On the second day of our training sessions in Bonga, Ethiopia, the students arrived with bundles of foliage that they harvested in the surrounding forest. The bundles contained aromatic plants used to make Ethiopia’s traditional honey mead, tej. In today’s photo, my host, Apinec Agro-Industry’s Managing Director Wubishet Adugna, checks the fragrance of the broad leaves of wild pepper. The center plant in the bundle, with small leaves, is limich; and the plant to the right is gesho. The people of the Ethiopian highlands are adept at finding and harvesting the rich plant life of the forest. The wild pepper will be burned along with Olea africana to produce a sterilizing smoke for the vessels holding the tej. The smoke also imparts some of the distinctive flavor to this traditional mead.
When I bruised the leaves of the limich plant, Clausenia anisata, I immediately recognized the bright, pleasant odor. It is the odor of honey bee Nasanov pheromone! Worker honey bees raise their abdomens and use their wings to fan air across their Nasanov glands to direct flying bees back to the hive. Nasanov pheromone helps organize bees while they are swarming, and worker bees fan Nasanov pheromone while their virgin queen is making her mating flights. Scout bees use Nasanov pheromone to mark the location of food sources including favorable sources of water. Nasanov pheromone is of great importance for communications within the honey bee colony. A plant-based substitute would be of great use to beekeepers. I quickly learned that limich is well founded in Ethiopian indigenous knowledge of beekeeping, as it is used to attract swarms to traditional bee hives placed high in trees. Limich is commonly used in Ethiopia to bathe mothers after they give birth. Essential oils of the plant are used to treat a number of ailments of humans and cattle. The gesho plant is used to give tej its distinctive flavor. The bitter gesho stems and bark counter the sweetness of the honey.--Richard