Fireweed Honey

Fireweed Honey
Fireweed Honey - Credit: Beatty Honey

Like the phoenix that rises from the ashes, the North American-native fireweed plant is living proof that beauty can emerge in places that have been ravaged by fire. The honey that’s produced from the fireweed plant is called the “Champagne of honey” by those who love its colour, its mild flavor, and its smooth spreadability.

But even though it has a delicate flavor, it’s no weakling when it comes to taking on dangerous bacteria – both preventing its growth and destroying it. It’s also known to provide a number of other health benefits, too. Read ahead to learn more about the fireweed honey that earns a lot of praise throughout the world.

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    What Is Fireweed Honey?

    Fireweed honey is sourced from the fireweed plant (Chamaenerion angustifolium) – an invasive species that gets its name because it’s often the first plant that sprouts after a major environmental event like a forest fire.

    The seeds lie dormant in the soil for a long time until the land is cleared. After the event, the seeds germinate and flowers appear. The story that’s often told about fireweed goes back to May 1980 when the earthquake struck Mount Saint Helens in Washington and a major volcanic eruption spewed across the Washington state.

    The first plant to appear on the damaged plains of Washington was the fireweed. Much earlier than that, in World War II, it grew rapidly in British bomb craters. At the time, people called it “bombweed” for obvious reasons. Contrary to its fiery name, the honey has a mild, delicate taste with a buttery finish. With the colour being a light amber with an occasional tinge of green.

    Where Does Fireweed Honey Come From?

    You’ll find fireweed honey in cool climates, primarily in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska in the United States, and into British Columbia and the Yukon in Canada.

    Across the pond, it’s found in Britain, and New Zealand, as well as Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Finland, and Norway.

    Honey Bee Harvesting Fireweed Nectar In Alaska
    Honey bee harvesting fireweed nectar in Alaska

    What Is the Best Environment for Producing Fireweed Honey

    Given that fireweed tends to show up after an environmental disaster, it should be no surprise that the plant grows best in dry and depleted soil.

    The plant does especially well in climates with cold winters and short summers, and it’s dominance increases the further north you travel.  That is why you see most fireweed honey produced in far north locations like Alaska in the U.S. and Sweden, Denmark, and Norway in Europe.

    What Are the Challenges for Beekeepers When Producing Fireweed Honey?

    Despite the fact that fireweed is invasive, it happens to show up at the same time as other types of wildflowers. With so many flowers available, bees pollinate all the sources of nectar they can find, so it is very difficult for beekeepers to separate the fireweed honey from other types of wildflower honeys.

    Another challenge is that fireweed – despite being one of the first plants to appear on cleared land – becomes crowded out and overwhelmed by other trees and shrubs that eventually show up in the same area. So, while beekeepers can have a good honey crop for a couple of years, it is entirely possible that during the following years the number of fireweed plants will decrease.

    What often happens is that beekeepers try to chase fireweed by scouting out locations where fires occurred and then planting their apiaries there. Sometimes this is a lucrative strategy, but other times they cannot bring in a good crop. Chasing fireweed undoubtedly means moving the bees further and further north, since the plant is often found in remote forest regions. In forested areas the beekeepers have to worry about protecting their hives from bears.

    The many complications beekeepers face when trying to produce fireweed honey is certainly a factor when setting prices for their crop.

    Field Of Fireweed Blooming
    Field of fireweed blooming

    How Do Bees Produce Fireweed Honey?

    The moment the honey bee collects the fireweed nectar it is mixed with an enzyme within the bees mouth. The enzyme itself is otherwise known as invertase or the “bee enzyme” which is secreted from the bees glands. When the honeybees return to the hive they will pass the nectar they have gathered between themselves further mixing the nectar with the “bee enzyme” reducing the water content and converting the nectar to honey.

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

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

    What Are the Benefits of Fireweed Honey?

    Healing Wounds and Burns There has been positive effects of using raw honey on wounds & burns reported.
    Reducing The Duration of Diarrhoea According the NCBI consumption of raw honey has been shown to reduce the severity & duration of diarrhoea.
    Preventing Acid Reflux Research has shown that with honey lining the oesophagus and stomach, it actually can reduce the upward flow of undigested food and stomach acid.
    Fighting Infections Scientists in 2010 reported that honey through its protein (defensin-1) has the ability to kill bacteria.
    Relieving cold and cough symptoms Its been proven that honey may prove beneficial in relieving cold and cough symptoms. The World Health Organisation actually recommend honey as a natural cough remedy.
    Rich In Antioxidants High quality raw honey contains many helpful antioxidants. These include phenolic compounds like flavonoids and organic acids.
    Can Lower Triglycerides Triglycerides are associated with insulin resistance and are a major driver of type 2 diabetes. Multiple studies have linked regular honey consumption with lower triglyceride levels, especially when it is used to replace sugar.

    This is based on raw honey, filtered or pasturised honey will break down and diminish these benefits.

    Beekeeper Extracting Honey
    Beekeeper extracting fireweed honey

    Fireweed Honey as an Antiseptic

    Fireweed honey is very effective in preventing the growth of bacteria that can cause streptococcal pneumonia and other types of staph infections.

    Its antibacterial properties can effectively treat wounds, and we’re starting to see it as a treatment for acne. It is also being tested to be marketed as an anti-inflammatory for use in other skin care products.

    Should Anyone Avoid Fireweed Honey?

    All the same warnings for honey consumption apply here: no honey for infants (under one year of age) and you should avoid it if you have a honey allergy. But what you should know is that the fireweed honey of North America and northern Europe is not the same firewood honey that is sold in Australia (and is native to southern Africa).

    While the U.S and European fireweed plants have pink-to-purplish blossoms, the Australian variety (Senecio madagascariensis) looks similar to yellow daisies.

    There have been warnings issued over the past few years that Australian fireweed is rich in toxins known as pyrrolizidine alkaloids. These toxic substances help the plants survive by deterring predators, but could very well contaminate honey if bees forage among these plants. Please check labels carefully.

    Is Fireweed 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.

    Honey Bee Pollinating Fireweed
    Honey bee pollinating fireweed
    Honey bee Pollinating Fireweed
    Honey bee pollinating fireweed close up

    Is Fireweed Honey Expensive?

    Rick Beatty from Beatty Honey says:

    “Fireweed honey does command a premium price in the Canadian market and is a favourite for those that like a white/golden delicately flavoured honey. My experience is that it remains in high demand throughout the year.”

    Because the fireweed honey crop is unpredictable, fireweed honey is not always readily available, and lack of supply inevitably drives up the price. You likely will not be able to find it in your local market, and it’s typically available only from beekeepers in the area where it is sourced or through an online merchant.

    Because it’s so scarce and expensive, those in the market for fireweed honey should be aware that there’s a common practice of making homemade fireweed “honey” by boiling the flowers in a mixture of sugar and water. So ensure you double-check what you are purchasing.

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