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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Meet the Bradford councillor turned beekeeper who uses honey for Islamic herbal medicine

Cllr Kausar Mukhtar has always been interested in bees and the environment but she got into the hobby three years ago after taking a beekeeping course in Leeds.

Councillor for Tong, Bradford, Kausar Mukhtar has been keeping bees in her back garden for the past three years. With a passion for bees spanning a good part of her life, it wasn’t until she completed an Islamic herbal medicine course that ramped up her interest in keeping them herself.

Cllr Mukhtar, 44, decided to take a beekeeping course from the Leeds Beekeeping Association at Temple Newsam Farm in Leeds in 2018 after using honey in a lot of her natural home remedies. She said: “It is a really nice and therapeutic hobby. It is a lot of work, but I enjoy it. Honey is used a lot in Islamic herbal medicine, and I decided that instead of buying honey from the supermarket to put in my remedies that I would create my own through beekeeping.

“Off-the-shelf honey is heated up and processed so that it is uniform, tastes the same, and will last on the shelf. However, in this process, all the good stuff is lost. Honey that is made through independent hives use local pollen that changes the flavour of honey throughout the year through the types of flowers used and the time of year when it was pollinated.”

Kauser Mukhtar decided to cultivate her own honey after using supermarket products in her home remedies.

Leeds Beekeeping Association runs several courses throughout the year, including winter and summer sessions that teach both theory and practical lessons on beekeeping. The theory of beekeeping includes education on colony composition, swarm control, hive types, buying bees, apiary locations, and establishing a colony. The practical lessons include tutoring on how to inspect the colony.

People enrolled on the course will also automatically become a member of the Leeds Beekeepers Association and the British Beekeepers Association, with social meetups every Wednesday from April for people who “just want to talk bees.”

Raw honey contains a good source of antioxidants which help to protect the body from cell damage. It also contains antibacterial and antifungal properties, it can help digestive issues, and soothe sore throats amongst other things.

Research by charity The International Bee Research Association which was founded in 1949 for the promotion of the value of bees and providing information on bee science and beekeeping worldwide, suggests that there is of honey being stored in pots around 2500BC in Southern England, although It is difficult to know when honey became recognised as more than a welcome food supplement, a treat, or something used for special religious ceremonies.

The oldest written record is a prescription written on a clay tablet from Nippur, the religious centre of the Sumerians in the Euphrates valley in Western Asia circa 2000BC.

Cllr Mukhtar cultivates honey from her hives sparingly, only taking what she needs throughout the year. She said: “I leave most of the honey for the bees so that they can benefit from the medicinal properties of the honey themselves and so that I don’t need to supplement their diet with sugar.”

Honey has been used for thousands of years. Image: Arwin Neil Baichoo.

Starting with just one hive three years ago, Cllr Mukhtar has recently invested in a second apiary. “Keeping bees is hard work”, she said. “It takes me about an hour to inspect both hives one a week. With this hobby, you wouldn’t be able to go on a two-week holiday because you need to check on the bees every few days. It probably takes more experienced beekeepers ten minutes to check on their hives though”.

The mum-of-two doesn’t just indulge in her passion alone, her daughter who is now 16, also shares her enthusiasm for bees. Cllr Mukhtar said: “My daughter was 13 at the time when I completed the course in Leeds. She loves the outdoors so every so often she would come to the afternoon classes with me. She still enjoys being outdoors and helps with the bees now and again. She is also now enrolled on a level two horticulture course in Harrogate.”

While beekeeping is a therapeutic hobby for Cllr Mukhtar, it is also an expensive one. Depending on what suit you buy, and the type and amount of equipment acquired, it can easily set you back £200, plus the price of the course. At Leeds Beekeeping Association, a taster session that teaches the inner working of a beehive and what beekeeping is all about costs £20, with the winter ‘How to a beekeeper course’ starting at £100 for an adult and £75 for a child for 10 sessions spread across seven months.

“You are unlikely to make back the price you spent on the equipment in honey”, Cllr Mukhtar said. “However, it is worthwhile if you genuinely love the hobby as I do.”

The course from Leeds Beekeeping Association will set you back £100. Image: Pass the Honey.

Keeping bees is important not just because of the honey they produce, but because they contribute to pollination.

Bees are needed because they are perfectly adapted to pollinate, helping plants grow, breed, and produce food. They do so by transferring pollen between flowering plants and therefore keeping the cycle of life turning.

Most plants we need for food rely on pollination, especially by bees: from almonds and vanilla to apples and squash. Bees also pollinate around 80% of wildflowers in Europe, so the countryside would be far less interesting and beautiful without them.

Not all bees are the same, however. There are over 20,000 known species of bee globally and around 270 species of bee have been recorded in the UK. Only one of these species is the Honeybee.

Most Honeybees are kept by beekeepers in colonies of managed hives. The rest of our bees are wild, including 25 bumblebee species and more than 220 types of solitary bees.

Promoting the environmental importance of bees, both Honeybees and wild bees are important to Cllr Mukhtar. She said: “Bees and insects are so important to our environment.  There are few foods out there that don’t require pollination from these creatures.

“Bees love dandelions but in the summer, people rip them from their gardens because it is considered a weed, but just because it is not useful to use it doesn’t mean it is not important to the environment.

Bradford has plenty of green space which makes it easy for bees to pollinate. Image: Damien Tupinier.

“Bees have been dying locally to me because of pesticide. People don’t realise that pesticide is killing wild bees. People need to be aware of this and realise that our rights to have beautiful gardens don’t come before the rights of bees and the environment.”

Bradford is a good place for bees Cllr Mukhtar says, because of all the green space and plants that are available for them to pollinate.  People can support local bees by planting bee-friendly plants and supporting local beekeepers. Cllr Mukhtar said: “One way people can support local bees is by contacting the local beekeeper’s association and asking if anyone is selling honey, and someone usually is.

“Local beekeepers will often sell honey in glass jars and depending on your interaction with the keeper, you can ask them to refill the jars for you when you have finished, creating less waste to landfill.”

Bee-friendly plants, shrubs and trees include lavender, rosemary, bluebells, apple trees, honeysuckle, ivy, mahonia, and perennial wallflower.

Cllr Mukhtar also touched on the fact that there is a lack of diversity within the hobby and that more people from the South Asian community specifically need to join in. She said: “Schools should be doing a lot more to get South Asian people into beekeeping. They should organise visits so that kids can get hands-on experience with beekeeping.”

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