September is National Honey Month, and if there is one product that deserves a month-long celebration, it is honey. Humankind around the world has enjoyed its sweetness for thousands of years, and over time it remains unchanged. Today, one can experience the same sweet flavor that an ancient Pharaoh of Egypt enjoyed centuries ago. How many foods today can provide us with that level of imagination? There is a reason why honey has stood the test of time. In fact there are many reasons; it truly an amazing product that is so much more than just the tasty treat we have come to love.
Honey is made by honeybees from the nectar of flowers. That’s it. No other additives or processing, just a purely natural product made by nature. Because of this, no two honeys are ever exactly alike. The crop of blossoms from which the bees collect the nectar fluctuates based on weather and other natural conditions, plus no two honeybee hives perform exactly the same. The result is a vast array of honey varieties sure to please everyone’s palate.
In the United States there are more than 300 varieties of honey. Colors range from white to deep dark brown, and the flavors have an equally expansive range. Single-source honey such as what Ames Farms produces requires meticulous management and record-keeping by a beekeeper. The honeybee hives are located near a specific source of blossoms for a set period of time. When the honey ready to be harvested, the beekeeper knows exactly what variety of honey the bees made.
In Minnesota, some of the more common varieties of single-source honey are Basswood, White Clover, Sweet Clover, Alfalfa, and Buckwheat. Then there are beekeepers like me, who let the bees forage from multiple sources, combine it all together and produce Wildflower honey.
Minnesota has a rich heritage in producing honey. According to the 2009 USDA Honey Production Report, Minnesota was the sixth largest honey producing state in the country. North Dakota is the largest by a long shot, with South Dakota in second place, followed by California, Montana, and Florida. The University of Minnesota is renowned for honeybee research having developed the Minnesota Hygienic honeybee which has greater resistance to the many diseases that threaten honeybees worldwide. The U of M is committed to educating beekeepers, so much so that every year since 1944 they have conducted the Beekeeping in Northern Climates Short Course for beginner and experienced beekeepers alike. The Minnesota Honey Producers organization has been around since 1907; and one of the largest beekeeping supply companies in the U.S., Mann Lake, is located in Hackensack, Minnesota. Beekeeping and honey production has a storied history in this state.
As Kristin Bolton pointed out in her discussion about sweeteners, honey is the sweetest of the natural sweeteners. For this reason, it is a favorite ingredient for use in recipes and is preferred by many fine-cuisine chefs. In addition to the many delicious ways in which we consume honey, other popular uses include:
1. Beauty products – Honey is a popular ingredient for many health and beauty products including shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers, and cleansers. Honey has natural hydration properties which is why it is an effective skin-nourishing agent. You can look for honey as an ingredient in store-bought items, or you can try some of these home-made beauty recipes.
2. Allergy relief – Because honey also contains pollen, eating local honey can help build up resistance to the local allergens that bother you. It is important that you use local honey, meaning it has been harvested from a source that is close to where you live. Local honey contains local pollen which is what you want.
3. Natural throat soother – For centuries, honey has been used for as a relief from sore throats and cough.
4. Scrapes and burns – A dab of honey is an effective treatment for minor skin scrapes, abrasions, and burns.
5. Clinical wound care – Honey has naturally occurring antibacterial properties, and recent clinical studies have shown that honey can even kill the dreaded MRSA or “Superbug” as Leslie Kruempel discussed in her recent post about the dangers of antibiotics in our food supply. But don’t be too quick to use the off-the-shelf honey from your grocery store to use on serious wounds. As already noted, not all honeys are alike. The Manuka or tea tree honey from New Zealand has especially high-powered antibacterial properties and it is this honey that is used in MediHoney™, a wound care dressing that is now on the market.
However, despite all of the wonderful attributes of honey, it should not be fed to infants under 12 months old. While it’s rare, honey may have traces of botulism spores that cannot be filtered out during processing. An infant’s immune system is not mature enough to handle it.
Whether you use honey to sooth your throat, dab it onto your little one’s boo boo, or add it to your beauty products, you can enjoy this amazing, versatile product in any way you desire. Especially straight out of the jar.
Debbie Morrison is a frequent contributor to Simple, Good and Tasty. She and her husband Jim own and operate Sapsucker Farms, where their certified organic crops include maple syrup, honey, apples, plums and vegetables. Debbie's last post for Simple, Good and Tasty was Rain/Heat/Weeds Got You Down? Think Happy Thoughts!