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In this episode, we look to the medicines that bees make with plants. Propolis is a medicinal resin made by bees which can be sustainably harvested to use as medicine. Benjamin Pixie is an herbalist, mead maker and beekeeper who has lots to share about plants, the wisdom of bees, and making medicines from the gifts of the hive.
Benjamin also shares a recipe and important tips for making your own propolis tincture, including the best alcohol to use and tips for finding propolis.
By the end of this episode, you’ll know:
► Why bees are the original herbalists
► What is propolis and many amazing health benefits
► How best to work with propolis as medicine
► How to support the bees
For those of you not familiar with Benjamin, he has been a treatment-free, bee-centric sustainable beekeeper since 2007. He is mead maker at Pixie Mead, and Distiller of honey spirits at Spirit of the Hive. He is a founding member of the Skalitude Pollinator Sanctuary and the Skalitude Community.
I’m so happy to share our conversation with you today!
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Welcome to the Herbs with Rosalee Podcast, a show exploring how herbs heal as medicine, as food and their nature connection. I’m your host, Rosalee de la Forêt. I’m an herbalist, teacher and the best-selling author of the books, Alchemy of Herbs and Wild Remedies.
I created this podcast to share trusted herbal wisdom so that you can get the best results when relying on herbs for your health. I love offering up practical knowledge to help you dive deeper into the world of medicinal plants and seasonal living. My goal is that you’ll walk away from each episode feeling inspired to start working with herbs in your everyday life.
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I’m so excited to share this episode with you. Benjamin Pixie is a beekeeper, an herbalist who has a lot of beautiful insights to share. He’s also my neighbor who lives just up the road. Benjamin has been a treatment-free, bee-centric, sustainable beekeeper since 2007. He is mead maker at Pixie Mead and distiller of honey spirits at Spirit of the Hive. He’s a founding member of the Skalitude Pollinator Sanctuary and the Skalitude Community.
Rosalee: Welcome to the show, Benjamin.
Benjamin: Thank you. A pleasure to join.
Rosalee: Good. Yeah, so you’re my neighbor and…
Rosalee: I was thinking about it ‘cause I was actually walking towards your place today. We are just talking we have this beautiful sunny day today and the plow had just gone through and gotten, you know, the snow and everything removed. So, I went on a walk and was walking towards your place and you will definitely win the prize for the closest interview. Just last month, I interviewed Olatokunboh Obasi, who was in Kenya at the time, and I’ve interviewed Henriette in Finland, so we have some, like long distance winners there, but this is—I mean, you’re 2 or 3 miles from me, so very, very close.
Rosalee: And just this kind of crazy coincidence to have this wonderful apiarist, mead maker and herbalist just up the road, so super excited to have you here.
Benjamin: Thank you. It’s good to be here.
Rosalee: So, I always like to start with hearing how you got on the path, and because we’re going to be talking about bee medicine, I would love to hear your path as an herbalist and also, your path with the bees too and just kind of how that all led together.
Benjamin: Awesome. So, I was born in Arizona and raised in the suburbs, and I didn’t have much interaction with plants. I didn’t really think I liked them and I rejected a lot of my upbringing and chose a life closer to the wild and to nature. I left home when I was pretty young. I left home for good right after I turned 15 and started traveling and living closer to nature, and that led me to supporting an occupation camp put on by the American Indian Movement as a collaboration between five tribes on the “Colorado River Native Nations Alliance” they call themselves.
They were fighting a nuclear waste dump that a company called, “US Ecology,” was attempting to put on Mojave sacred land over an aquifer that led into the Colorado River, and they started an occupation camp. This was in 1998 or ’99 and put a call out welcoming non-native supporters to help them protect the land, and I went out there and lived on—in the Mojave Desert with—where Churchill and members of the Native American church and the American Indian movements helping protect that land and tending a sacred fire that had been fed with prayers and tobaccos since the occupation of Wounded Knee in the ‘70s, and it was a life changing experience.
While I was out there, I got sick and there was a medicine man named “Curly” who told me to go out and heal me, and I didn’t know how to ask the desert to heal me. And so, I walked around for hours and eventually, I felt this plant calling to me and I sat with it and felt the magic of its emerald green leaves just singing to me. And after spending quite a bit of time together, I felt called to harvest some leaves and make some tea with them. When I got back and brewed the tea, it was the most god-awful thing I’d ever tasted. It was waxy and made me want to gag and I felt better, and that was my introduction to the plant medicine world.
