A couple of weeks ago I was in conversation about local foods and resources when I was offered Buckeye honey. I was told this honey is bottled up not far from me here in Northern California. I shrugged and agreed to try it. Having never heard of Buckeye honey, I asked what made it so special. It appears it is rather rare and pretty difficult to find.
The reason for this rarity? It kills the bees.
That’s right. The bees that make this honey? They die.
That little bit of information really caught me off guard. I must say I didn’t think it tasted like anything special, and I was a little put-off by the whole idea of killing bees on purpose. Why had I never heard of this before? I decided to do a little investigating.
A Poisonous Tree
The California Buckeye tree is extremely toxic to animals. The blossoms are poisonous to the honeybee, and it is certainly not something you want your livestock snacking on either. The honeybee is not native to California, which appears to be part of the problem. Native bees (and some others who pollinate the tree) are actually immune, but otherwise this tree is so toxic that very few animals even mess with it. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, “California Indians ground the seeds to a powder that they used to stun fish for easy capture.” That’s some pretty potent stuff.
A few studies have been done on Buckeye trees and honeybees. It is considered a problem if a hive is within 3 miles of a Buckeye tree. If alternatives are available, honeybees will avoid the Buckeye tree, and exposure in small amounts is believed to not be a problem. But if there are no other sources of food, it quickly becomes a serious issue.
What Happens to the Bees?
When the honeybee uses the Buckeye tree as a source of food, it is not an instant poisoning. The bees take the pollen back to the hive where it slowly poisons the entire colony. The toxins cause the next generation of bees to be born deformed and wingless, and without wings they cannot source out food. Eventually, the queen bee stops laying eggs, and worker bees develop symptoms of paralysis. The end result is a destroyed colony. Rather morbid.
Bees are very loyal to their source of food, and whatever is closest to their hive. It is recommended that beekeepers move their hives away from Buckeye trees and to other sources of food. If the hives cannot be moved, the beekeeper can supplement the hive with sugar water (or the standard beekeeping mix of corn syrup) to dilute the Buckeye poison and help preserve the hive.
It seems that it might not be the best idea to eat honey from a bee that was poisoned. If it bothered the bee, wouldn’t the honey bother the person eating it? Apparently not. Buckeye honey is entirely safe for human consumption.
Yet another completely amazing wonder of nature.
So What About This Local Buckeye Honey?
Armed with my new information, I decided to contact the local source of Buckeye honey directly. From what I could piece together, harvesting Buckeye honey had to include intentionally harming bee colonies, and I wasn’t sure I was very happy about that. When I checked their website, the only information I found said that this honey can only be produced during “rare environmental conditions“. That seemed pretty vague.
Giving the company the benefit of the doubt, I sent off an email asking for clarification and whether the information I had obtained was faulty. I was certainly happy with response I received. Here is part of the email:
“We collect honey from beekeepers throughout the US and occasionally are presented with intriguing varietal honeys – Buckeye is one that we never came across in 34 years! Most beekeepers know well enough to keep their bees far away from heavy concentrations of Buckeye during their bloom. However, this beekeeper was not well informed and lost many bees. However, he did produce some honey for us, which we offer to you as an extremely rare and unique varietal honey.”
There you have it. This explains why no matter how hard I googled, I could not come up with Buckeye Honey for sale anywhere else in the country. This batch was available only due to a rather large mistake on the part of the beekeeper.
I feel incredibly sorry for the beekeeper who had to learn about the effects of Buckeye trees in this way. I am also relieved to find that this is not an accepted practice among beekeepers here in California, or it would appear, elsewhere. And I am reminded that it is always a good idea to double check your facts. I am so glad that I did!
With luck the beekeeper was able to make up for some of his loss with the help of this company. If you want to purchase some, you can do so here: Z Specialty Food
How about you? Ever done your own research only to discover the facts lead you in a very different direction?
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