Honeydew Honey

Nelson Honey - Honeydew Honey
Nelson Honey - Honeydew Honey

Many people see the name honeydew honey and assume that it is honey that is made from the nectar and pollen that bees collect from the flowers that bloom on the vines that grow honeydew melons.The confusion is understandable, and perhaps that is why many honeydew honey producers label their product as forest honey instead.

The honeydew that bees use to make honeydew honey is a sticky substance that is excreted by aphids and other insects that feed on the sap of trees – hence the forest honey alias.

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    What Is Honeydew Honey?

    Honeydew honey is a honey that is made when bees harvest honeydew from the leaves, stems, and bark of trees and other sap producing plants.

    Honeydew honey can be “polyfloral” in the sense that it comes from a variety of species with no single species making up more than 10% of the total. But we must remember that honeydew honey isn’t a floral honey at all.

    It is also possible for a honeydew honey to be “monofloral” when more than 10% of its source comes from a particular species like pine trees, silver firs, beechwood, or others. Honeydew honey can vary widely in terms of its appearance, flavour, and aroma.

    In general, it tends to be darker in colour, has a strong flavour profile and medium sweetness. Honeydew honey commonly has a strong and distinctive aroma that can be resinous, piney, herbal, or malty.

    Where Does Honeydew Honey Come From?

    Trees are the most common source of sap for the insects that produce honeydew, but they also feed on plants like cotton, lucerne, and sunflowers. The most productive and popular tree species include fir, pine, oak, willow, poplar, plum, beech, peach, and metcalfa.

    Something worth noting is that some tree species produce both floral and honeydew honey due to an abundance of nectar in the spring and high levels of honeydew throughout the year. These species include black locus, lime, acacia, tualang, and chestnut.

    Honeydew honey is both produced and consumed in high volumes in countries like New Zealand and Greece. It is becoming more common and widespread in U.S. states like California, Oregon, and Washington. Honeydew honey is well known across Europe. It is less well-known in Asia and the Americas.

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

    How Is Honeydew Honey Produced?

    Honeydew is very high in sugar content, so honey bees collect it eagerly. The bees gather honeydew in a process similar to nectar collection. The moment the honey bee collects the 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 they have collected between themselves further mixing the nectar with the “bee enzyme”. This will reduce the water content converting the honeydew into “honey”. They will then deposit the honeydew honey into wax cells, but at this point, the water content may be too high.

    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 honeydew 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.

    When farmers harvest honeydew honey, they determine whether it meets the standards that define the product for labelling purposes by conducting electrical conductivity tests. Honeydew honey must meet the conductivity minimum of 0.8 milliSiemens/cm to be labelled as such.

    Honeydew Consumption by Honey Bees

    While honeydew is a plentiful food source for honeybees, the honey that they make from it is not a good winter food for the hive because it lacks the protein found in pollen. Honeydew honey can be high in ash content which can cause honey bees to get dysentery and cause the colony to die.

    Nelson Honey - Beehives at New Zealand Rainbow Farm
    Nelson Honey - Beehives at New Zealand Rainbow Farm

    The Best Environment for Producing Honeydew Honey

    In order to yield high returns of honeydew honey, apiaries will be transported to or established in areas where there is a dense population of high sap producing tree species.

    High sap production trees will typically attract large volumes of aphids, scale insects, some caterpillars and moths that ingest the sap and excrete honeydew. High yielding honeydew trees include fir, pine, oak, willow, poplar, plum, beech, peach, and metcalfa.

    Often honeydew honey producers/beekeepers will transport their apiaries at the start of the season (this varies based on geographical location) into dense honeydew areas and set up camp. Once the season has ended, the hives/apiary will be transported outside of the forest/collection zone, and the honeydew honey will be harvested for sale.

    Benefits of Honeydew 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.

    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.

    Honeydew Honey as an Antiseptic

    Honeydew honey is an effective topical antiseptic as it is high in both hydrogen peroxide, and non-hydrogen peroxide compounds that combat infections. Furthermore, honeydew honey samples exhibited comparable or more effective antibacterial activity than both kanuka and manuka honey, which are used as medical-grade honeys

    When You Should Avoid Honeydew Honey?

    Even though honeydew honey is made from tree sap as the primary source ingredient, it can contain pollen from a wide variety of species. Therefore, people who have allergic or other sensitivities to polyfloral honey should exercise caution with regard to honeydew honey.

    Infants younger than 1-year in age should avoid all honey due to the potential presence of botulism spores.Since these spores may be transmissible, pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding should also avoid honey.

    Honey Bee Collecting Honeydew
    Honey bee collecting honeydew - Image courtesy of Peter Bray from Airborne Honey Ltd

    Is Honeydew 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 Honeydew Honey Expensive?

    Common forest honey is more expensive than a typical polyfloral raw honey when you compare the two directly.

    High quality, mixed-source forest honey can be purchased from online retailers for around $3 – $4 per 100g and £1.50 – £2 per 100g. The price of honeydew honey goes up in correlation to purity, and it also increases with certain individual tree species as the origin of the honeydew.

    Some unique varieties of honeydew honey, such as Sidr honey are produced following strict practices and have to meet rigorous standards. That means that some honeydew honey can be quite pricey.

    What Is Honeydew Honey Used For?

    Honeydew honey is used as a flavorful topping for bread and dairy products and a sweetener in beverages like hot and iced tea or coffee.

    Honeydew honey is also used as a dietary supplement to maintain high levels of antioxidants or to treat particular ailments.Honeydew honey can also be applied topically to clean and protect wounds or to treat specific skin maladies.

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