The fruits of honeybees' labors add to a wholesome human diet and augment our natural pharmacopeia.
But the insects' own failing health is behind the recent proliferation of backyard hives, with beginning beekeepers determined to preserve the species and its critical role.
The tide of honeybee deaths has been steadily rising since the 1950s, experts say. A swarm of factors — parasites, viruses, chemical toxins, nutritional and genetic deficiencies, modern farming methods and even weather — seems to cause colony collapse disorder, which kills entire hives swiftly and unexpectedly.
Ailing bees can't pollinate plants that yield food for people and animals. Nor can they produce the sticky and sweet substances that support human health.
"There are so many medicinal properties that come from honey," says beekeeper Sarah Red-Laird, who taught "Healing With the Honeybee Hive" last fall at Ashland's North Mountain Nature Center.