This article was written for the HAALo Botanicals newsletter titled The vHerbiage
The vHerbiage: Honey
Honey is produced from honey bees, who collect nectar from flowers, eat and regurgitate the nectar several times, then fan the sticky substance with their wings to achieve the thick viscous sweetener we know and love.
Honey is unique among sweeteners for several reasons:
1.) Every batch is inherently different.
Local beekeeper Mary Jo Harris with McClaughery Farms says, “Honey can be manipulated for taste and vitamin content, but by nature, no company or batch will have the same flavor”.
Since these honey properties are determined by the bee’s surrounding flowers, each batch is wildly unique. More than that, sometimes the nectar is sourced from one kind of flower, known as monofloral honey, sometimes from a variety of flowers, known as polyfloral. This affects not only the flavor but the color and aroma as well.
While clover honey tends to be the least flavorful, it is one of the most highly produced honey flavors, even outside of Nevada County, because of the ubiquity of wild clover. Also in Nevada County, you often find blackberry and thistle honey. If you visit warmer coastal cities, like San Luis Obispo, you might find more exotic flavors like avocado or pomegranate!
As it turns out, regulation around honey labeling is limited, resulting in misleading labels. According to Harris, despite most store bought honey’s monofloral assertions, most honeys have elements from other plants. Due to the difficulties and expense involved with controlling honeybees’ movements or finding a homogenous flower area, it’s very rare for bees to visit only one flower while collecting nectar. But not to worry - this just increases the diverse honey properties.
Want to learn more? Stop by McClaughery Farms on Old Grass Valley Highway for a sweet tour and a tasty treat!
2.) Honey is sometimes produced symbiotically with other fruit-producing plants - such as the avocado.
Because of the biological constraints of the avocado tree, it needs an external propagator, such as the honey bee, to pollinate it. As the honey bee swoops from flower to flower to dredge up some nectar, it also collects pollen, which attach like Velcro to the bee’s hairy legs. It distributes these to other plants of the same species as it continues to find nectar. Thus, it’s not unusual to find honey and avocado products sold together from private farms - or for honey and avocado growers to partner together.
However, avocados, and other insect-reliant plants, have a controversial influence on honey bees. Avocados don’t need the honey bee in particular to pollinate them. In fact, any insect or agile vector will do. Honey bees are the only one of those options however, that produces something valuable. Thus, traveling honey bee farmers will lend their bees to avocado farms and in turn receive avocado honey. The problem? It intentionally silos the bee’s nutrient source and limits their biodiversity, which in turn limits their exposure to essential vitamins - an unnatural eventuality for the bees if it continues long term.
3.) Got allergies? Try a local honey.
Jasmine Noble, a practitioner of western medicine at HAALo, recommends regular doses of locally sourced honey. A perk, she notes: “Honey is your medicine and your spoonful of sugar all in one!”.
Because honey originates from the irritants we breathe in from local plants, it can help your body develop a defense system against airborne pollens come Spring. In essence, you are inoculating yourself against daily allergen intake. And if you start eating a local honey regularly in the winter, you can build up an immunity by the time those Spring blooms come knocking.
Ready to try some honey with an extra medicinal kick?
Come into the store and check out Harvesting Vitality’s locally sourced and fortified honeys called electuaries - an ancient practice of combining herbs with honey. These mixes use locally sourced honey combined with thoughtful herbal formulas to help alleviate additional ailments. The sweetness of the honey is a perfect complement to some of the more bitter herb combos, which can make them a snackable treat for adults or a tasty medicine for kids.
Mixes like Happy Belly can help digestive issues or stomach cramps. Or Cool ‘n’ Calm mix can help kids relieve anxiety or restlessness.
Bees and Avocado Trees: The Power of Pollinators
How honey Is made - National Honey Board