Honey Varietals

Worth combing the countryside to find

Every flower has its own individual fragrance, color and feel. Some, but not all, have a sweet magic elixir, an elegant chemistry that produces, with help from honeybees, a one-of-a-kind sweet honey.

Surprisingly, most of the best-known flowers don’t produce any honey at all (a rose by any other name still doesn’t produce a drop of honey). The best honeys come from the nectar of flowers that are almost always small, often plain, usually ephemeral and delicate but often with a fragrance beyond belief. And to a honeybee’s keen sense of smell, these are the flowers with the best of all nectars.

To collect a virgin varietal honey, beekeepers make sure no other honey is stored away in a hive, so only a single-malt honey is captured. Blended honeys (often labeled “Wildflower”) may be interesting, but pure varietals are supreme.

Here’s a taste of Northeast Ohio’s special few: Our local crop of varietal honeys begins, usually, in May, when black locust trees bloom. Pure black locust honey is so clear it is almost like water; you can even read a computer screen through a bottle of black locust honey. When blooming, the fragrance from even a single tree on Memorial Day covers whole city blocks, and the cascading white flower clusters drip with sweet, sticky nectar. Honeybees fight for every drop.

In June there’s clover: abundant, traditional and still exquisite. Always found in your lawn, alongside roads and on field edges. Clover is the workhorse of honeys. Bold, sweet, darker than locust and with a healthy tinge of gold, it is predictable, comfortable and useful. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

In July there’s honey from the basswood tree, also called the linden or lime. They live on city streets and backyards. The honey is mint-like, with a slightly metallic aftertaste. Unique. And not to everybody’s taste. Too bold, too … something. Too good to share, in my opinion.

Somewhere in the summer buckwheat honey appears. A specialty crop grown only by a few, it’s for pancakes and fl our, and it’s the darkest, strongest, most molasses-like honey there is, bar none. You love buckwheat for its rich, deep complicated taste, or you hate it because you think it tastes like dirt. There’s no middle ground.

August and September bring goldenrod honey. A butterscotch spread with a hearty, sometimes robust, sometimes smooth and mellow flavor … those descriptions all fit goldenrod. There are many goldenrod honeys because there are many goldenrods out there. It confuses the issue, but the honeybees know.

So this summer search farm markets and stands. Look at labels. Ask a beekeeper. Find these local single-varietal honeys that bloom in Northeast Ohio in the summertime. You will have a wonderful journey with a truly sweet, unique reward.

Special thanks to eBee Honey for providing honeys for this article. Find them at eBeeHoney.com.