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Explore the varieties of honey in Western North Carolina

Close up of honey pouring into a jar

What’s better than a generous topping of honey to sweeten up the biscuits you’ve just made? But there are so many different forms of honey sitting there on the shelves of your neighborhood store that it often becomes a frustrating exercise to pick out just one. To relieve yourself from the confusion, it is good to have prior knowledge of what qualities make for good honey.

Boasting of the highest number of beekeepers in all of the US, Western North Carolina has a rich history of cultivating honey in a variety of forms. If having the most beekeepers was not enough, North Carolina is also host to various blooming plants. From the valleys to the piedmonts, each landform within the state is host to a wide array of plants different from each other in nature. And each plant has a chemical of its own, which gets concentrated within the honey to give a unique flavor. Considering that most of the beekeepers within Western North Carolina are hobbyists, the varietal honey does not usually make it into the supermarkets. Instead, it is handed over to and passed around family and friends. These varietal forms of honey are desperately sought by those within us, who have an inclination towards the sweetness we tasted and fell in love with during our childhood. Sourwood The sourwood tree, which is also called the lily of the valley, towers above the rest with its gigantic bark and frame. The tree has a diameter of at least a foot round, which when coupled with its height of 60 feet add to its majesty. The leaves which are oblong, point towards the apex and have an extremely sour taste. The flowers resemble the shape of a bell and hang 5-6 inches down the end of all branches.

Found in abundance within the valleys of Western North Carolina, Sourwood trees bloom throughout late June and the whole month of July. When all other flowers are rarely found blooming, the flowers on the sourwood tree render beauty with unparalleled grandeur. Bees hover across the blooms, sniffing to their hearts content and filling their bellies with what will soon be the most sought-after honey in the location.

The honey from the sourwood tree has a light earthy brown color. Moreover, varietal honey from sourwood trees is also believed to contain a tasty butter caramel flavor. Considering that there are not many other flowers blooming in the late June and July season, sourwood honey has a unique and distinctive taste.

The taste has remained the same for ages and has been consistently good. It is the same that your grandmother used to rub on those crunchy little butter biscuits for you. Those who have tasted sourwood honey before can easily differentiate the intricate flavors from other forms of honey. If you taste sourwood honey once, you know what it tastes like forever.

Beekeeper opening a hive to see honey

Tulip Poplar As the growth of flowers on sourwood trees fades, the tulip poplars compensate by reaching more than 150 feet on the piedmonts. The blooms are nicely tucked and embraced by high leaves on the side. But if you have ever looked at one before, you will testify how even after this thick cover, you can distinctively see the pale yellow tea cups waiting to be attacked by hungry bees.

The taste of the honey extracted from tulip poplar is nothing less than remarkable. The dark amber color of the honey leads to the assumption that it is dark and musty in flavor. However, in reality, the flavor is very mild and light. Honey extracted purely from the bees is extremely dark in color, but the taste is light and buttery.

Tulip poplar is a much-liked variety with popular demand from people who have tried the wildflower or clover honey varieties available in stores, and do not like them. Those, who do eventually taste the tulip poplar, rave about how different and refreshing it is.

Galberry As the season for tulip poplar comes to an end, thirsty bees rush towards the small evergreen bushes of galberry, also known as inkberry. Small white flowers thrust themselves out of the bush’s stems, almost as if they want the world to see them.

Though they don’t offer a lot to the human eye, galberry bushes are the perfect rendition of a honey bee’s wildest dream. The bees buzz around the bloom to extract as much as they can and fill their stomachs till they are ready to burst. During the summers, the bloom of galberry flowers is thronged with bees hovering around, twitching to get a taste of the heavenly filling.

The honey extracted during the galberry season has a light amber color and tastes warm and mildly fruity. People, who are accustomed to galberry honey, might not notice the exuberant aroma. But those trying it out for the first time will notice the distinct aroma and the delicious aftertaste. Galberry flowers have a decent perfume, which also lends a lot to the flavors present within the honey. Galberry is a personal favorite for many because of its elegant, rich taste and is prized for its honeycomb.

Western North Carolina is changing, and so are the preferences within the beekeeper community. While other areas in the US have to plant bee desserts to provide bees with a sizable filling, Western North Carolina is blessed naturally in this regard.

Galberry bushes are spread across the forest floor with an elegance of their own. From the towering sourwood trees to the surprising tulip poplar, bees have access to plenty of sources for honey. The bees eventually find it all, and bring it into their hives to ripen and prepare it for our supper tables. Currently Western North Carolina has sufficient natural supply, so there is no need as such for human intervention.

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