Primeval humans gathered and ate the honey and honeycombs of wild bees, the only available sweet, as far back as 7,000 BC. The healing benefits of honey have been known since the ancient Egyptian civilization.
There are many varieties of honey available today, one of which is Heather honey. Heather honey (Calluna vulgaris) has been known for a long time and is highly valued today. It has a characteristic strong taste, and an unusual texture. It is also known as Ling, Calluna, Summer or Autumn Heather honey.
THE “ROLLS ROYCE OF HONEY”
Today raw Heather honey is enjoying a significant boom around the world as its health and medical properties are becoming better known. This dark, mono-floral raw honey is highly prized by connoisseurs and is often referred to as the “Rolls Royce of honey”.
A number of studies have demonstrated it is one of the very best honey varieties in the world. Some properties are better than other dark honey varieties, including Manuka honey (Leptospermum scoparium).
Firstly, let´s review the typical properties of raw honey in general and then look at why raw Heather honey stands out.
RAW HONEY PROPERTIES
- antibacterial, antimicrobial (contains hydrogen peroxide and glucose oxidase, with a low pH level)
- antioxidant effects (from compounds such as phenols, phytochemicals, flavonoids, and ascorbic acid)
- anti-inflammatory effects
- anti-cancer and antiulcer action
- antifungal effects
- small amounts of vitamins and minerals (e.g. niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, phosphorous, zinc)
- wound healing effects
- cough relief
- bee pollen (only contained in raw honey)
- antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
- antibacterial and antifungal action
- pain-relieving properties
- contribute to honey´s natural ability to heal wounds and kill bacteria
- amino acids, vitamins A and C, and small amounts of nutrients including calcium, magnesium, and sodium.
- bee propolis (only contained in raw honey)
- a glue-like substance that helps keep the hive together
- anit-inflammatory effects
- anti-cancer and antiulcer actions
- antifungal effects
- contains B vitamins, vitamins C and E, magnesium, potassium, and beneficial enzymes.
It also improves digestion and some studies have suggested it could also have antiviral properties.
WHAT MAKES RAW HEATHER HONEY SO UNIQUELY DIFFERENT?
Generally dark honey varieties have very strong antibacterial properties, excellent antioxidant activity as well as other properties. Here is why raw Heather honey is outstanding in a number of different ways from other honey varieties.
- Unlike the rest: raw Heather honey stands out
Heather honey is dark in colour and can be reddish/orange to dark amber with its own particular flavour unlike that of any other honey, and is a favourite with many people. The taste is tangy, pungent, smoky, and mildly sweet that leaves a long aftertaste. It leaves a sweet taste on the palate with bitter and salty notes and a gelatinous sensation due to its high viscosity. Heather honey has a powerful aroma that is reminiscent of the Heather flower from which it comes.
Uniquely, it has a very unusual texture: it is thixotropic, which means it is like jelly until you stir it, when it turns liquid. A common test of the purity of raw Heather honey is to place the opened honey jar on its side to test how quickly it will flow out. Pure raw Heather honey will stay firmly in place for several minutes. The longer it stays, the purer the honey.
Another sign of purity is the presence of small air bubbles trapped in the gel-like honey (a result of pressing to extract the honey), and while it has a bright appearance, it will not be clear. The tiny bubbles make it shimmer in the light.
All honey is rich in phenolic acid, flavonoids, ascorbic acid and other phytochemicals which exhibit a wide range of biological effects and act as natural antioxidants. Dark honey varieties often exhibit more powerful antioxidant action than most other honey varieties and, in particular raw Heather honey has exceptional antioxidant properties.
Raw Heather honey is very rich in phenolic acids. In fact, its TPC (Total Phenolic Content) is the highest of any honey, including Manuka honey.
The antioxidants in raw Heather honey influence skin cells as well as preventing cellular damage, helping to eliminate free radicals produced as a result of metabolic reactions and interactions with external pollutants. Removal of these free radicals prevents aging and also improves overall health. For this reason, it is often used in skincare products.
Antioxidant activity may help also fight illnesses and diseases as serious as heart disease and cancer.
- Antimicrobial and antibacterial action
A number of dark honey varieties exhibit high antibacterial and antimicrobial activity. The antimicrobial and antibacterial activity is primarily due to the enzymatic production of hydrogen peroxide, glucose oxidase as well as a low pH level. This means it can kill harmful bacteria and fungi. Also, because of its unique chemical composition and high osmolarity (high content in natural sugar), it inhibits the growth of yeast, microbes and bacteria.
In fact some studies suggest that raw Heather honey is one of the best honey for killing bacteria. One such study published in The Veterinary Journal in 2013 tested eleven kinds of honey for their ability to kill microbes. In this study, the antimicrobial activities of the honey samples were assessed against 10 bacteria recovered from wounds of horses. These bacteria included methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, two pathogenic microbes that have been linked to several difficult-to-treat infections in humans. The results indicated that raw Heather honey exhibited the best antibacterial action of all honey varieties tested, including Manuka honey.
- Thixotropic properties
Most types of honey are Newtonian liquids, but a few types have non-Newtonian viscous properties. Raw Heather honey displays thixotropic properties. These types of honey enter a gel-like state when motionless, but liquefy when agitated or stirred. Manuka honey can also have this characteristic as well, but not to the same extent.
Due to its gelatinous character, raw Heather honey holds its water in a different way from other honeys. Ordinary honey containing more than about 20% of water (due to either immaturity or dilution) tends to ferment, whereas raw Heather honey, since some of its water is held in an immobilized condition, does not do so until a considerably higher moisture content is reached.
The purer the raw Heather honey, the longer it will stay “glued” to the jar before softening and beginning to flow. In order to properly pour it you have to stir it first, and it will quickly become gelatinous again after that. One can also tell high-quality heather honey by its dark amber color which tends toward red or orange, and the large number of air bubbles trapped inside.
- Extraction process
The thick consistency that causes the honey to stick to the side of a jar also makes it extremely difficult to extract from a honeycomb. Apiaries must be equipped with special equipment for the task; they can use either honey looseners or special plastic needles called “perforextractors” to remove the honey, and then use tangential honey spinners which temporarily liquefy the honey so it can be properly spun.
The rest of the honey production process is somewhat complicated, too. It may be difficult and painstaking work, but the honey is worth it.
Top quality raw Heather honey is a monofloral honey which comes from the nectar of the Calluna Vulgaris plant, often called “common heather.” Other heather plants belong to the Erica species; for example, Erica Arborea, Erica Cinerea and Erica Carnea. The white, bell or snow Erica honey harvested from them respectively is also quite good, but it’s not as exceptional as raw Heather honey. It also is not thixotropic.
A truly exceptional and unusual honey variety.
- Bogdanov S, “The honey book”, Feb14, Bee Product Science.
- Berry J, Marengo K LND, RD, “How are raw honey and regular honey different?”, 15Apr19, Medical News Today,
- Saladino P, “What Is Heather Honey? The European Honey Well Worth Finding”, 18Mar20, Diet Hive.
- “Miel de calluna”, Apicultura Online.
- “Calluna”, Wikipedia.