Wine connoisseurs usually select the specific bottle that they’d like to enjoy with dinner. That’s because when they choose the vineyard, the varietal and the year, they’re confident that they’ll be getting the exact wine they want to drink.
Honey aficionados can do much the same thing when they want to buy a great honey. There is always a little variation in glass bottles or jars of varietal honey, even when they come from the same producer, but the color, aroma and taste will be predictable. Several bottles of Manuka or blueberry honey bottled by the same beekeeper will be virtually identical.
That’s not the case with wildflower honey, though.
Why Wildflower Honey Is Always Different
The definition of wildflower explains why you can’t pin down the defining qualities of wildflower honey:
Wildflower: The flower of a plant that normally grows in fields, forests, etc., without deliberate cultivation.
In other words, there’s no specific genus or family for wildflowers; they’re any flower that grows on its own in the wild – so there’s no predicting exactly what wildflower honey will look or taste like. The nectar collected by bees, when they’re pollinating wildflowers, almost always comes from a number of different species; it might come from New York fireweed or California poppies, but also the goldenrod that grows right next to them. The honey is called “polyfloral” for that reason, since it comes from a variety of nectar sources.
There’s another important phrase in the definition of wildflower: “without deliberate cultivation.” That means beekeepers and honey producers don’t plant a field full of wildflowers. The flowers simply grow naturally, so there’s no way that uniformity can be guaranteed in the honey that’s made.
Many producers make an effort to standardize the wildflower honey they sell, so it’s common for them to mix honey from several different sources or areas of the United States during bottling, in order to come up with a more consistent product. You’ll still notice the variations in batches, however. Your best chance at getting a uniform quality over time is to buy from local sources like farm stands, rather than in a grocery store (if they even have wildflower honey in stock). Local honey is much less likely to be “blended.”
One final reason why the color and flavor of wildflower honey varies so wildly (please pardon the pun) is that different plants flower at different times of the year. So the nectar collected by honey bees in May is likely to come from completely different wildflowers than the nectar the bees gather in September.
Even so, there are some characteristics that describe most harvests of wildflower honey. We’ll do our best to narrow them down, along with the uses and benefits of this popular variety.
General Qualities of Wildflower Honey
The easiest way to describe wildflower honey is that most of the time it will be light and fruity. In very general terms, honey harvested later in the season (late summer and fall) will be a bit stronger in taste and darker in color, simply because of the varieties of wildflowers which grow when it’s warmer. Spring and early summer batches are more likely to be lighter in both taste and color.
Perhaps the best way to describe this honey is that it’s somewhat similar but a bit stronger than two other types of honey known for being fruity and light, clover honey and orange blossom honey. You know by now, though, that there’s no real way to predict exactly what an individual jar of wildflower honey will taste like.
The comparison with clover and orange blossom does give a good indication of the best uses of wildflower honey. It’s ideal for use in cooking or in baking (general rule for baking: substitute ½ to ¾ cup of honey for each cup of sugar) since its light taste won’t “drown out” the other ingredients. This honey is an ideal sweetener for tea, delicious when mixed with fruits to make smoothies, and is one of the best honeys for simply drizzling onto your choice of breakfast foods.
The nutrition facts for wildflower honey are similar to the numbers for most other varieties of honey. The Department of Agriculture reports that the honey’s natural sugars are the source of about 17 grams of carbohydrates in each tablespoon, and around about 65 calories. There are trace elements of various minerals and vitamins, but nothing special to note.
The Health Benefits of Wildflower Honey
As with most other types of honey, there are natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatories in wildflower honey, making it an effective way to naturally boost the body’s immune system, fight infections that cause colds, soothe sore throats, help with digestion and fight the damage done by the free radicals that cause many diseases.
And also as with other types of honey, those health benefits come with an asterisk: they’re only present in raw wildflower honey. If the honey has been pasteurized and gone through ultra-filtration (the normal process used by major honey producers to improve the product’s color and make it less likely to crystallize), most of the benefits are lost.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be completely unfiltered honey to retain its antioxidants, since light filtration can remove unwanted contaminants like insect parts from raw honey. But unfiltered, unheated, pure honey will always retain the pollen gathered by, and the propolis secreted by, honey bees – which are the real sources of the beneficial elements in wildflower and other honeys.
There’s one other health benefit to wildflower honey that other varieties can’t provide: relief for some allergy sufferers.
One of the biggest causes of seasonal allergies is pollen from wildflowers. And studies, including one published in the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, have found that eating small amounts of local wildflower honey can help limit allergic reactions caused by pollen from flowers native to the area. (1) It’s important to note that wildflower honey from the grocery store probably won’t help with allergy symptoms; the beneficial effect is produced by consuming honey from some of the same flowers that cause the allergy.