Plants for Honey Making?

As discussed in other articles posted, honey is the by-product of bee activity that leads to excess nectar storage within a honeycomb/hive or wax pots. Honey making requires a suitable bee for the process (as not all bees create honey), as well as a storage facility for the honey, and, of course, nectar from a flowering plant. 

However, did you know that the specific type of plant nectar obtained by bees heavily influences the composition of the honey produced? This can be seen in the different varieties of honey offered on the market, examples of which are displayed in Table 1 below. 

Table 1: Different Plant Sources Of Commercial Honey 
Type of Honey  Plant Source  Common Plants Used in Australia 
Monofloral  Nectar from one plant species  N/A 
Polyfloral  Nectar from multiple plant species  N/A 
Acacia  Nectar exclusively from Acacia plants  Golden Wattle 
Banksia  Nectar exclusively from Banksia plants  Menzies Banksia, Orange Banksia 
Eucalypt  Nectar exclusively from Eucalyptus plants  Box Eucalypt, Stringybark Eucalypt, Red Gums, Jarrah 
Manuka  Nectar excusively from Leptospermum  Manuka Tea Trees 
Myrtle  Nectar excusively from Myrtle plants  Lemon Myrtle 
Borage  Nectar Exclusively from Borage plants  Borago officinalis 
Lavender  Nectar exclusively from Lavender plants  English/French Lavender 
Sage  Nectar exclusively from Sage plants  N/A 

The source plant of the honey becomes important when considering the compositional consequences of the product. In simpler terms, the nutritional and potentially medicinal value of the honey made is different when nectar is sourced from specific plants. The reason for this is because the molecules found in the nectar of a flower will differ significantly between different plant species, as each plant will need to produce many different types of molecules to help them survive day-to-day life. In many cases, the molecules made by these plants are also beneficial to human health (particularly in the case of antioxidants), and so the nectar of some flowering plants may be more valuable to human health and to honey flavour than other flowering plants. What this means is that honey made from a specific, monofloral source (for example, lavender) will be rich in a specific set number of important molecules (such as lavender-specific antioxidants); while, alternatively, polyfloral honey that derives nectar from nay types of plants may have more types of plant-specific molecules in it (I.e. a broader range of nutrients), but in lower amounts (compared to the monofloral source). This, of course, depends on how much nectar was used from each plant, and from which plants the nectar was sourced. 

In Australia, there is a large variety of honey available to consumers, and multiple plant sources are often utilised for production. However, according to the CSIRO, most honey made in Australia is sourced from Eucalyptus trees (Milla et al., 2021). Given that Eucalyptus trees are full of molecules of interest to human health, Australian honey products may be providing us with more than just a sweet treat!  

  • Milla L, Sniderman K, Lines R, Mousavi-Derazmahalleh M, Encinas-Viso F. Pollen DNA metabarcoding identifies regional provenance and high plant diversity in Australian honey. Ecol Evol. 2021 Jun 3;11(13):8683-8698. doi: 10.1002/ece3.7679. PMID: 34257922; PMCID: PMC8258210. 

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