That was the chaparral, hediondilla, gobernadora. Larrea tridentate is her Latin name, and it led to many years of study and I got a hold of Michael Moore’s book, Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West pretty early in my career as an herbalist and started harvesting and making medicine. Poplar buds was one of my first wildcrafting adventures. And it had been a couple of years of reading that book from cover to cover and still learning things that inspired me to want to study with Michael Moore.
So, I attended the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine in 2004 and studied with Michael, and had studied some elder named, “Subiyay” Bruce Miller, the Tuwaduq tribe on the Olympic Peninsula, and also, with Elise Krohn and worked for the tribe over there. And that’s a bit of my background as an herbalist.
I came to the bees through mead, through honey wine. I made my first honey wine when I wasn’t old enough to buy it. And I–it was a fireweed honey mead and I ended up sharing it with friends up in the Cascade Mountains near where the bees had made that honey and I felt myself as the messenger of this golden, bubbling, sweet spirit of delight and I liked it. And so, I just dove in really deep and I started making a lot of mead and wildcrafting herbs and making infused honeys, and that led to me work training with beekeepers in exchange for honey and then catching my first swarm in 2006.
And once I got my hands on the bees and started looking at them and feeling their magic, that was the beginning and the next year, I started the Pixie honey company and got 40 colonies. I’ll probably keep bees until I die. I love them so much. I look at them as the original herbalists and they have so much to teach us about not only plant medicine, but being in service to that which we—which feeds us and to working together.
Rosalee: Hmm. I loved hearing all that Benjamin, so much that I didn’t know for somebody, you know who I’ve known for a while, and it also reminded me of the first time—I think the first time I met you, it was well before you’d moved to be my neighbor but it was in the same location. It was at Earthskills Gathering, Saskatoon Gathering and Saskatoon Circle. And I remember meeting you, like basically, with a bottle of mead in your hand and being lots of revelry and fun. And I—we have a mutual friend, Lynx Vilden, who’s going to be on the show in a couple of months.
So, yeah, I just kind of brought all that back, but really it was wonderful just to hear how you found your place within the plants and the bees, so thank you so much for sharing that. I also read that same book by Michael Moore from cover to cover, but did not have the chance to study with him, so yeah, that’s wonderful.
Well, so, I loved that you call bees the “first herbalists” because you’re going to talk about propolis today, which is, like not technically an herb but I think herbalists are very—like we cast a large net when we talk about herbs. Like, I had Asia on the podcast awhile ago. We talked about mushrooms, which we, like a lot of herbalists, just call mushrooms “herbs,” which is not at all correct, but just kind of this umbrella statement. So, propolis totally works within that too, but I think we should probably start by just talking, like what is propolis?
Benjamin: Yeah, yeah. So, propolis is the quintessential bee medicine, and “polis” means “city” and “pro” means “preceding”or “in support of.” I liberally translate propolis as the “walls of the city” or a “defense of the city,” the “benefit of the city.” I look at the beehive as a super organism but also as a city. At the height of the summer, you have 60,000 bees living in cells, being born in cells that are adjacent. Every cell shares walls with other cells, almost like an apartment in the city when you’re—I named all my beehives after cities.
And propolis is the one plant substance or the few plant substances that the bees choose to be their medicine. So, propolis is composed of primarily, resins, and the bees gather propolis from many, many different plants, and propolis has so many constituents--up to 150 constituents. And around here, the bees primarily gather from poplar and cottonwood and aspen, but I’ve seen bees gather from maple, fir, hemlock, mesquite, oak, willow.
They will gather resins from many, many different sources and they—propolis can be 5% pollen, 5% waxes, and also, there’s some polyphenols and bioflavonoids that the bees transform that are different from the way they are in the plants. The bees add some enzymes and mix all this together to be the immune system of the hive, and so, propolis is—the bees use it.
They fill every space that’s too small for them to make honeycomb with propolis and they also—the Greeks had four or five different words for propolis and one of them was “cosmosis.” This is the word that “cosmetics” come from and that propolis is the initial varnish layer that the bees add to the foundation and the edges of the entire hive.
I think of propolis as a boundary medicine. The bees have lived in holes in trees and wounds in trees, in holey places in trees for millions of years before humans have made wooden or clay or log hives for them to habitate, and so they use plant medicine to treat this wound in their—in their host, their very gracious guest.
