The Appalachian author Carson Brewer once wrote that sourwood honey wasn’t made by bees, but by “bees and angels.”
The next time you find yourself buttering a hot biscuit, spoon on some sweet sourwood honey. It looks like liquid gold, and tastes every bit as regal — delightfully floral, with flavors reminiscent of caramel and gingerbread spice.
The Appalachian author Carson Brewer once wrote that this unique honey wasn’t made by bees, but by “bees and angels.” Sourwood honey is actually made by bees feeding on the nectar of the flowering sourwood tree. Also known as the sorrel tree and the Appalachian lily, the sourwood is native to the forests of the Great Smoky Mountains and other areas of the southeastern United States.
Hard to Create, Easy to Enjoy
The sourwood grows beneath the canopy of its larger brethren, including maples, hickory, and giant oaks. Its dark-green, bitter leaves were once used as a thirst quencher by hikers roaming these mountains. In autumn, those leaves turn fiery red, enhancing the spectacular beauty of our famous fall foliage. In summer, the sourwood’s soft, sweet white flowers bloom, and the honeybees come calling. The process of creating one of the world’s most prized wild honeys begins.
Experienced beekeepers know how to move their bees into the high mountain elevations by night, then release them to collect the precious nectar. They also know that producing a true, single-source honey from sourwood flowers requires skillful timing. The bees cannot arrive so early in the season that they also collect nectar from other native plants, such as sumac, that bloom shortly before the sourwood.
Weather is another factor. If it rains during the flowering, the bloom season is shortened and the chances of procuring sourwood nectar diminish. All the more reason to savor sourwood honey whenever you can!
Smoky Mountain Gold
Because sourwood trees thrive in the Smoky Mountains, sourwood honey is regarded as a traditional Appalachian food. Its light amber color leads some folks to call it “fool’s gold.” But everyone calls it delicious. This light, buttery honey shines when spooned over hot cornbread or onto biscuits, allowing you to savor the spice, the nuances, and the specialness of this regional favorite.
If you love sweet and savory combinations, drizzle sourwood honey over a wedge of sharp cheddar cheese, or brush it on chicken wings. The bottom line? Anything that’s good with honey is better with sourwood honey.
In the Smokies, honey has long been used to sweeten coffee and tea, and as a key ingredient in cakes and pies. Today, we’re thinking of all sorts of new ways to incorporate honey into cooking and baking. Because honey isn’t just good, it’s good for you.
Honey and Health
Honey is loaded with antioxidants, and studies have linked it to improved cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It may also prove beneficial in the fight against high blood pressure, cancer and other diseases. Old-timers used to rub honey into a wound or onto a burn to heal it. And we all know how that honey can soothe a sore throat and act as a cough suppressant.
Remember that honey should never be fed to children younger than one year of age. Their digestive system cannot handle naturally occurring contaminants that the bees may have brought to the honey. And yet, these same compounds make honey an antibacterial food in adults, and aid in human digestion.
Good for the Planet, Great In The Kitchen
We know honey can be beneficial to our health. But did you ever stop and think just how good the remarkable process of bees making honey is for our environment? For our backyard gardens? For our fruit trees, seed crops, and most every flowering plant? While the bees are busy collecting nectar, they pollinate plants all around us, and nature thrives.
Honey is practical, too. Naturally acidic and low in water, it’s a good keeper in the kitchen. Store your honey in a cool, dark place and it will easily keep for six months or more. If it ever gets grainy, which it seldom does, simply place the jar in a warm water bath to dissolve the sugar crystals.
The floral and light Sourwood Honey sold at The Old Mill comes from the sourwood trees growing along the French Broad River in the Cherokee National Forest of East Tennessee. The hives are natural, meaning no pesticides are used for spraying, and the pristine environment provides a full season of nectar and pollen for healthy bees and a significant harvest of delicious honey. Comparing it to other honeys, such as orange blossom or mild clover honey, is like comparing fine wine to grape drink.
With fall in the air, and a return to baking and entertaining, now is the time to savor the sweet taste of pure sourwood honey. To treat yourself to its subtle, spicy, caramel flavors. This prized seasonal favorite goes fast, so be sure to get yours sooner rather than later. Dab a silky spoonful on a hot biscuit, and you’ll be in honey heaven.