When we started this company, bringing Algarvian and Portuguese heritage honeys to the UK, some of the most delicious and pure honeys in the world, one of the first things we encountered was a staunch loyalty to English local honey. It seems laudable enough to say that anything that supports apiculture anywhere at a time when bees and pollinators are under such threat, is a good thing. But is is it just a loyalty to british beekeeping that gives English local honey one third of the retail honey market ? Or is it a deeply harbored misconception that local honey is somehow good for you, especially for hay fever sufferers and somehow superior to honey from elsewhere, apart from Manuka honey ?( which has acquired mythic status, vis a vis its medicinal properties).
Ecology and Environment
The average conventionally farmed field in the UK has approx 22+ industrial chemicals; fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides et al , not to mention GMO crops, which have the added burden of GM pollen, and whatever unknown effects these transgenic substances have, add to this the horrific increase of rapeseed cultivation ( a slick marketing ploy, selling another unhealthy substance as beneficial, namely rapeseed oil - think margarine or better still mustard gas) which now results in an increasing amount of local honey having rapeseed content. If you've ever tasted these honeys, they're pretty foul, if you haven't consider yourself fortunate.
Quite simply put, bee populations in the Northern Hemisphere can only produce honey for a short period of the year, probably not a great deal more than is able to sustain a hive year-round. If we take the honey, it means they have to be fed over the winter months. This means sugar-feeding. Yes they may get additional nutrition but it's not honey, and is nowhere near as beneficial to bees as honey. Otherwise why not eat vitamin supplemented sugar solution ourselves.? Honey is alchemically transformed, flower nectar, the source of the food is critical to the quality of the honey.
Colony collapse disorder, is treated as some kind of mysterious phenomenon, however if a human being were to ingest this level of toxic garbage in relation to his or her body size, we'd probably expect them to drop dead or be rushed to the ER. there is plenty of research now showing the neonicotinoids alone actually damage the brains and nervous system of pollinators.
Honeybees have been domesticated for millennia now, and consequentially have developed diseases which wild bees and africanized bees don't have, We have bred bees for docility in order to manage them, but the trade-off as with all domesticated species is that they are not as strong as their wild or feral cousins. Varroa, brood etc have been dealt with by bees and beekeepers for a very long time, however the added cumulative stress from a cocktail of toxic chemistry as well as EM fields and a rapid decline in habitat is placing an intolerable burden on pollinators. Even the indigenous bumblebee species are faring little better.
From the bumblebee conservation trust :
With an ecological backdrop like this, how do we expect bee populations to be healthy and to produce health-giving honey. ?
There is a general assumption that local honey is good for you and is especially good for hay-fever. I'm really at a loss to understand by what metric or what criteria people apply to come to this conclusion.
Put simply, most people are not allergic to flower pollens, but to grass and tree pollens which are wind NOT insect pollinated. So the idea that microscopic amounts of pollen in local honey effectively vaccinates you is a misconception. Honey, even poor quality honey taken over a winter will have a mild probiotic and immune boosting effect and may function as an excellent placebo. ( the power of the mind to cure). But there is nothing about the intrinsic properties of local honey that make it useful to combat hayfever.
Taste and Quality.
I've had some passable Borage honey, and Eric my beekeeping friend on the edge of Dartmoor, produces a lovely nutty, flowery, complex honey. I've also come across a few of the new urban rooftop honeys and they have been delicate and flowery. But this is an exception rather than the rule. For every yummy spoon of Erics' honey I've tasted 10 pretty indifferent honeys ranging from mediocre to inedible. I'd happily stack up any one of our exquisite, antibiotic and pesticide free monofloral honeys in a blind taste test against an English local honey. These days thanks to EU regs, its not possible to make any medical claims for honey, but several of our honeys have phenomenal antibacterial and antioxidant profiles.
To be honest I'm through being circumspect about English local honey. Quite simply stated its a poor substandard product on the whole; contaminated and sugar-fed. for the most part its good enough for your tea, or to bake with or for use in cosmetics but if you want the real liquid gold you should probably be looking elsewhere..........maybe right here.
If you are going to eat honey especially for health reasons( or taste reasons) you might as well eat the best.
I received a reply to this post from Hazel McGovern an English Beekeeper and owner of Nectar, a honey shop in cowes in the Isle of Wight ( and one of our stockists) with her permission I've posted her response in full here.
I read your article on English honey and I just wanted to add that we don't all feed sugar syrup. I keep my bees on a double brood boxes so they have plenty of stores before they even start filling the supers on top. I only take honey if they have more than enough to see them through to the next spring and if for any reason, such as a wet spring, they run low on food they have their own honey back. Giving the bees space to move within the hive around in response to temperature and humidity seems to improve their ability to overwinter and resist disease. I am lucky in that I have a lot of wildflower meadows around my hives but I agree chemical use in Britain is a problem. I have also tasted some bland, blended honeys but not all of our English honeys are like that. A lot of us do our best to have healthy bees within a less than perfect environment.
Thank you Hazel.