Sunday, December 31, 2017

What is Raw Honey?

Capped Honey on Frame Direct from Hive
Raw honey is honey that is not heated above the normal high temperature of the honey bee hive upon minimal processing.  In all parts of the world, honeybees strive to maintain the core temperature of their brood nest between 92 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit at all times (even in winter) in order for the queen to remain productive and the young bees to develop properly; however, the brood nest only comprises a portion of the total hive.  Food storage areas in the hive, typically located above the brood nest, do not receive the same attention to thermoregulation by the bees and may be exposed to more extreme changes in temperature. Therefore, "raw" can be a matter of debate among beekeepers depending on geography.

During hot summer months here in Pennsylvania, brood nest temperature can be difficult for honeybees to maintain within its narrow limits due to outdoor temperature and increased hive population, resulting in a phenomenon known as “bearding.” This is when honeybees can be found clustered on the outside of their hives, even at night, in order to help make the temperature of the brood nest inside the hive a bit more manageable.  Honey storage areas at the top of the hive known as “supers” (think attic storage), are not directly temperature-controlled by the bees yet rarely exceed 105 degrees (the "raw" benchmark) even under hot bearding conditions here in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  Supers contain the honey that is eventually harvested by the beekeeper for processing and sale.

Raw Summer and Spring Honey
While it is true that most raw honeys granulate at some point (which is often a key indicator for determining if a honey is truly raw), there are some honeys that are so slow to granulate that they are likely to be eaten long before they ever have a chance to granulate.  In Northeastern Pennsylvania, nectar from the black locust tree along with other nectars from fruiting trees contribute to a light spring blossom honey that is able to maintain its clear viscosity for a long period of time, potentially for years.  Depending on when a beekeeper harvests his or her honey, summer wildflower honeys may also maintain their liquid state for up to a year or even longer. Fall wildflower honeys and goldenrod honey, because of the sugar makeup of their floral nectars, typically granulate within a few weeks to a few months depending on how the honey is stored. 

Raw Fall Honey
Storage temperature has a lot to do with granulation, and honey will granulate fastest at temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees.  At this controlled temperature range, honey will naturally crystallize to a smooth, creamy texture that is very pleasant and spreadable even when later stored at room temperature.  However, when liquid honey is stored at average fluctuating room temperatures, as found in a typical kitchen setting, honey will granulate more slowly to a coarse, somewhat unpalatable texture. 
Honey can always be brought back to a creamier texture or liquid viscosity by heating it.  Because the chemistry of honey is a complex one, depending on things like floral origins and color in combination with honeybee enzymes and other external factors, the amount of heat one can apply to re-liquify honey while still maintaining its raw qualities is a bit of a moving target.  Generally speaking, much of honey's beneficial raw properties can be retained by applying a heat no greater than 122 degrees Fahrenheit until the desired viscosity is achieved, bearing in mind that not all denatured enzymes are permanently destroyed at lower heating temperatures and may return to their original function once the honey has cooled.  Therefore, when adding raw honey to tea, it is best to wait for the tea to cool a bit first in order to derive the maximum health benefits of raw honey.

As different customers have different preferences, Beekeeper's Garden sells both unfiltered raw honey and unfiltered honey that has been heated to a temperature no greater than 122 degrees.  The nutritional differences are negligible, though processing variations are noted in the product descriptions on our website and on our labels.


Gimlet. "Enzymes in Honey." Web blog post. Beespoke Info., 5 Nov 2013. Web. 31 Dec. 2017.

Miguel, MG, MD Antunes, and ML Faleiro. “Honey as a Complementary Medicine.” Integrative Medicine Insights 12 (2017): 1178633717702869. PMC. Web. 31 Dec. 2017.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Honey Rooting Hormone Experiment with Winter Lavender Cuttings

Winter Lavender Cutting
Happy new year!  And welcome to the experimental zone! How did I spend the first few days of 2017? Impulsively snipping away at lavender in my winter beds hoping to get an early start on the growing season.  I know what you are thinking.  I was thinking the same thing too.  Winter is not the time to take lavender cuttings.  But the first few days of the year here in Northeastern Pennsylvania melted into a more spring-like rain, and so I trudged out to my lavender wall, brushed away the lingering slush, and gathered up some surprisingly green lavender cuttings. Why? For the same reason the bear went over the mountain.  To see what I could see.  No amount of Googling provided me with a logical explanation as to why I could not take a winter cutting so long as the cut was green and showed promise, so I've decided to experiment and see what comes of it. 

Honey Rooting Hormone Experiment
At the same time, I wanted to lay to rest the issue of using honey as a rooting hormone for plants like lavender.  Have I used honey as a rooting hormone before? Yes.  But I never marked the plants and had completely forgotten what was what come spring.  So I've taken these winter lavender cuttings and split the tray in half with one half receiving the honey mixture (2 cups boiled water cooled to under 100 degrees, then mixed with 1 Tablespoon raw unfiltered honey), and the other half receiving no treatment at all. I'll come back to this experiment again in another few weeks to show you how things are progressing.