Facts About Honey


Honey is the nectar of flowers gathered by the bees and ripened by them in their hive by the fanning of their wings which evaporates the water out of it and thickens it. A chemical change also takes place, by the action of the bees, which modifies this nectar into delicious honey.


It is gathered wherever flowers bloom in profusion, as far north as Finland and farther north than Quebec in Canada, during the summer months. The warmer climates of course are more favorable to honey production, since flowers bloom in greater profusion and during a longer period. As a rule, honey in the warmer climates is therefore lower in price than in colder countries. The honey of those countries is usually stronger in flavor than that produced in the north, the southern flowers being more rank and of a stronger fragrance.


Nearly all flowers secrete nectar, though some kinds yield more than others. Very few consumers realize that the difference in flavor and color of different honeys is due to the nectar being gathered from different kinds of flowers.

For instance, honey gathered from white clover blossoms or from alfalfa blossoms is very light in color and mild in flavor. On the other hand, honey from buckwheat blossoms is very dark colored and strong in taste. Honey from goldenrod or Spanish needle is of a bright amber or golden color, much prized by some consumers.

As there are thousands of different kinds of flowers, so there are thousands of different flavors of nectar, all gathered by the bees. In each locality, however, the flowers of certain plants are more abundant than all other flowers combined and produce more nectar than all other flowers. From such plants the main crop of honey is gathered.

In the east and north and in Canada, white clover and buckwheat are the main sources of honey, with sometimes a little basswood, also called linden. In the central states, white clover, sweet clover, heartsease and Spanish needles are the principal honey-producing flowers. In the southern states, sweet clover, horsemint, mesquite, cotton, tupelo, etc., produce large crops.

In the west, alfalfa, sweet clover, white sage and other mountain flowers yield abundant crops.

Each of the flowers named produces honey of a different flavor. As a rule, light-colored honey is mild, while the dark-colored is strong in flavor.


Kind Color Flavor
Alfalfa Honey Very Light Color Mild Flavor
Aster Honey Light Amber Color Medium Flavor
Basswood Honey Light color Pronounced Flavor
Buckwheat Honey Dark Color Pronounced Flavor
Cleome Honey Light Color Medium Flavor
Cotton Honey Light Color Medium Flavor
Heartsease Honey Light Amber Color Mild Flavor
Horsemint Honey Amber Color Strong Flavor
Mesquite Honey Light Amber Medium Flavor
Orange Blossom Light Color Mild Flavor
Sage (White) Honey Light Color Pronounced Flavor
Spanish Needle Amber Color Mild Flavor
Sweet Clover Light Color Mild Flavor
White Clover Very Light Color Mild Flavor

These are some of the principal honey-yielding plants of North America. Although the bees usually gather only from the main blooming plant, at times they gather honey from every source within their reach. This accounts for the fact that honey, called by the same name, sometimes varies considerably in color and flavor.

A Field of White Clover in Full Bloom.

Honey from white clover, alfalfa, sweet clover or basswood is so light in. color that many people who have never eaten any other kind are apt to think the other kinds are not pure.

Although buckwheat blossoms are of the same color as white clover, their honey is not only very dark but also strong in odor and flavor. It smells and tastes just as the bloom smells. Spanish needle honey is of deep golden color and pronounced flavor, very different from the clovers.


The old way — Before beekeeping became a science the common way of securing honey was to destroy the bees usually by sulfur fumes or by driving them out of their hive with dense smoke. Bees were kept in logs or gums and box hives, and the combs containing the honey had to be cut out.

The honey was then pressed out of the combs and as it often contained more or less bee-bread or pollen, bee-glue, bits of wood, dead bees and other foreign matters, it was rarely of good quality. Honey secured

in this way was called and is still called “strained honey,” which is quite different from the modern “extracted honey,” which we are about to describe.

Although the old way of getting honey from trees out of hollow logs or from boxes was a very romantic procedure, it was a very unprofitable method and the honey was rarely of good quality. The bees had to be destroyed and this interfered seriously with the future supply.

The combs of the bees, in these hives, being fastened to the inner walls of the box, it was impossible to remove the honey without destroying or damaging the bees. Besides, they could not be cared for when they were queenless, or diseased, or needed help.


— Scientific beekeeping has entirely done away with the destruction of the bees to secure their honey. By means of the movable-frame hives and honey sections, in which each comb is hung separately in a frame, the careful beekeeper can take the surplus honey from his hives without killing a single bee and without getting his hands daubed with honey. As the modern way of handling bees has been in use for but a comparatively short time, many persons imagine that because the combs are so straight and the honey so nice in appearance it must be adulterated. Nothing is farther from the facts.

Honey handled in the new way is pure and perfectly sanitary as it does not come in contact with the fingers of anyone or anything but the bees themselves, before it is sold.

Taking Honey from the Bees in a Modern Apiary.

