Beechwood Honey

Beechwood Honey
Beechwood Honey - Credit: J. Friend and Co

Beechwood honey is a dark, pollen-free honey with a distinctive sweet taste. It is produced in New Zealand and created by a unique process involving multiple species of insects producing honeydew.

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    What Is Beechwood Honey?

    Beechwood Honey is made from honeydew which is a high sugar substance secreted by aphids, scale insects, some caterpillars and moths as they feed on plant/tree sap. Honeydew is created when the insect’s mouthpart penetrates the phloem inside of the beech trees, the sugary, high-pressure liquid is then forced out of the insect’s anus, in turn, becoming honeydew.

    When it comes to beech honeydew, the sooty beech scales insect from the Margarodidae family are responsible for the vast majority of its production in New Zealand.

    Once the sooty beech scales insects have produced the beech honeydew, the honey bees will then forage the beech trees, harvesting the honeydew. Which they will then process into beechwood honey back at the hive. 

    Where Does Beechwood Honey Come From?

    Beechwood honey can come from several areas, however, the majority is produced in southern New Zealand. 

    Specifically, it is made from the honeydew excreted mostly on two types of beech trees, the black beech, and the red beech tree. It’s worth noting there a number of Nothofagus species (beech trees) in both Australia and South America – a leftover from the breakup of Gondwana Land.

    Honey Bee Collecting Honeydew From Black Beech
    Honey bee collecting honeydew from black beech - Image courtesy of Peter Bray from Airborne Honey Ltd

    How Do Bees Produce Beechwood Honey?

    Beechwood honey is part of a unique family of honeys called honeydew honeys. Rather than collecting the nectar from flowers, honey bees collect the processed sap from beech trees. The moment the honey bee collects the beech honeydew it is mixed with an enzyme within the bees mouth.

    The enzyme itself is known as invertase or the “bee enzyme” which is secreted from the bee’s glands. When the honey bees return to the hive they will pass the honeydew mix they have collected between themselves further mixing the honeydew with the “bee enzyme”. This will reduce the water content and convert the substance into honey.

    They will then deposit the beechwood honey into wax cells, but at this point, the water content may be too high. In order to reduce the water content, the honey bees will fan their wings above the wax cell, this, in turn, will evaporate some of the water.

    Once they’ve finished the process the beechwood honey will have a water content roughly below 20%. It will then be capped and the honey bees will repeat the process all over again. 

    Best Beech Trees for Honey Bees

    While the beech trees can be found in multiple locations, it is thought that the best environment for producing beechwood honey is in southern New Zealand. The types of beech that are commonly used to produce beechwood honey are black, silver and red beech trees, all of which are from the Nothofagus genus.

    Red beeches are the largest of the three primary honeydew producing beeches, reaching upwards of 100 feet. Despite being the biggest type of the three beeches, it is the least resistant to poor conditions and can be vulnerable to environmental changes, insects and animals.

    Most black beeches are slightly shorter than red beeches, but some of the species can be very short, growing only on high cliffs. Silver beeches are the most prolific type of beech tree in the area, and it only grows in wet areas in the mountains.

    We got in touch with Airborne Honey, who handle between 25% and 50% of the annual honeydew crop and an annual beechwood honey production of around 400 tonnes.

    They purchase honeys from beekeepers all over New Zealand including from the beech forest areas. They advised that most of the crop comes from black beech and almost all the remainder (less than 10%) from red beech. 

    Beechwood Honey Beekeeper
    Beekeeper inspecting urban hives - Credit: J. Friend and Co

    How Do the Beekeepers Produce Beechwood Honey?

    In southern New Zealand, different types of beech trees are infested with sooty beech scale insects, which are similar to aphids and live inside the bark of the trees. These insects tap into the sweet sap of the beech trees and excrete honeydew, which is harvested by the honey bees. It is however eaten and competed over by many native birds, insects, and animals.

    The beekeepers will selectively position their apiaries (hives) in high concentrations of black and red beech trees, to ensure the honey bees have access to a bountiful amount of honeydew. The insects that produce the honeydew do so all year round, however for about five months out of the year invasive wasps that are not native to New Zealand swarm the beech trees for the sweet substance.

    The wasps attack honey bees and their hives, as well as the other animals and insects competing for honeydew. The wasps can monopolize the nutritious honeydew, consuming 90% or more of the available honeydew.

    The honeybees that are successful in collecting honeydew will bring it back to their hives and process it into honey. It’s worth noting beechwood honey production can be complex and potentially put the beekeeper’s hives at risk. This is due to beech honeydew being largely contested by wasps in the area, which will kill the honey bees attempting to collect it.