And from there they build honeycomb out of transformed honey made into beeswax and they add a layer of propolis over the wax which gives it its strength and stability and also, a medicinal layer. So, 1lb of beeswax can hold up to 25lbs of honey, and part of that is because of the fiber network and strength of the propolis. When you really see fresh honeycomb, it’s often like white or a really light color with a red rim around the hexagonal cells, and that’s propolis. That’s how they hold it together.
So, those are a couple of functions of propolis within the hive. The bees will also use it to make their entrance smaller or to channel air. They will also use it to to mummify invaders. If a critter sneaks into the hive to steal honey and the bee sting it to death and it’s too big for them to remove, they can’t have it in their body essentially rotting, so they will—they will coat it in propolis and wax.
And again, boundary medicine. Propolis is, for the beehive, the glue that holds everything together, but also this concentration of plant immune systems that the bees collaborate on because they do add their own enzymes, which transform the plant—plant secretions to become the synthesis that is like nothing else in the world, really.
Rosalee: Wow. I feel like I just learned, like countless things that I did not know before. It’s so fascinating just about propolis, and I love that that’s one of the amazing things that bees make that we even get to work with. Yeah, so fascinating, and so, you mentioned that bees there’s like—like propolis, there’s a lot of resin there, so it’s mostly you mentioned there was pollens and stuff that’s mostly resins. It’s a very sticky, dense substance. I’m totally just personally curious. You mentioned a lot of trees that they might harvest those resins from. Have you ever seen them harvesting from ponderosa pine? Because we live with a lot of ponderosa pines here.
Benjamin: I haven’t ever seen them harvesting from ponderosa pine. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen, but the propolis that we harvest here doesn’t taste that all piney, you know. Like, my—my experiential knowledge of the bees is mostly based on what I can see and taste, and you know I read a lot of things in—in books about what bees gather or what bees gather this, so that from and a lot of it I do not see supported by my own eyes and taste buds and I feel like part of that is because there are so many environmental micro nuances that affect the ways plants produce nectar, pollen and resins and the abundance in which they are available for bees, and so it changes what bees gather from place to place.
Rosalee: That makes sense. I love there’s all the different layers that we get to learn from the bees in that regard. Well, I am curious now that we have a sense of what propolis is, how do you like to work with propolis as medicine?
Benjamin: Yeah, every way that I can. When I harvest propolis, it’s usually scraping the edges of the hive when I’m doing hive inspections during the height of the summer. From—from spring to fall when I’m opening the hives, if they’re abundant and growing and they have resources, I will scrape some of the—the glue that holds the lid down and gather that. This year I did all of my honey extracting in one day for about a hundred colonies.
I used the ... and that day, I laid out a tarp and scraped all the boxes while the frames were moving through the extracting machine and got all the propolis from the edges and I harvested about 5lbs of propolis that day, which is—it’s a lot. It takes a lot. I was reading the average that a hive produces in a year is about 4 to 8oz. Sometimes our hives will produce more because we give them more space. In between the frames, we’ll put 9 frames in a 10-frame box so that they can draw them out more.
And often when I’m harvesting propolis for them, more often throughout the year, I notice that the bees are not going to go without it so they’ll send out less nectar foragers and more foragers for propolis, and that way the propolis supply in the hive is still there. But I think of it as a way that I can increase the bees’ dosage if you will? They’re not necessarily imbibing the propolis, but they’re spending more time making it and more time interacting their bodies with the plant’s immune system.
And so, you know Donna Chesner, Michael Moore’s partner, when—when Colony Collapse Disorder was first identified, I called her to ask her like, “What should I do for the bees?” She was like, “I wish we could get them to eat their own propolis because it’s such an amazing immune stimulant, antiviral, antibacterial boundary medicine.” And so, I feel like harvesting propolis often inspires the bees to spend more time and energy interacting with those substances and making it, which in theory, increases their dosage, their consumption of it.
And so, once I’ve harvested propolis, my favorite ways to extract it and use it in the body are through alcohol. Resins are not very consumable by the body without a solvent to break them down, and so, I, as a mead maker, I—I—I believe in the power of honey, and you know the bees transform the briefest part of a plant into this eternal goal that lasts forever, nectar to honey, and then as a mead maker I transform that to wine, and then as a distiller, we transform that wine into spirit.
