It should come as no surprise that bees have extensive knowledge of honey. They are not only honeybees, but also honey consumers, and sophisticated ones at that.

If you give a sick bee a variety of honey to pick from, it will choose the one that best combats its infection. People, on the other hand, have a long way to go when it comes to understanding the nutritional benefits of honey. Most lists of “functional foods” – those that provide health advantages beyond basic nutrition – did not include it until recently, according to entomologist May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Even beekeepers – and certainly bee scientists – considered it nothing more than sugar water.” Since then, a slew of studies has found that honey contains a plethora of plant compounds that affect honey bee health. Honey has components that can help bees live longer, increase their tolerance to hard conditions like extreme cold, and improve their capacity to fight infections and heal wounds. The findings point to strategies to help bees, which have been harmed by parasites, chemical exposure, and habitat loss in recent years.

“It’s just such a remarkable substance, and I think people maybe still don’t quite appreciate it,” says Berenbaum. Honey is a sweetener that tastes great on toast or in tea, but it’s much more than that. The sticky liquid is mostly sugar, which hive members consume for nutrition, but it also contains enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and organic compounds, which give each honey its distinct flavor and provide bees with a variety of health advantages.