Monday, May 19, 2014

Got Stinging Nettle?

A shout out goes to Dewey Sanchez of August Cottage Apiary for sending me a link to a paper by Mărghitaş L. A. et. al./Scientific Papers: Animal Science and Biotechnologies, 2010, 43 (1).While I highly encourage you to read the paper for yourself, I'll give you some of the highlights (i.e., the parts I found interesting) here.

The results of this study examining the effects of various supplements in feed were fascinating. The author tested various types of herbal stimulators, including stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), garlic, onion, thyme, and echinacea. The study also included use of the natural product called Protofil, which is a natural extract that contains dandelion, thyme, chamomile, basil, and others.

Marghitas points out that there are many reasons why people feed bees, including:
  • Ensuring the development of the colony during a dearth
  • Building colony population in order to optimize a nectar flow
  • Building colonies for pollination
  • Extending drone production
  • Building up colonies after losses
In feeding bees, supplements are sometimes added to sugar syrup. These supplements can be categorized as:
  • Plants with trophy (i.e., growth) action and general stimulation: nettle, dandelion, wild rose, box thorn, blackberries, raspberry, wild strawberry
  • Plants with antibacterial action: garlic, onion, chamomile, mug worth, linden, horse tail 
  • Plants with astringent, disinfectant and stimulative action on digestive tract: mugwort, balm mint, tansy, horsemint, wild rose, nettle, oak, birch
The purpose of Marghitas' experiment was to test the effects of various plant supplements on the development of artificially weakened colonies. To do this, he weakened 40 different bee families, which were divided into 8 experimental batches and 40 artificial swarms. He weakened these families by eliminating frames covered with bees from the nest until only 1/4 of the original population was left.

In the first stage of the experiment, he made 2 control groups and 6 experimental groups. Control groups received simple sugar syrup while each experimental group received syrup with a different plant supplement. Marghitas tested the following supplements:
  1. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) infusion: 100 g fresh nettle in 1000 ml hot water. (That is approx. 3 oz fresh nettle in 4 1/4 cups water for those of us who don't do metric!) The infusion was used for preparing the syrup 
  2. Onion extract: Onion juice was extracted by grinding the onion. Marghitas used 5 ml of juice in one kg of syrup 
  3. Garlic extract: The same extraction and preparation method was used for garlic as for the onion.
  4. Thyme infusion: Prepared from dry thyme that was finely ground and infused in hot water. A 10% solution was used for preparing syrup. 
  5. Echinacea infusion: 10 g of plant in 1000 ml of hot water. Infusion was used for syrup preparation. 
  6. Protofil: 17 ml of extract in one kg of sugar syrup. 
In a second stage of experimentation, Marghitas used thyme and echinacea infusions in the supplementary feeding.

Capped and uncapped brood, as well as total brood, were measured before and after the supplemental feeding.

The following charts show the results of his experiments.
This chart compares before/after results in brood development when supplementing with nettle, onion, Protofil, and garlic.
You can see that all of the packages that received supplemental herbs did much better than the control group.

This chart compares before/after results in brood development when supplementing with thyme and echinacea.
Again, packages that received supplemental herbs developed more brood than the control group.

This table provides data showing just how the supplemented colonies compared with the control colonies.
The image says Table 2, and I realize I didn't show Table 1. 
Table 1 describes the amount of polyphenols in each herbal supplement. 
You can view the paper via the link provided above for that info.

As you can see from the data, all of the colonies that received herbal supplements performed better than the control groups with regard to brood development. There was a quite a disparity, though, between the performance levels. Colonies receiving thyme and echinacea did only marginally better than the control groups. Colonies that received onion, garlic, and the commercially available supplement Protofil did very well. However, colonies that received stinging nettle showed great improvement. Results show that nettle induced almost almost twice as well as the next best supplement (Protofil) and almost 7 times better than thyme, which induced the least growth.

I don't know about you, but I think I'm going to plant some stinging nettle!


  1. Thanks for the shout out. I am glad you enjoyed the read.

  2. Without a control, it's impossible to know whether it did any good or not ...BUT I did try the stinging nettle recipe and the bees did take to it AND they did well. Still difficult to compare, they could have done just as well without.

    1. Cool! Maybe next time to feed them stinging nettle, you can run a control group. I've often thought about this as an experiment for my kids' science fair, but the fair is always at the wrong time of year.


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