Trees and honey

Some of our local trees are prized for the honey they produce.

Honey is a byproduct of the activity of bees in a hive. The bees must first gather the nectar of flowers, then return to the hive where the nectar is processed by the honeybees. The nectar is mixed with enzymes, dried, and stored for later use as food for the hive. Honeybees eat honey (a carbohydrate) and pollen (a protein) for a balanced diet.

Honeybees produce copious amounts of honey and the beekeeper capitalizes on this by extracting excess honey from the honeycomb.

True honey is a primarily a mixture of two simple sugars, fructose and glucose, along with enzymes, pollen and other trace ingredients. Honey has been used throughout time for food, flavoring, and medicinal values. Honey was used throughout history for colds, fever, and digestive ailments as well as a treatment for healing wounds. Even today, various types of honey are used to heal wounds that modern techniques find difficult to treat. There are many who believe that honey consumption supports heart and blood circulation and reduces the effects of seasonal pollen allergies as well.

In many areas beekeepers go to great length to collect “varietal” honeys. These are single-source honeys such as black locust, American holly, and aster. Some of our local honeys that come from trees include: Basswood (tilia Americana) honey: Basswood honey is very light in color with a strong distinct floral taste that contains hints of mint.

American basswood produces honey with a floral taste with hints of mint. The American basswood is prized for honey but basswoods around the globe produce honey as well.

Black locust (robinia pseudoacacia) honey: The black locust or acacia tree (not the honey locust) produces a fine honey that is light colored, very sweet, and has a milder, slightly acid flavor with hints of vanilla. Black locust bloom quite readily and a single tree produces a lot of nectar. The French transplanted black locust trees and their acacia honey is world renowned.

Sourwood (oxydendrum arboreum) honey: Sourwood honey is considered by some to be one of the best tasting honeys of them all. The honey has a light amber color with a very distinct spicy aroma with hints of anise. Sourwood honey has a buttery caramel taste reminiscent of gingerbread. Sourwood honey is fairly rare due in part to the limited distribution of the sourwood tree (Located in the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains in the southeastern part of the United States.) and relatively narrow window that the tree is in bloom (usually two weeks.) For this reason sourwood honey bumper crops come along about once every 10 years or so.

Tulip poplar (liriodendron tulipfera) honey: The tulip poplar is a large growing tree that is found throughout the east. tulip poplar honey is dark amber in color with a fairly mild flavor despite the darker coloration. The dark color has much to do with the high mineral content of this honey. Tulip poplar honey is rich in antioxidants and is a good choice for cooking or baking.

American holly (Ilix opaca) honey: Not very common but a very distinctive flavor. Medium in color, it has a strong floral scent and a mild flavor with overtones of nuttiness.

Beekeepers go to great lengths to produce varietal honeys. Each has its distinctive fragrance and flavor. Find a local source for honey and try it from year to year and try different varieties. Fine honey is akin to fine wine, each vintage has its own distinctive flavor!

Article by Jim Arnold, FCFCDB

Nature Note for 1/26/2014