Under a microscope, pollen looks charming – little spiky balls like those used in Pilates classes. Up the nose, however, it is such a menace that a fifth of the population dreads the coming of summer. Dry, sunny days when the pollen count is high make their noses run and eyes stream.
Most of the remedies for hay fever aren't very attractive either. You can lock yourself indoors next to an air-conditioning unit, feel drowsy on anti-histamines, or worry about what steroids are doing to your body. So, swallowing a spoonful of honey a day is a delightful alternative.
Thousands of people swear by it, saying that a spoonful a day, preferably starting well before the pollen season, has transformed their lives. The principle behind it is desensitisation. The pollen that bees collect is the heavy-grained variety that doesn't cause problems.
But, honey being sticky, it may also contain small amounts of the lighter, wind-blown pollens that inflame the lining of the nose and eyes. These are chiefly from grass and trees such as birch, which normally begin to blossom around the third week of April and trigger allergies in a quarter of hay-fever sufferers.
John Howat, secretary of the Bee Farmers Association of the UK, says: "I used to suffer dreadfully myself until I had been keeping bees for a couple of years. Since then, hardly ever. I don't eat much honey, so the effect could be related to all the stings I've had, or to burying my head in beehives every week."
But is there any evidence that honey is an effective anti-allergen? It certainly appears to have some medicinal properties. Studies have shown that as an antibacterial and healing agent it is better than over-the-counter remedies for coughs, colds and sore throats.