Wewa beekeepers venture into honey-based wellness products

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Leslie Cantu has spent years perfecting the ratios in her lotion, testing batch after batch on her husband Steve’s cracked and bleeding hands. Now, she feels like she has nailed it.

The key, the couple said, is the product’s high concentration of raw honey, which they have access to year-round as full-time beekeepers based out of Wewahitchka. 

“We started putting more honey in it, and that’s pretty much whenever we knew we had something,” said Steve Cantu. “I was putting it on my hands trying it. We had a formulator and were trying different stuff, and we did that for a couple years, I think it was.” 

“And finally that stuff started to heal my hands. And we put a little more (honey) into it – all we could– and I haven't had my hands bleed in years.”

Now, Leslie Cantu has developed a small reputation for herself and her business, Bees and Botanicals, collecting an album of before and after photos and thank you notes from those she has helped. But she says one thing will never change – she will always prioritize high quality, local honey.

Cantu is one of a growing number of Gulf County beekeepers who have ventured into honey’s therapeutic value in recent years, but the idea is not new.

Honey was used for its nutritional and medicinal properties in many ancient civilizations, including the Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Mayans and Babylonians, and it has become a favorite home remedy among the beekeepers who have lived and worked in the Florida panhandle for centuries.

But more recently, many medical journals have published research into honey’s antibacterial, antioxidant and wound healing properties, and their findings have sparked a new interest in making bee and honey-derived wellness products beyond traditional applications.

Nathan Rish, a fifth generation Wewahitchka beekeeper, has similarly been enticed by the growing demand for honey-based wellness products. Beyond beekeeping, Rish is a hemp farmer, breaking into Florida’s relatively new CBD industry and bringing along with him some of the knowledge his family has passed down for centuries.

“My current business partner, he was out in Hawaii doing Hawaiian honey infused with hemp,” Rish said. “So and then he tried the Tupelo, and he was like, ‘Dude, this is the best honey I've ever tried.’”

He laughed. “I was like, ‘thank you.’ I hear that all the time.”

Delta-8 and CBD strains of cannabis are legal in Florida, as per the 2018 Farm Bill which distinguished hemp from marijuana, even without medical prescriptions. 

Hemp and marijuana come from the same species of plant, but hemp can’t contain more than 0.3 percent delta-9 THC – the main psychoactive ingredient that provides the “high” when ingesting or smoking cannabis. However, CBD strains have been found to provide some of the relaxation and pain relief benefits of cannabis without producing a high.

Rish and his business partner, Ryan Ostrihonsky, have found his family’s honey to be a particularly strong bonding agent for his CBD products, not just because of its medicinal properties, but because, when stored properly, honey doesn’t go bad.

Ostrihonsky said this added property allows the partners to remain firmly rooted to their mission – to provide help and healing to those in need.

“It seals the cannabinoids in an envelope, and it won't deteriorate with light or heat or anything like that, so it’ll have a really good stable shelf life,” said Ostrihonsky, who has been growing hemp in other states for years. “We can make 100,000 and sit on them and give them out to whoever needs instead of trying to, you know, push it and be greedy and make money and all that stuff.”

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