And so, this is 190 proof Honey Shine that we—we make with our—at our distillery, Spirit of the Hive, and we use to make tinctures. And so, once I harvest propolis, I store it in the freezer because, like you said, it’s gummy. It’s gluey. When it’s warm, it has the texture of like peanut butter. It can be a real pain in the butt to work with and any equipment that I use for working with propolis, I try to just dedicate to propolis ‘cause cleaning is a real pain, and you know, Honey Shine or hydrogen peroxide work great to clean your equipment or your kitchen after you’ve processed propolis ‘cause just hot water and soap is not going to do it. You need something--the resin.
So, storing the propolis in the freezer, transforming it into a tincture, which is the recipe I share, and we also make throat spray and propolis honey liqueur that we also have on our website, which is a delicious, and magical three-part extract. We do a tincture and infused honey and a tea of the propolis. Combine them all together to make a 25% alcohol preparation that is sweet and is a honey-based alchemical extract that carries the propolis to you in a way that’s less intense than the tincture.
Rosalee: Oh, wow. That was awesome. Lots to go through there. Let’s mention your recipe first. So, you’ve shared this propolis tincture recipe, which is, like at first glance, a very simple recipe, you’re combining a couple ingredients, but as you’re talking about it’s very important to have the alcohol as that intermediary to break down the propolis, so in there you’re recommending a very high-proof alcohol like your spirit medicine, which I just love that it’s, like it comes from honey and then, you know... it could just all be related.
But that’s really essential, like you cannot use, like brandy or something. Like, it really needs to be a super high-proof in order to make that work. So, that recipe folks can download at the show notes at herbswithrosaleepodcast.com, and it’s just a great teaching tool in sharing people. And I love you give some help in there too of how people might find propolis that they can tincture for themselves as well.
Benjamin: I’ve had really bad luck as my business grew trying to source propolis from online substances, trying to buy the raw resin, just because it changes so much from ecosystem to ecosystem. I really recommend finding a local beekeeper and getting propolis that’s near you from bees that you can—can interact with yourself, as opposed to just buying it from halfway across the country or the world. And maybe it’s partly that I’m biased and I think that our propolis here in the Pacific Northwest, both on the west side and east side of the mountains just taste so much better than any others that I’ve had from anywhere else, but I think there’s also some piece of being fed by your local there that is important. So…
Rosalee: Yeah, thank you for mentioning that too, and then I definitely want to talk about your throat spray because I absolutely love your throat spray. You’ve gifted me some over the years and I keep using it up, but the combination—correct me if I’m wrong—but there’s the propolis, an elderberry and osha. Is that right?
Benjamin: Yup, yup.
Rosalee: Yeah, it’s just fantastic for sore throats, for—I love it at the beginning of a cold or flu. I mean, especially for the sore throat, but even if I don’t quite have a sore throat, at the beginning of like a respiratory thing, I’m just thinking this is the stuff.
Benjamin: Totally. Yeah, it’s tried-and-true recipe that we’ve been making for 15 years now and you know it’s one of the standbys that I usually have in my pocket, and we’ve been happy and delighted to be able to offer to people through the last couple of years as antiviral and immune support--that plant combination.
Now, we haven’t really talked yet about the actions of propolis in the body, and now I think of it, I go back to the walls of the city of boundary medicine of, I guess, some of the biolflavonoids in propolis prevent a virus’ cell envelope from opening up. And so, you can have virus cells in your body and they don’t have the ability to proliferate when propolis is also in your body.
So, you know it’s like that same action of the dead mouse. I’ve found mice and lizards in my hives mummified in propolis, of there being an antigen in the body and not needing to overwhelm it, just having healthy boundaries with it. And so, propolis is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, is amazing for oral health, for healing from infections and cavities.
The propolis tincture I will use for my—my mouth health often to swish with, and I know a lot of folks do like to apply propolis resin directly to cavities or to mouth inflammation and I just feel like the tincture is an extra way to make sure your body is absorbing that medicine. Propolis is really good at drawing out infections and is used topically for wound healing, for burn healing, for fighting infections, for bee stings, for many, many things so it’s kind of the tip of the iceberg there. Propolis prevents metastasis in cancer, and so once again, it’s that boundary medicine.
