With its delicious taste, honey is often thought of as simply a sweetener. Lesser known is the fact that honey has been used for centuries as a medicinal aid for healing and rejuvenation. But not all honey is created equal. When you visit the grocery store, most of the honey on the shelves has been heated and pasteurized which can destroy the properties that make it nutritious. In an effort to learn more about the benefits of raw honey, we visited Jan Brown, a beekeeper, bee lover, and honey producer from Beaufort, South Carolina. Jan and her partner, Will, have been working with bees for over 20 years, and their experience and passion is truly inspiring.
How and why did you get into making your own honey?
It wasn’t so much the making of honey that drew me to beekeeping as it was the bees themselves. I’ve always been curious about honeybees — how they live and work in such a cohesive and congenial colony and how we all benefit from the fruits of their labors. So in about 1999 when I had an opportunity to buy two hives from a farmer whose health prevented him from keeping bees any longer, I jumped on it. Without much knowledge about what I was getting into, I loaded those two hives each holding about 40,000 bees (screened and secure, of course) into the back of my station wagon and headed home to begin a love affair that has lasted the better part of 20 years and is still going strong.
Would you tell us about the honey your bees produce?
Will and I now have 40 hives scattered across Beaufort county, and the honeys we collect have different flavors depending on what plants the nectar is collected from. Thirteen of our hives are located at a melon farm where they were placed primarily for pollination service, but the honey we harvest from those hives is always fruity and delicious. Recently we placed hives on a property where tupelo trees grow, so we’re looking forward to harvesting the coveted tupelo honey next year.
How do you process your honey?
To process, we begin by cutting the wax capping from each frame of honey. The frames are then placed vertically into an extractor that looks a little like an old-fashioned wash tub. We hand-crank the extractor and the frames spin, releasing the honey by centrifugal force. The honey flows from the bottom of the extractor through a gate and then through a filter into a five-gallon bucket. We filter our honey only once and never heat it making it pure raw honey full of all the nutrients the bees put there.
Why do you prefer raw honey to conventional?
To get all the benefits honey can provide, especially in terms of alleviating allergies, we encourage everyone to buy raw honey from a local beekeeper. Too many “supermarket honeys” have been heated to prevent crystallization or have been cut with corn syrup to increase volume. All pure, raw honey will crystallize — it’s the sign of unadulterated honey. It doesn’t mean the honey is old or has gone bad. In fact, it’s the one food that never spoils.
What are you favorite foods to use your honey on?
Will and I use honey in every way we can. Of course it’s delicious on toast or biscuits, and lots of people sweeten their tea and coffee with it. But we use it in many other ways. We make a killer cocktail that we call a “Bee Sting” with bourbon, lemon juice and honey. We also add it to salad dressings, roasted vegetables, homemade barbecue sauces and marinades, and several desserts. For breakfast most mornings I eat Greek yogurt with blueberries and a little granola drizzled with our honey. And if you’ve never drizzled honey on pizza, try it. It’s delicious! Honey mustard and creamed honey are two products we also make and sell.
We hear that honeybees are disappearing. What can be done to help save them?
Albert Einstein has been quoted as saying that if bees disappear from earth, humans have about four years to live since without pollination, our food sources will literally disappear. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that bees are disappearing at an alarming rate. What can you do to help save bees? You can plant nectar-producing flowers and trees in your own garden so your local bees have the food they need. You can reduce the amount of pesticides you use, and you can support companies that support bee research and breeding programs. And if you see a swarm of bees, or happen to have one on your property, you should call a local beekeeper who can safely remove them to a beehive where they can thrive. It’s important that we all respect bees and do everything we can to keep them on our planet.