Ark of Taste
Gallberry honey is sourced from a small evergreen holly bush (also known as inkberry) that grows along the South Atlantic and Gulf Coast and produces a unique honey that is popular throughout the piney woods and swamps of southeast Florida.
It is desirable for the rich, elegant taste and is prized for its honeycomb. Its flavor is thick and aromatic, a perfect table honey, and also recommended for baking. Gallberry honey is known for its lack of granulation.
Gallberry honey is high in pollen and enzymes and therefore slow to crystallize. According to Florida beekeeper and National Honey Board member Doug McGinnis, this variety is a favored blending honey in Europe because it blends with other varietals and punches up the amount of diastase enzymes in the blend, preventing the honey from crystallizing even in cool temperatures. Gallberry is one of the highest honeys for diastase enzymes.
For a very short window of time every spring, from late April to early June, the bush blossoms with white flowers that drip nectar, providing beekeepers’ with their only opportunity to make the amber colored honey. Ideal production, according to beekeepers, occurs when the gallberry bush has “feet in water, head in sunshine.” As with any pure, single varietal honey, producing Gallberry honey takes the patience of an experienced artisan beekeeper because the bees must not be allowed to harvest nectar from any other flowering plant.
Unfortunately, this time-honored, local tradition is threatened by habitat loss to development throughout the area. Today, the untamed forests of the southeast where the plant is ubiquitous are rapidly being developed. Without this environment, the beekeepers of Southern Georgia and Northern Florida cannot continue to produce Gallberry honey. Doug McGinnis notes, that due “to destruction of wetlands, it’s harder to find areas that produce lots of gallberry honey. When I was young, the galberry woods’ were most abundant just north of here, from Bunnell, Florida to Palatka, Florida. Today that area is encompassed by the Palm Coast development. So, sustainable? Only as long as we preserve some of the wild lands left in Florida and Southern Georgia.”
Single variety honeys and their bee colonies have yet to be affected by colony collapse disorder. Still, this increasingly widespread and mysterious disease is a danger and could put small, artisan and single-variety beekeepers out of business or cause them to turn to less sustainable, market-driven practices.