And you know propolis has been used as medicine all over the world. Everywhere that there’s bees – in ancient Greece, in China, in Egypt, in the Middle East, even in the Americas where Apis mellifera, the European honeybee that we know and love and are so familiar with was not—did not arrive until the 1500s. The indigenous people of Latin America and South America kept Melipona bees and practiced Melipona culture – the stingless bees of the Mayas, and these bees were cultivated in—in mass—massive apiaries. Some of the first conquistadors documented passing hives of—gatherings of 20,000 hives of bees in—in what is now Mexico.
And you know there was much evolved arts and culture of working with the bees and their gifts of making mead, of lost-wax casting and of working with propolis for medicine, so it is a tradition that spans the globe. And you know is my #1 thing at the first sign of infection or cold or flu, is propolis tincture.
The propolis liqueur or the propolis potion is a way to take that high-strength alcohol extract of a tincture, and then add the tea and honey portions to make it more palatable and delicious. So, I actually give the propolis liqueur by the dropper or the spoonful to my children more often than I give them the tincture because it just goes down so much easier to take that strong extract, and then—not exactly weaken it, but make it more palatable with just more propolis extracts.
Another egg I’ll give to you, medicine makers, is after you follow the recipe for making a propolis tincture, do not discard the mark. There is so much medicine still active in that propolis that you’ve extracted that you can tincture again or you can try and infuse into oil or make tea out of or infusing the honey. There’s a lot of things you can do with that leftover propolis. So, I hope people experiment and tell me the most delicious thing they make.
Rosalee: Nice tip and I kind of can’t believe I haven’t had that propolis liqueur, so I’m gonna have to get that and order some from you.
Benjamin: Oh, my goodness. I can’t believe you haven’t either.
Rosalee: Yeah. Every time you buy, like, “Wait! That looks amazing!” I do want to talk about your mead. I don’t know if now is the best time, but I brought it up so we might as well go with it. But, I don’t remember all the mead names. I’ve never, like every bottle I’ve had from you is amazing, but the one that I was just especially thinking of is your whole hive. I cannot remember the name of it. I think it’s like a-
Benjamin: That one’s called the Odroerir and it’s named for the origin of mead and poetry story from the—from the Viking tradition.
Rosalee: And that is to drink that mead—so it’s a whole hive mead and it’s this incredible just—it’s so medicine but it’s like medicine not as like, like, “Oh, that’s medicine,” but it’s like a—it’s just like a whole body experience, and I love on the label it says, “to be drunk with poetry,” while reading poetry. That’s often a tradition over the holidays with my former friends that I spend most of my holidays with. We will drink the whole hive’s mead and read poetry together, so it’s a favorite tradition, certainly can be done anytime of the year though. But will you talk a little bit about the whole hive mead and what goes into that?
Rosalee: I mean, obviously, the whole hive but I’m just saying how does that—how do you make that? What’s all in there?
Benjamin: I don’t know if you want to hear the whole story right now. It’s like a 15-minute story, the origin of mead and poetry. I don’t know if we have time for that, but
Rosalee: Yeah, maybe the highlights.
Benjamin: Okay. Well, I made that mead inspired by the meads of our ancestors, you know the separation of honey, wax, pollen, propolis is new. You know, for—for most of our time as humans interacting with bees to harvest honey meant—meant death--meant death of the colony that you were choosing. You know, throughout the the long time of the tradition of skep hive—beehive keeping. So, skeps are like the cartoon that you think of, the baskets of—that bees were kept in.
The beekeeper would weigh out their hives at harvest time and you know choose the the heaviest and the lightest to to with gratitude. Thank the bees for their work and service and kill them in one way or another and take that honey and use it for human use. So, the strong hives would probably—would have a harder time making it through winter. The strong and the weak hives when their populations are super high, and the hives are the ones who are most likely to thrive and grow again in the new year.
And so, that act would then involve the pressing of the wax and the propolis and the pollen and everything going into the honey that is harvested. And there are a few times where I have made mead with colonies that I cut out of walls and actually, you know, took living bees and comb and thank them for their lives and immerse them in a pot of boiling water and watch the wax melt and stir it all up.
And you can—in those meads, I would strain out the wax and the dead bees and then add yeast and you could taste the venom in those meads. And we did, recently, purchase a tool for harvesting bee venom without killing the bees, and so we are going to be experimenting this next year with bee venom as a medicine and as an ingredient into meads and spirits, and so I’m excited about that.
But at this point, our whole hive mead has bee pollen, propolis and royal jelly that we harvest from our bees. And you know, we harvest each of those throughout the year and then mix them all together in the mead and bottle it. And the propolis is the thing that gives the mead this milky consistency and this resinous flavor that, you know it’s truly medicinal.
