger generations have started taking an interest in producing melipona honey, which sells at between 1,200 and 1,500 pesos per liter ($57 to $71 per quart in U.S. dollars).
Melipona bee hives are found from Mexico to Costa Rica. But those on the Yucatán Peninsula “are of the highest quality because the bees are found among healing flowers and fruit trees that blossom all year long.”
She discovered her love for these stingless bees thanks to Javier Quezada and Jorge Gonzalez, professors at the Autonomous University of the Yucatán (UADY).
Melipona bees are “very delicate” and, when no plants are flowering, they can’t be fed with sugar water as other bee species can, which means they require the utmost attention.
Castillo, a specialist in agricultural parasitology, checks out her hives every week and cleans them to protect the “baby nests,” while taking care to see there is no infestation that could harm them.