What is Heather Honey?

23.11.2020. 15:00

Heather honey is one of the most precious varieties on the market these days, though you won’t find its blossoms grown just anywhere. The origin of heather honey, the Calluna Vulgaris, is more of a British plant as it is most commonly cultivated within the United Kingdom. 

Europe's bogs provide the ideal conditions for heather plants to thrive because they require soils that are acidic and consistently moist. Most times, when Heather grows, they form clusters within moors - patches of uncultivated land.

And it usually isn’t complicated for beekeepers to locate suitable moorlands for their bees since these plants will thrive in both sun and shade.

Heather honey is actually derived from a variety of different flowers from the heather species.

Other heather species, like bell and cross-leaved heather (Erica species), flower earlier and are less common, making them less viable for honey. Ling Heather (Calluna vulgaris) got the name from the ancient Greek, and it means broom because heather boughs were tied together and used for sweeping.

It is a low growing evergreen native of Europe with a liking for dry, acidic soils. The Ling variation is by far the most desirable for making honey.

Why? Because Ling heather honey holds some of the very best qualities that can be found in this natural product. Because of the cold, moist climate required for this type of flower, heather plants usually bloom in areas with very few other sources of food for the bees.

As a result, in the early spring, beekeepers would find themselves bringing their hives over to the moorlands and retrieving them later down the season.

Fun fact: In the United Kingdom, they call this honey “the Rolls Royce of honey.” 

Making Heather Honey

Producing heather honey is a painstaking process that involves just as much effort on the part of the beekeeper as with the worker bees. In the first stages of production, nectar from the heather trees contains high volumes of fluid that need to be evaporated. After fanning out the syrup with their wings, the workers carefully pack the honey within their honeycomb. 

The issue arises when the beekeeper comes to harvest. Heather honeys, especially Ling heather honey, are incredibly thick and gel-like. They will not pour out of any container like the other types and are not easily extracted from the honeycomb. 

Instead of using traditional methods, the keeper has a task to cut out the honey in blocks. He will most likely sell these as they are in solid form but at an increased price. That’s why heather honey is often quite expensive to purchase.

The production process of heather honey is quite complicated because it contains more water than any other type, just like clover honey. The water content can’t exceed 23% (the less, the better), so it must be liquefied and tested after pressing.

The whole process is extra challenging, but the final result - heather honey, is definitely worth it.

Heather honey is usually dark amber, no lighter than caramel and often featuring a red or orange tint. It has an intense aroma that combines fruit and woodsy scents with a firm but the mildly-sweet taste and a tangy aftertaste.

Fun fact: Heather honey has been used for making uniquely Scottish dishes, traditional desserts and delicious and unusual drinks - it is one of the ingredients in the Scottish liqueur Drambuie!

Is Heather Honey Good for You?

This dark amber to reddish honey is most times packaged in its unadulterated, raw form. It is naturally lightly sweetened and tangy and is an excellent complement to pancakes, yogurt, or practically any breakfast or dessert option of your choice. 

Because of its sticky and solid-like texture, most of its nutritional components get trapped within its lattice. And since heather honey is not commonly processed, you’ll be sure to get as many of its benefits once included in your diet. 

Here’s an idea of what to expect:

  1. Reduced inflammation and cellular protection

The dark color attributed to certain honeys is due to the high level of polyphenols present within them. These compounds are great for helping digestive issues related to inflammation, such as gastritis and G.E. reflux. 

The antioxidants in this honey go the extra mile to ward off cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

They are also very powerful chemicals known by scientists to deter cancer-causing free radical molecules in the body.

  1. Protection against infections

Heather honey’s sugar concentration provides the necessary conditions for osmosis to take place on the skin surface. When directly applied to cuts, wounds, or burns, the broken skin's moisture is quickly released. The dry surface is no longer favorable for microbes' growth and prevents any possible infections from progressing.  

  1. Overall Health

The enzymes packed in Heather honey make it a good source of nutrients for the human body. It is filled with vitamins and minerals that strengthen the body’s defenses, support bone health, and promote smooth digestion.

Is Heather Honey as Good as Manuka?

Honey, in general, has incredible nutritional value and enormous benefits, both from a wellbeing and health perspective.

Although Heather honey is produced throughout the European continent, Scotland and Ireland are, by far, the leading contenders for the highest quality of this product. 

Scottish and Irish heather honey is significantly acclaimed to have incredibly higher levels of polyphenols and minerals than the famous Manuka honey.

This means that when compared to the “best” available, Heather honey still manages to provide more significant health benefits. This is especially attributed to its high antioxidant and manganese contents, which are useful in regulating bone formation and many other processes involving the pancreas, liver, and kidneys.

Many researchers believe that this is due to the fact that much of its original contents upon honey production are held within its gel. And while Manuka is also known to be thick, Heather still manages to surpass it in this category. 

However, it is possible to soften heather honey by vigorous stirring; but its fluidity is very short-lived.

All in all

Heather honey may not be what you expect out of a typical variation, but its unmatchable qualities have made it by far the most vetted honey you could possibly come across. 

For more information on other different types of honey, such as blackberry, wildflower, orange blossom, meadowfoam, avocado, sourwood honey and many others, check our latest blog posts