In a modern apiary the honey is taken from the bees in a sanitary as well as humane way. By means of a little smoke they are rendered docile without injuring them. The frames may be handled without killing a single bee.

COMB-HONEY — When bees gather nectar, they store it in their combs. These may be irregularly built, large or small, if they are left to their own devices and it usually is impossible to remove them without breaking them. But with the modern methods, the hives are supplied with little square wooden boxes or COMB HONEY SECTIONS, containing comb guides made of pure beeswax. These guides are called COMB-FOUNDATION, because they are built with the imprint of the cells and are the foundation or base of the comb, made from their own wax. They accept nothing but their own product, in this way. Comb-foundation acts as a guide and secures straight combs in the sections, an indispensable requirement in producing comb-honey for market.

Beekeepers has found it impossible to build the full comb. The bees themselves finish the work by adding their own wax to the foundation given them and filling it with honey.

This shows sections of honey as taken from the bees by the beekeeper. Note that the bees have fastened each comb to the wall of the sections and sealed the cells after filling them. No two sections are alike in finish, as they would be if it were possible to fill them by human processes. The bees do not finish any two combs exactly alike any more than mother Nature makes any two men exactly alike. Sections of honey may be compared with the leaves on the trees, all are similar but no two are exactly alike.

CHUNK HONEY — Sometimes the beekeeper gives the bees large frames to be filled, instead of small sections. In that case, the honey, comb and all, is cut out and put into pails or cans with enough liquid honey to fill the spaces. This is called CHUNK HONEY. It is a favorite method of harvesting honey in some southern states, such as Texas. A few beekeepers in the north also follow this method.


— Honey may be produced more economically, if the combs can be emptied and returned to the bees to be filled again. Combs cost the bees a great deal of labor and expense, for they are produced by digesting honey — a process of nature very similar to the production of fat in cattle — and taking the little scales of wax while they are warm to build the comb. Beekeepers have succeeded in removing the honey from the comb without injuring it, by the use of a HONEY EXTRACTOR, and honey produced in this way is called EXTRACTED HONEY.

In the production of extracted honey, the beekeeper uses large frames. Instead of small square boxes, because the frames are more easily handled in a honey extractor.

This shows the process of extracting. The extractor consists of screen baskets hung on a reel. The combs are placed in the baskets, after the caps or covers of the cells have been removed with the uncapping knife. The reel causes the baskets to revolve very rapidly and centrifugal force throws the honey out of the combs against the sides of the can. The combs are returned to the bees who repair the slight damage done and refill them rapidly. For this reason, extracted honey is more economical to produce than comb-honey, for with comb-honey production the bees have to build their combs each time. That is why extracted honey is sometimes cheaper than comb-honey, although it is the pure honey, minus the wax.


— The accompanying cut shows the construction of a honey-extractor. The reels and baskets may be seen. The invention of the honey-extractor in 1865 has done more for honey production on a large scale than any other thing except the invention of the movable frame hives.

Before the enactment of pure food laws, honey was sometimes adulterated with glucose or cheap syrups. Now all packages labeled “HONEY” must be marked with their minimum net weight and must contain the pure article gathered” by the bees.


Thick, well-ripened honey often candies or granulates when exposed for a time to air and cold. Some grades of honey even granulate in the cells. Extracted honey usually granulates at the opening of cold weather and keeping it in a warm room does not always prevent granulation. This change of condition, however, is not in any way injurious and many people prefer the granulated honey to the liquid article. Exposing it to heat returns it to the liquid state. The best way to liquefy honey is to place the can or pail in warm water, being very careful not to let the water boil, as too much heat would spoil the flavor and color. Honey liquefied in this way is usually slow to granulate again.


In the days of our great grandfathers honey had a place on every table. Honey and maple syrup were the only sweets supplied to the family. Refined sugar, as now used, was unknown. A few bees were kept to supply honey the same as a cow was kept to furnish the family milk and butter. As the conditions of the country changed and ways of living became more complicated, new food products appeared upon our tables, and substitutes took the place of things formerly regarded as necessities.

The dairy interests of the country made a tremendous fight to prevent oleomargarine (now Margarine) from replacing butter and the sentiment created by this organized effort was sufficient to create a demand for butter from the American public, rather than for its cheaper and inferior substitute.

Unfortunately, the beekeepers had not been organized, and while butter has continued to grow in demand and sell at constantly higher prices, the demand for honey which was once well nigh universal has been largely supplied by corn syrup and other products, while honey sells at a lower price than it brought over a century ago.


As honey eaten in its natural state is so healthful, it is very evident that similar results may be obtained if it is used in the place of sugar in cooking. Foods prepared with honey are not only better than those prepared with sugar, cheap molasses or syrups, but they will keep better. Baked foods, especially such as cakes, cookies and breads, retain their freshness much longer if honey is used. This is due largely to the fact that honey absorbs moisture, while sugar, on the contrary, readily becomes dry.

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