Hello from your History Herald! As spring gently rouses New Mexico from its winter sleep, the days become warmer and brighter and our gardens welcome back their beautiful blooms. Will all this beauty around, I am inspired to talk about one of Earth’s most impressive and important species who starts to make an appearance around this time—the Honeybee!
So, what’s the buzz about bees? While there are several species of bees native to New Mexico, Honeybees specifically have been in the area since the 1500s when early Spanish settlers imported them along with other livestock up El Camino Real. Considered a valuable commodity and tremendous asset to humans, bees were brought along mainly for their pollination services. Did you know that managed honeybees are among the most reliable pollinators in agriculture? That’s very important in this state. New Mexico alfalfa hay, for example, is one of the state’s top agricultural crops and it’s almost entirely dependent on bee pollination!
Honeybees are also valued for their honey, wax production, and more. Did you know local honey provides allergy relief? Bee pollen does too, and is rich in vitamins, protein, and other nutrients. Beeswax is great for fixing squeaky hinges, polishing wood furniture, and for making lotion or salve. Of course, here at Las Golondrinas we use beeswax in our candle-making activity! Propolis, resin bees collect from trees to coat the hive, has antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties; and let’s not forget bee venom therapy, using bee stings to relieve arthritis. Wow, the brilliance of bees!
Evolving over millions of years, these talented little beauties, are unique in their ability to produce honey and form large “eusocial” societies, the most evolutionarily advanced among colony groups. Their form of communication, the most developed of any invertebrate, includes seven dances used to alert the colony about the location and distance of pollens. Honeybees also clean their hives and even self-medicate by choosing plants that benefit them — incredible! In addition, is there really any other way to enjoy a New Mexico sopapilla other than with local honey?!
With plants and trees around us blossoming, you might have noticed some honeybees buzzing around them, and who can blame them? Currently one of New Mexico’s most savored trees, the Southwestern Chokecherry, is in bloom with fragrant pink and white blossoms, enticing bees with their nectar. Found between 5,000 and 8,000 feet of altitude, they thrive in rich, moist soils along riverbanks, but are also hardy enough to withstand drought, which is why they’re perfectly adapted to much of northern New Mexico. By late summer/early autumn, clusters of dark cherries will be ready to be enjoyed by animals and humans alike. Much like Piñon picking, it’s tradition for families to forage the wild cherries annually.
A native species of New Mexico, Chokecherry trees have been traditionally prized as both a food, high in antioxidants and rich in vitamin C, and for the medicinal properties of its bark and roots.
A staple food among many Indigenous communities, Chokecherry ranks among the most important fruits. Called “Capulin” in Spanish, Chokecherries have long been used to make jelly, jam, juice, syrup, and even wine! You can consume them raw, but they pack some pucker power (there’s a reason they’re called chokecherries!). The intense, often bitter, taste mellows when dried or cooked with sweeteners. Capulin jellies and syrups are sweet, tangy (and a lovely color) and are delicious on toast, pancakes, tortillas, and more! Much like sopapillas with honey, Capulin is a must-try New Mexican delicacy!