And when we go out on the road and set up at Renaissance fairs and conferences, I call all of our our projects together, the Pixie Traveling Medicine Show, and I like to say we we put the “cine” in “medicine” and the cure in liqueur, and it’s this, you know, desire to really let your your mead and your alcohol be your medicine in addition to your food, so…
Rosalee: Hmm. You can absolutely taste that with it. It’s just quite incredible, and then you have all sorts of other more—I guess that is very traditional mead, but you also have the “Skalitude mead,” named after where you live, is one of my very favorites. But so many, the persephones—it just goes on and on. You have very—a lot of different meads and a mead club. You want to mention your mead club?
Benjamin: Sure, yeah. We we offer both quarterly and monthly options for joining our mead club, and it’s the most economical way to get our meads shipped to you four times a year or once a month, then there’s three different levels. There’s like, 3 bottles, 6 bottles and 12 bottles, so definitely recommend, folks. Check it out on our website, Pixie Mead, and join our our mailing list over there to learn more and get updates about when we’re going on the road and new stuff that we’re offering, so…
Rosalee: Right. That’s pixiemead.com.
Benjamin: Yeah. Few words about Spirit of the Hive and Honey Shine as a tincture menstruum, you know, I really believe in honoring the sources of what goes into our work. And you know I look at the bees as great teachers of singing to the the plants as you harvest them. You know and they—that some studies have shown that the plants actually, like open and lean in to the bees and like, change their color and and offer more pollen or nectar with the bees buzzing and song to them.
So, you know, it really, like the difference between asking someone sweetly in a courting way or or taking something in a demanding way. And you know, I really hope that the herbalists out there are are making their own medicine or asking plants to party with them, share their healing gifts.
And I think tincture making is an awesome medium for carrying medicine with you and being able to make it absorbable in the body and keeping plants fresh throughout the year and to go through that process and then chop up a plant and tincture it in a menstruum or an alcohol made from grain alcohol is, most of the time, supporting mono culture, which is the very death and destruction of the wild gardens that are medicinal plants.
Our wild medicinal plants need to thrive, and so I’m really honored to to produce Honey Shine, to produce an alternative to monoculture ethanol that herbalists can use to concentrate the energy of fertility, for diversity, abundance, that the bees tend and concentrate in the form of honey versus the habitat loss and destruction that is concentrated in most Everclear that you can buy on store shelves.
Rosalee: Yeah. So, I used to make all of my tinctures pretty much with Everclear because that was the most, like economical thing. You want the high-proof and then you can—you know, then you can decide what your end of alcohol proof is by diluting with water.
So, but it’s been years now since I’ve done that and I’m so grateful to be able to use the Spirit of the Hive alcohol because, like you’re saying, you know, if I’m really caring so much about how my herbs are sourced and how they’re grown and wanting to contribute to this beautiful earth and not just take from it, then that our alcohol use is just so important.
So, just reiterating what you said and just want to speak. Yeah, I used to use Everclear but now, that’s just not something I would choose to do now that we have such wonderful alternatives. And I do have a recipe that I specifically created and wrote for the Spirit of the Hive medicine as a tincture, so will share with that as well. And how can people find the Spirit of the Hive medicines?
Benjamin: Yes, so we have a website. It’s spiritofthehive.buzz and you can find not only our Honey Shine there, but some of our our propolis honey liqueur, our aphrodisiac liqueur. We have two different absinthe that we are making with herbs that we grow here at Skalitude – wormwood, tulsi. In addition to anise and fennel, we also use mugwort and hyssop and anise hyssop. We make an herbal gin that’s very botanical that has cinnamon and cardamom as dominant notes. We use... in there, so yeah, check out spiritofthehive.buzz and find our spirits there.
Rosalee: One of my favorite spirits that you make is the hawthorn, and you have to remind me of the name. It’s like a–is it the dragon hawthorn?
Benjamin: Hawthorn heart of the dragon, yeah. So, our dragon hearts—and we, uh, you know, it’s our take on a whisky. So, it’s a 90 proof spirit and then we use that as the base to tincture a very special hawthorn berry which we also infuse in the honey and make a tea out of, so the hawthorn heart of the dragon. It’s on my list to make more. Got a bucket that’s frozen outside that’s waiting for the thaw.
