Those who visit the Southeastern United States for the first time are often surprised to see clumps of tiny palm trees growing along coastal roads.
Natives are able to clear up the mystery pretty quickly by explaining that the trees are saw palmettos (Seronoa repens), best known in other parts of the country for the extract sometimes used as a male prostate supplement. (1)
Most doctors will tell you that the supplement doesn’t really help the men who use it. But they’d probably agree that another product derived from the saw palmetto is not only good for you, but absolutely delicious: palmetto honey.
This full-bodied honey is rarely seen beyond the borders of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina. In fact, saw palmetto honey is believed to be the first honey ever produced in Florida, which is where almost all of it is produced today.
If you can find this gourmet honey, it’s a real treat.
Why Saw Palmetto Honey Is So Rare
You would expect palmetto honey to be somewhat rare, since its source trees are only found in a relatively-small area of America. That’s true, but only part of the story.
Palmetto trees only grow to a maximum height of about eight feet, and it takes them a very long time to get there. A saw palmetto tree isn’t large enough to be worth honeybees’ time until it’s about 100 years old (palmettos normally live for many hundreds of years).
That means a huge number of these trees aren’t even able to produce enough nectar to make honey, and those which do don’t make very much of it. Beekeepers have to be patient when they want to produce saw palmetto honey.
The bottom line: it takes a lot of bees and a lot of mature trees, just to produce enough palmetto honey to be sold locally.
Saw Palmetto Honey Is Not Sabal Palmetto Honey
Another type of palmetto tree also grows in Florida and the rest of the southeastern U.S., and it also produces nectar used to make honey. It’s the sabal palmetto, better known as the sabal palm or the cabbage palm. It’s the tree that South Carolina is referring to when it calls itself “The Palmetto State.”
The sabal palmetto looks more like the palm trees you see in pictures. It grows to heights of 60-70 feet, and its large buds are sometimes used to make Heart of Palm salads; unfortunately, if the buds are removed from these trees, they die. There are other types of palms with multiple buds, better utilized for that purpose.
On a happier note, the nectar from sabal palmetto flowers produces some very good honey, even though it’s not palmetto honey. It’s sold as sabal palmetto honey, and it’s a thin and sweet light amber honey quite different from its full-bodied cousin from the saw palmetto plant. Its consistence and taste are more like other types of Florida honey like orange blossom honey or wildflower honey, rather than heavier varietals like Tupelo honey.
Characteristics of Palmetto Honey
The deep amber color and luscious aroma of saw palmetto honey gives you an immediate clue to what’s inside the ½ lb. jar (or whatever size you purchase). Palmetto honey tastes rich and robust, sweet and smoky with citrus and caramel overtones, but it’s complimentary to most other flavors and not overpowering.
The very best use for this honey is as a sweetener. In the southeast, a spoonful of palmetto honey in traditional sweet tea is the perfect recipe for a hot summer’s day. It also works well with strong hot teas like Earl Grey and can stand up to coffee, if you like yours with honey. It’s a great ingredient when used to homebrew beer or mead, too.
The boldness of palmetto honey is a terrific match for salty cheeses and cured meats like prosciutto and pancetta, and when mixed with mustard it makes a wonderful glaze for roasted or grilled meat.
Palmetto honey is slow to crystallize because of its high fructose content, which means there’s a smaller amount of glucose which can “fall out” of the solution. It will stay on the shelf for quite some time without becoming solid.
Health Benefits of Palmetto Honey
The alternative medicine practitioners who believe that saw palmetto extract helps men with prostate issues also claim that palmetto honey can be beneficial in the same way. There’s no scientific evidence to back that up, but there’s no harm in trying.
This honey variety has more conventional advantages, though. Many even say that palmetto honey is on a par with revered Manuka honey when it comes to nutritional and medicinal benefits.
Raw saw palmetto honey has high levels of antioxidant, anti-bacterial and antimicrobial properties. They allow this honey to help the body fight the effects of dangerous free radicals associated with serious illnesses like heart disease, and to fight bacterial infections and treat wounds. The honey’s bounty of phytonutrients, vitamins, enzymes and amino acids helps soothe the digestive system and fight gastrointestinal ailments, while boosting the immune system as well.
It’s unusual to find highly-processed palmetto honey, since it’s produced in such small amounts. What you’ll normally see online or on store shelves is raw, unfiltered saw palmetto honey, and that’s important. Heavy processing or pasteurization removes the small bits of beeswax, pollen and bee glue (propolis) which contribute most of honey’s benefits. Raw honey is not only high-quality honey, it’s the healthiest honey.
Where to Find Palmetto Honey
The best place to find palmetto honey is in local stores in Florida, although it’s also sold (in limited quantities) in surrounding states and in specialty stores across America. It’s not difficult to find this honey sold online, but be sure that you’re purchasing from a trusted vendor since some will label sabal palmetto honey simply as “palmetto honey” – and as we’ve discussed, they’re not the same thing.
The Savannah Bee Company and The Beekeeper’s Daughter are two of the brands to trust, if you want to sample this wonderful and rare honey by purchasing it over the web.