Sourwood Honey

Sourwood Tree Leaves
Award winning sourwood honey comes from the sourwood tree

Sourwood honey is an award-winning monofloral variety that comes from the sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboreum). It is one of the three most famous and sought-after honeys produced in America, along with tupelo and gallberry honey.

Sourwood honey was honoured as “the Best Honey in the World” at the Apimondia World Honey Show in 2005 and 2007. It is difficult to obtain because it’s sourced from a limited region, and its availability is heavily dependent upon weather conditions in that region. Sometimes a decade or more can go by without a good crop being available.

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    What Is Sourwood Honey?

    Sourwood honey is produced from honey bees extracting the nectar of the sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboreum) and processing that nectar into honey.

    The sourwood trees that honey bees will harvest on average grow between 33 to 66 ft tall.

    Their trunk will grow as large as 50 cm in diameter.

    Sourwood honey has a flavour palate which includes notes of caramel, anise, maple, and spice.

    Closeup Of The Deep Furrowed Bark Of A Sourwood Tree In North Carolina.
    Closeup of the deep furrowed bark of a sourwood tree in North Carolina.

    Despite its name, it isn’t sour at all, in fact, it’s sweet-tasting, has a creamy, full texture and is slow to crystallize. The colour and consistency of sourwood honey can range from almost pure white to medium-hued with lavender accents that darken to straw-coloured as the honey ages.

    Where Does Sourwood Honey Come From?

    Sourwood trees grow wild in remote areas with rough terrain within the United States, predominantly within the Appalachia area.

    The Appalachia region goes from the south of New York to northeast Mississippi. The Sourwood (Oxydendrum) tree is found most abundant within the mountains of North Georgia and Western North Carolina.

    It predominantly blooms in late June and through July.

    How Is Sourwood Honey Produced?

    In order to produce sourwood honey excellent care from beekeeper is required. This is due to sourwood trees blooming late in the season after many other species that share their region have finished. Yet there are some species like sumac trees that bloom just before the sourwood does.

    Unless the hives are placed at the last possible moment and wholly cleared of honeycombs with honey from other sources, the result of the forage will be a polyfloral honey. Sourwood grows in a very narrow habitat, and its flowers’ nectar yield is extremely sensitive to rainfall and cold temperatures.

    If the sourwood flowers don’t produce enough nectar, the bees will forage other species and produce a polyfloral honey. 

    Autumn Sourwood Tree (Oxydendrum Arboreum) In The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
    Autumn sourwood tree (oxydendrum arboreum) In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
    Appalachian Region Of The United States
    Appalachian region of the United States

    How Do Bees Produce Sourwood Honey?

    The moment the honey bee collects the sourwood nectar, 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 sourwood nectar they have collected between themselves further mixing the nectar with the “bee enzyme”.

    This will reduce the water content converting the nectar into honey. They will then deposit the sourwood 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 sourwood 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.

    The Best Environment for Producing Sourwood Honey

    Sourwood trees are uniformly good for honey bees when they are producing high volumes of nectar. Nectar production does depend entirely on weather conditions. If the weather conditions aren’t hot/warm and relatively dry, the sourwood may not yield high enough levels of nectar to produce a monofloral sourwood honey.

    Thus, the best sourwood trees for honey bees are warm and dry sourwood trees. If the Appalachia region has had a hot, dry summer, it’s most likely there will be a good yield of sourwood honey.

    Benefits of Sourwood 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 pasteurised honey will break down and diminish these benefits.

    Sourwood Honey as an Antiseptic

    All raw honey is an effective topical treatment when used in the wound or burns care. It can be spread on wounds and covered with a bandage. Doing this may help to draw excess moisture out of the area, which helps to prevent the growth and spread of bacteria and fungus.

    Sourwood Honey vs Regular Honey

    Sourwood honey has a delicate flavour with notes of caramel, anise, maple, and spice. Sourwood honey is most commonly sold in its raw form. That means that it retains the bee pollen, propolis, and other beneficial compounds that are typically removed by fine filtering or destroyed by pasteurization during the processing that regular honey goes through.

    In a raw state, it will naturally contain many if not all of the benefits listed above. In comparison, regular honey will hold that somewhat industrial standard taste and 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.

    Sourwood Tree in Bloom In The Great Smoky Mountains
    Sourwood tree in bloom in the Great Smoky Mountains

    When You Should Avoid Sourwood Honey

    If you are allergic to sourwood or bee pollen, then you should avoid sourwood honey at all times.

    Infants younger than 1-year-old should never be given honey due to the presence of small amounts of harmful bacteria that can overwhelm their underdeveloped gastrointestinal tracts. Because these bacterias can be transferred to infants, it is essential for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding to avoid honey as well.

    Is Sourwood 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 Sourwood Honey Expensive?

    One of the problems with purchasing sourwood honey is that it is extremely sensitive to weather conditions. Depending on how the Appalachian weather fairs, there might be highly limited sourwood honey available for sale in a given year.

    That brings us to another problem with purchasing sourwood honey through online retailers. Where sourwood honey has such a stellar reputation, bolstered by its rarity, many online retailers offer products labelled as monofloral sourwood honey, when in reality it’s polyfloral.

    We’ve found those products are available for prices as low as $8 per pound At the same time, there are verified and certified products that cost between $25 and $40 per pound. Don’t judge the quality on the price, though, and it goes without saying, the yearly yield will drive the price difference. High yields tend to result in lower prices, especially locally.

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