Rosalee: Yeah, nice. Yeah, and I’ve had so many. They’re all delicious. The tulsi potion is quite good and everything has been absolutely delicious. So, you mentioned growing things at Skalitude and I’m wondering if you would share a bit about what is Skalitude.
Benjamin: Yeah, yeah. So, Skalitude is my home and it’s where Rosalee and I met, at the Saskatoon Circle Earth Skills Gathering and that was how I first met Skalitude in 2009. I came here to teach at the Second Saskatoon Circle Gathering and fell in love with this magical land. Skalitude has been a eco-retreat center since 2000.
The previous owner was here for 18 years and she built up that business hosting weddings, vacations and Wilderness Rites of Passage groups. And yes, it’s just such a—there’s this magical meadow that’s held by the hills and it’s like no other place I’ve ever been. The Human Fairy Relations Congress was held here for many years and it’s a—it’s a place where people come to to interact with the wild and other other realms.
And so, in 2018, I got together with my beloved and a group of people and we purchased the land from the old owner. And with the intention to build a community here, we continue to host Saskatoon Circle Gathering and that will be on the summer solstice this year. This year we’re also going to be hosting the Northwest Herbal Gathering. A week before June 9th through the 11th, there’ll be a bunch of herbalists in the neighborhood.
Rosalee: Oh, no. Wait! It’s going to be the Northwest Herbal Faire followed by Saskatoon Circle?
Benjamin: Yeah, yeah.
Rosalee: Wow! June! That’s going to be amazing!
Benjamin: Yeah. We also began the Skalitude Pollinator Sanctuary, so you know it’s really my strong belief that honeybees are great stewards of the ecosystem, and that the the best way we can support them is to provide healthy and diverse habitat for them.
So, you know learning the abundant nectar plants in our area as a step of that and then also, learning the dearth time – the time when the season is still warm enough that bees could make honey but there’s not enough abundant nectar available for them to do it, and so, planting for that time is the best way as humans we can be allies to the honeybees.
So that’s one of our primary goals at Skalitude Pollinator Sanctuary and we purchased a seed drill that allows us to distribute a lot of seed and get a lot of biological material into the soil without disturbing the ground very much at all. And so, we did about a thousand pounds of seeds last year that we’re really excited with this very, very snowy winter to see and a very wet summer last year.
We think that we’re going to see a lot of perennials jumping up and flowering this year in the meadow. So, hopefully if it’s warm and dry enough by June, we should have many, many colors of of plant nations of nectar plants that provide abundant gifts to both the honeybees and the native pollinator species.
Rosalee: That’s going to be delightful. I’m curious. I have to ask what plants, what seeds were in there?
Benjamin: Yeah, there is one that—of flowers that’s doing really great. Sainfoin is one that we planted first, I think three years ago. We’ve got about an acre and a half of sainfoin that’s really established that is an alfalfa relative and mixed pink flowers, mustard, borage, catnip, alfalfa. I’m drawing a blank of some of these. Chicory, got a lot of poppies going, purple prairie clover, Echinacea. This is just what I can try and provide and complete.
Rosalee: Yeah, that’s going to be just so epic. I often walk, you know, up there and I don’t make it every day on my walk—I think three miles. That’s it do you think between our houses? Two or three miles, but I’d always make it the whole way but now, I’m going to have to—I’m just going to welcome myself into your meadow ‘cause that just sounds amazing.
Benjamin: You’re welcome.
Rosalee: I love growing aster for that late season and we have another friend, you know Susie. She keeps bees on our property, but sometimes, like one year, we had a bear come and take out the bees. This year, the bees got eaten by yellow jackets, which was very sad, but I’ll still see honeybees on my asters in the fall so I wonder how these—did these live at Benjamin’s house and they’re making it all the way here for the the asters?
Benjamin: Yeah, your garden is always so beautiful in the late summer. I always want to go over and ask you who you have blooming and who you see bees in.
Rosalee: You’re always welcome to stop and ask. I would only say the problem is you might have to stay for awhile because then I have to give you the whole garden tour, like the whole thing, and you know, so that would be like the one the one problem. You’d be like, “Oh, I’ll just stop real quick and then she just would not stop talking about plant.” It’s a problem, but… I feel like I was so excited to talk about your lovely offerings because I’m such a big fan of them. I do want to make sure that we covered everything about propolis that you wanted to cover. Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Benjamin: I think we we covered quite a bit. You know it’s impossible to do it justice. There’s so many variations of propolis for every place. People talk about this propolis in the Amazon that’s green and it’s super effective against staph, and some folks who are reductionists, like, “Oh, that’s the best propolis in the world,” bur really, I think it’s the best propolis for the bacterial conditions that thrive in that same ecosystem which is often staph.
