Today’s tree-I-luv is Oxydendrum arboreum, aka ‘Sourwood.’ I come at this love indirectly, because I don’t honestly recall (offhand) actually seeing one (or more accurately, knowing one when I saw it, despite being common in these parts…). But the reason I love it is the bees. Yes, bees. When it comes to honey, I’m a reg’lar Pooh Bear – I loves me some honey. And when bees make honey from the flowers of the unfortunately named Sourwood tree – oooooo wheee!
I first encountered Sourwood honey about ten years ago, here in the Southeast, which is the tree’s native habitat. I didn’t think the name was much of a recommendation, but the silly experimentalist in me couldn’t resist purchasing a jar; figuring I’d be throwing most of the stuff away.
Now, before I continue, let me have you try an experiment: Go to your cupboard and grab the sticky, half-used bottle of honey you likely have. It’ll probably say something like “Grade A Clover Honey.” Sample a teaspoon of it; it will taste sweet, probably too sweet for your liking (needing to be tempered with something like tea or a buttered biscuit). You’ll also notice something else – a strange sting in the back of your throat. The taste might also be ‘spiky.’ If you’re a supertaster (which I am not) you might notice hints of sulfur, or a lurking heartbeat of bitterness wayyyy in the background.
All of those things – spiky, stingy – that regular honey is, sourwood honey is not. It is quite simply incredible. Sweet, but delicate, like an asian moon beam. There is no ascerbic strangeness clawing at the back of your throat. You could eat spoonfuls of the stuff and not choke.
Adding to the mythos of sourwood honey is the vagaries of weather. We’ve been hit with some dramatic drought periods in the past decade and thus, some years the Sourwoods don’t bloom. No flowers, no honey (sounds like a bumper sticker). As for the question of how beekeepers can guide their bees to just those flowers – beats me. But I know the honey when I taste it.
hmmmm… maybe this should be my “regionally inspired” gift when holidays or vistors come ’round…
And now the promised list of past posts du arbres: