Floral history of Star Thistle

{Centaurea solstitialis L.}

The star thistle plant, both yellow and purple, is of Mediterranean and European origin, and is considered an invasive species. In California, it is found primarily in the Central Valley and foothills up to an elevation of about 7000 feet, with successful growth typically concentrated in grasslands and oak woodlands. Star Thistle has the ability to create monotypic stands and habitats in areas where the natural ecosystem is disturbed or cultivated. It is a winter annual that relies heavily on abundant seed production and pollination for survival, making it a perfect candidate for honeybees and other pollinators. Honeybees alone may be responsible for up to 57% of seed set, and star thistle plants are considered an important honey source plant in California and other western states. Though the plant itself has no nutritive value for humans, star thistle is used in traditional Turkish medicine for ulcer treatment, and recent laboratory studies have confirmed the anti-ulcerogenic properties of aqueous extracts of fresh or dried flowers.

Floral history of Blackberry

{Rubus fruticosus}

Blackberry plants originated in the temperate climates of North America and Europe, and are particularly prevalent in Eastern North America and along the Pacific coast. Blackberries are perennial plants that grow in rambling brambles covered in sharp prickles (not thorns, though they are often called that!), which produce the familiar berry. Botanically, however, the berry is actually considered an aggregate fruit, composed of small drupelets. Blackberry grows well in woods and scrub, as well as poor soil conditions. The shrub is an excellent nectar producer and is pollinated by honeybees and bumblebees, yielding a dark, fruity honey. There is evidence pointing to human consumption of blackberries for over 2500 years, as forensic evidence from the Iron Age Haraldskær Bog Woman shows traces of the distinctive fruit in her stomach.

Floral history of Clover

{Trifolium}

The clover genus contains around 300 species of annuals and perennials. Clover occurs mostly in temperate and subtropical regions, with cultivated seeds originating in the Old World and naturalized plants nearly everywhere else in the world. The word clover is likely derived from “old German klaiwaz [referring to] the stickiness of the sap of clover or the honey produced by it. This led to Klaifre and then to Old English clafre or modern English clover”. The idiom “To live in clover” refers to clover being fattening to cattle, indicating a prosperous, comfortable, and well fed life. Sweet clover is drought tolerant, cold tolerant, and nitrogen fixing, all of which essentially ensures that it is an extremely hardy plant. Clover cultivation likely started around the 16th century, and clover honey itself is mentioned in Kilian’s 1599 Dutch dictionary as “klauern honigh ‘clover honey’ where it is defined as “mel optimum & candidissimum, ex trifolio pratensi” (‘good, very clear honey from purple clover’)”. The lucky four leafed clover and the shamrock are also commonly associated with the genus, and are said to bring good luck!

California Wildflowers

The floral history of wildflowers is a bit more complicated! Wildflowers are defined as a flower that was not intentionally seeded or planted, and that grows in the wild or an uncultivated area. Fascination with wildflowers began early: there are studies by Virgil and Theophrastus (a student of Aristotle) regarding their structures and potential medicinal uses. After centuries of purposefully cultivating flowers, interest was rekindled in wildflowers by the privileged classes in England around the 1800s, who delighted in encouraging wildflowers as a contrast to their formal gardens. Here in California, our wildflowers are incredibly varied! Our wildflower honey comes from both Angel’s Camp and Lafayette, which means it is sourced from a wide selection of wildflowers. Common California wildflowers are the California poppy, goldfield flowers, lupine, and monkey flowers.

Differences in Honey Varietals

Each varietal of honey has a certain flavor profile to it, depending on the floral source it is made from. Depending on the flower, the intensity of the honey flavor varies widely: wildflower honey typically has the most intense earthy, flowery pollen flavor, followed by clover, blackberry, and finally star thistle, which has a much milder sweetness. Because star thistle offers a far sweeter, less noticeable honey taste, it is not recommended as a flavoring agent, and is perfect for those who think they might not like honey! Wildflower is recommended for baking or other applications where a recognizable honey taste is desired. Though blackberry is sourced from a plant that produces fruit, the honey has only a mild berry sweetness to it, and is slightly darker in color.

Clover honey tends to be the most mass-produced and readily available variety (in part due to clover’s hardiness as a plant), but different soil and climate conditions produce a variety of ‘flavors’ of clover honey. This is considered undesirable for mass-market consumption (in their view, all honey should taste the same!), so producers blend their honey so that each batch tastes the same. This is NOT how we do it at Bee Friendly Honey! Each batch of honey is unique to the bees and conditions that produced it----one batch of clover honey could vary in taste from another batch produced at a similar time, all based on the climate in which it was produced and the behavior of the soil. All of our honey is ethically produced, and takes its unique flavor from the floral sources and the Earth, as it should!