So, you know propolis I just look at as a gateway into the world of the bees and bees have been building cities out of the excrescence of plants for millions and millions of years, much longer than we’ve been a species and this is what they have chosen to be their medicine, and so I just see millions of years of wisdom and collaboration in propolis. And yeah, it’s amazing to be able to taste that and take that into your body as as an opening into that world of the magic of the bees.
Rosalee: Umm. That’s so beautifully said, Benjamin. It’s really like a great bee endorsement too. It’s like if the bees love it then…And you have so many projects going on that we’ve talked about – Pixie Mead, Spirit of the Hive, such wonderful things going on at the Skalitude. Did we miss anything? Is there anything else you’d like to share about that?
Benjamin: I think that’s it for now, you know.
Rosalee: All right.
Benjamin: You know join our mailing list at our website. It’s either spiritofthehive.buzz or Pixie Mead and stay tuned ‘cause we do take the show on the road and go traveling throughout the west, and further we’ve been doing Renaissance fairs and other events and we’ll be continuing to take the magic of the plants and the bees out on the road in the coming year.
Rosalee: Which I know is a lot of fun and very entertaining, and I have not seen you traveling, but I have sent friends your way over the years at different festivals and stuff and I know it’s always a fun time. Well, that brings us to our last question which I’m asking everybody in Season 7 and I want to expand this question for you a little bit, Benjamin, to ask what advice do you have for people who are just starting out on their herbal path? Or perhaps people who are getting interested in bees?
Benjamin: So, on the herbal path, I would say similar to most things in life, just find what you love. Find what lights you up. Find what makes you passionate and makes you feel alive. You know for me, that was wildcrafting and getting my hands on the plants and as other parts of my life grow and business grow, I I find less time to do that stuff, was the heart of of what it’s all about for me. So, you know find that piece and try to structure everything else, let you spend as much time doing what you love as possible. That’s that’s my advice for the herbalists.
Bee folks, just get your hands on them. I remember the first time I helped a local bee keeper harvest honey, it ended up being the beekeeper whose honey I had used for my first mead. And I was like, fresh out of herb school. I was 21 or 22 years old and I’ve been making mead for four years already and I’m so excited. He gave me this, like crappy suit that didn’t really seal and I was probably in my first hive that I was working on my own.
The bees got in my veil. They’re stinging me all over and I ran away thinking like, “It’s not worth it! It’s not worth it!” and like, I got all the bees out of my beard and I tightened up my suit. I took a couple of breaths and then I was like, “It’s totally worth it,” and I just got right back in there and started in the bees again and trying to be calm and methodical about it.
But meet local beekeepers, get your hands on the bees. Work with them. Most areas have a a beekeeping association or some old-timer who’s been working with the bees in your area a lot. Join that group. Find that old-timer that you resonate with. Even if they’re not like a perfect mesh with how you like to be in the world, hang out, offer to help them. You’re going to learn so much about your local ecosystem and nuances you wouldn’t have even imagined from them and from the bees. So…
Rosalee: Umm. Thank you so much, Benjamin, for sharing all this wisdom. I learned so much about propolis and I am just excited to learn even more from the bees and their medicine, so thank you very much.
Benjamin: Yeah, my pleasure. Really nice to join you.
Rosalee: For the listeners, don’t forget to get free access to Benjamin’s recipe for a propelis tincture above this transcript. You can find Benjamin many places online including his website, www.spiritofthehive.buzz.
I deeply believe that this world needs more herbalists and plant-centered folks. I’m so glad you’re here as part of this herbal community. Have a beautiful day.
Hey, thanks again for spending your valuable time with me today. I hope you found today’s episode helpful, and if you’re a new listener, thanks for checking out the show! While you’re here, you can subscribe to my newsletter below and get updates when new episodes release and even submit your requests for future podcast episodes.
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Rosalee is an herbalist and author of the bestselling book Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods & Remedies That Healand co-author of the bestselling book Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine. She's a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild and has taught thousands of students through her online courses. Read about how Rosalee went from having a terminal illness to being a bestselling author in her full story here.