    Furthermore, beekeepers may have to supplement their honey bees with protein that would normally be found in flower nectar. Some may remove all of the honey from the hive before winter and replace it with safer foods for the bees, whilst more responsible keepers will often leave some honey for the bees to make use of. 

    Jeremy Friend from J. Friend & Co. says:

    “We actually move our hives to wintering sites where bees can get a range of different nectars to forage on and only move our hives back onto the beechwood when it is flowing again. We also do not remove all the honey as we feel it is important to let the bees keep some of their precious work. This ensures that the bees are kept healthy and the hives remain strong.”

    What Are the Benefits of Beechwood Honey?

    Antibacterial Honeydew honey samples exhibited comparable or more effective antibacterial activity than both kanuka and manuka honey, which are used as medical-grade honeys.
    Antibiofilm It is argued that two-thirds of bacterial infections within humans involve biofilms. Typically, biofilm-associated infections are challenging to eradicate, which is due to mature biofilms tolerance to antibiotics and the immune system response. The biofilm bacteria antimicrobics resistance is 500 to 5,000 times higher than those needed to kill non-biofilm bacteria.
    Anti-inflammatory A recent study reported that honey reduced the activities of cyclooxygenase-1 and cyclooxygenase-2, which results in anti-inflammatory effects.
    Antioxidant Honey produced from honey bees feeding on honeydew has more significant antioxidant properties than those provided by bees feeding on nectar. Furthermore, honeydew honey contains compounds such as flavonoids and other polyphenols which can function as antioxidants.
    Wound healing activity The honey’s wound healing property is due to its antibacterial activity, the ability to maintain a moist wound condition, and its high viscosity aids in producing a protective barrier to prevent infection. Honeydew honey has been successfully clinically tested for the treatment of infected gluteo-femoral fistulas, lower leg ulcers, contact lens-induced corneal ulcers, and as a prophylactic agent for endophthalmitis.
    Prebiotic Beechwood honey is a natural prebiotic, which aids digestion. It can be used on its own or in combination with other prebiotics.
    High in both peroxide and non-peroxide Honeydew honey is high in both peroxide and non-peroxide types of antibacterial effects regardless of whether it comes from coniferous or non-coniferous sources. Studies have shown that honeydew honey has improved spatial memory in rats.

    Beechwood Honey as an Antiseptic

    Beechwood honey has extremely high levels of antioxidants, and many people use it to help treat certain health symptoms, such as inflammation, ulcers, or to topically treat a wound or skin condition.

    Beechwood honey has been getting more and more popular as current research is showing that certain dark honeys, like beechwood and manuka honey, have more antioxidants and antibacterial properties than other types of honey.

    It’s worth noting that beechwood honey, in particular, has unique, iron-binding antioxidants that have been of interest to pharmaceutical companies for some time.

    Thus many choose to apply beechwood honey as an antiseptic.

    When You Should Avoid Beechwood Honey?

    If you have a very young child or infant, they should never consume any kind of raw honey, or honey products, including processed or baked goods.

    This is because until they reach a year of age, they are at risk for a rare and very serious complication called infant botulism.

    Once children reach a year of age, their digestive systems are usually developed enough to process honey safely, however, if your child has a developmental or health issue that affects their digestive system, it is always safer to ask their paediatrician if it is safe for them to consume honey and/or honey products.

    Beechwood Honeydew Apiary
    Apiary positioned near beechwood trees to collect the beech honeydew

    Beechwood Honey vs Regular Honey

    Comparing the two is rather difficult as beechwood honey has a low pollen content because it is made from sap rather than from the flower’s nectar.

    Regular honey tends to be missing crucial benefits and nutritional properties of raw honey.

    This is typically due to “regular” mass-produced honey being fine filtered and pasteurized, which unfortunately destroys many of the antibacterial and active elements.  

    Is Beechwood Honey Vegan?

    The Vegan Society do not consider honey vegan, this includes cornflower honey. They believe that because some honey farmers replace honey with a sugar substitute when harvesting, it will naturally lack the essential micronutrients of honey, thus being detrimental to the honey bees.

    Furthermore, they believe that in conventional beekeeping, honey bees are specifically bred to increase productivity. Which they believe leads to a narrowing of the population gene pool and increases susceptibility to disease and large scale die-offs.

    They also believe that many honey farmers will cull their hives post-harvest and clip the queen bee’s wings to stop them from leaving to start a new colony. Thus the Vegan Society does not consider honey vegan. That, of course, doesn’t stop some vegans arguing its fine if they source their honey from reliable sources that do not practice the above.

    Is Beechwood Honey Expensive?

    Beechwood honey can be quite expensive but the price entirely depends on your location. In the UK it can be found for £3-£4 per 100g but over in the US it’s closer to $3.5-$4 per 100g.

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