Have you ever heard of honeydew honey? It was a new one for the Queen Bee and, let me tell you, it’s not your ordinary sweet bee treat. In fact, it’s a fascinating result of the spotted lanternfly infestation that began spreading in New York State in 2020. So, if you’re curious to learn more about this unique honey, keep reading. We’ve got all the buzz on honeydew honey and the spotted lanternfly right here!
The Intriguing Connection Between Spotted Lanternflies and Honeydew Honey
During the summer of 2023, Long Island residents were on high alert for the spotted lanternfly. Lanternfly sightings needed to be reported and people were instructed to kill the insect on sight. They will be back next year, but for now, scientists are taking a closer look at honeydew honey, surprising outcome of the spotted lanternfly infestation.
Understanding Honeydew and Spotted Lanternflies
The Spotted Lanternfly is an insect native to China that first appeared in the United States in Pennsylvania in 2014. In New York, the spotted lanternfly was first found in Staten Island during the summer of 2020; they have since spread throughout New York State. Spotted Lanternflies have no native predators and are a dangerous invasive species.
Spotted Lanternflies are not dangerous to humans – they don’t sting or bite or cause health problems. But as sap-suckers with no predators, they cause major damage to the plants they feed on.
The tree-of-heaven seems to be a preferred feeding source for lanternflies, but spotted lanternflies feed on more than 100 plant species. If you’ve seen instructions to “step on them, sit on them, kill them, anyway you can” there is good reason. They feed on crops that are critical to New York’s agricultural economy, such as grapevines, apple trees, and hops.
What in the world is honeydew?
I confess to thinking that the word ‘honeydew’ referred to one thing only, a round green fruit, similar to a cantaloupe. Although a honeydew is a real fruit, there is an alternative and primary definition for the word ‘honeydew.’ It’s important to know the difference! Let’s peek at the dictionary.
hon·ey·dew /ˈhənēˌdo͞o/ noun 1. a sweet, sticky substance excreted by aphids and often deposited on leaves and stems. 2. a melon of a variety with smooth pale skin and sweet green flesh.
Honeydew is a sugary, sticky, liquid by-product of digestion that attracts ants, yellow-jackets and sometimes, even honey bees. It’s not a 100% accurate definition, because aphids aren’t the only insect to make honeydew. The spotted lanternfly (and several other insects) also make honeydew.
Without even knowing it, you may already be familiar with honeydew. Have you ever suffered from a sticky windshield after parking your car under certain trees? It’s not sap…it’s honeydew! And sapsuckers usually feed in groups, so there can be a lot of it. You might have noticed honeydew droppings on plant leaves as well, but just didn’t have a name for it.
Honey 101: The Basics on Honey’s Color and Flavor
Honeybees make honey by collecting nectar from flowers. They bring the nectar back to the hive, where they mix it with some enzymes and cure it. Beeswax caps indicate that the honey is ready – the bees have reduced the water content to 16-18% from the original 50-80% water content of nectar before they put a cap on it.
Depending on the flowers available to the honeybees, you’ll see variations in the color of the honey (from nearly colorless to dark brown), and you’ll definitely taste a difference too. Most honey is considered “wildflower honey” because the bees’ nectar sources are so diverse.
Specialty honeys, like Linden Tree Honey or Lavender Honey, are harvested at specific times of the year from hives that are located near a significant source of those nectars.
Manuka Honey from New Zealand is perhaps the most famous of specialty honeys. Less well know is Honeydew Honey, also called forest honey.
Unveiling the Health Benefits of Honey
A review of the research on honey and health shows that there are many promising organic components that make up honey. These components have been shown to exert varying levels of antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative, anticancer, and antimetastatic effects. It’s more than a sweet treat!
Beeswax has also been studied to have many of the same properties of honey. Both honey and beeswax are used in many skin care products, with beeswax based foot balms and lip balms ranking high in customer satisfaction.
Manuka honey is a specific honey that has been well studied. It is produced by bees that pollinate a specific flower (L. scoparium, commonly known as the Manuka bush) in a specific region of the world. Most Manuka honey comes from New Zealand and is extracted in January, or early February. The honey contains an active component called methylglyoxal (MGO) which scientists have connected with its extra powerful antibacterial power. Not all honeys have methylglyoxal.
The research on Manuka honey’s potent activity led to the development of medical-grade honey, which is now being used within clinical settings. The main uses for medical-grade honey are as a topical ointment and honey-laced dressings in the treatment of surface wounds and burns.
There is a lot of research out there on the health benefits of honey. Bee careful what you read though. The problem with honey research is that there are no standardized methods for producing honey or verifying its quality. Variations in the chemical makeup of honey can be significant.
Honeybees typically don’t typically forage for honeydew. But there is a time for everything. When food is scarce, honeydew can attract the bees and offer them an easy source of nourishment for the hive.
Bees can substitute honeydew for floral nectars when there is a drought or agricultural dearth. Long Island started the 2023 growing season with ‘abnormally dry conditions’ (March 2023) and Nassau County was in ‘moderate drought’ in August of 2023, as reported by the United States Drought Monitor. This season was prime for honeydew honey!
Since most of our honey is harvested in July, we didn’t notice anything different until the first week in September, when we took off a late season harvest from some hives at Clark Botanic Garden.
Honey made from spotted lanternfly honeydew has a distinct smokey odor. The color is dark brown and it is not as sweet as other kinds of honey. Similar to buckwheat honey, taste tests results vary and some say honeydew honey has a lingering aftertaste.
For labeling purposes, honey undergoes electrical conductivity tests. The concentration of mineral salts, proteins and organic acids in honey varieties are related to the source of the nectars. Honeydew honey must meet the conductivity minimum of 0.8 milliSiemens/cm to be labelled as such.
Exploring the Research on Honeydew Honey
Lanternfly honeydew honey is currently in the news, but honeydew honey is nothing new. Honeydew honey is another specific type of honey that is being studied for potential therapeutic uses; it’s unique flavor is appreciated by many as well.
The research on honeydew honey is not as comprehensive as that of Manuka honey, but it is pretty exciting. It seems to have high antibacterial potential, but scientists have not yet uncovered the specific components of honeydew honey that make it so powerful. It doesn’t have methylglyoxal like Manuka honey.
A 2018 study published in Scientific Reports concluded that several active honey components in honeydew honey were equivalent to medical-grade manuka honey!
Honeydew honey is also called forest honey because there are certain tree species (examples include fir, pine, oak, willow, and plum trees) that are favored by the honeydew producing insects. (Remember, spotted lanternflies are only one of several insects that produce honeydew as a byproduct.)
Commercial beekeepers are known to move beehives to areas where there is a dense population of these trees to take advantage of the honeydew production. Honeydew honey is not as expensive as Manuka honey, but if more research proves that there are superior health benefits to honeydew honey, who knows what will happen in the future!
Conclusion: Should We Embrace The Unexpected Benefits of Spotted Lanternfly Infestation?
There’s a bright side to every story and the attention to the unique nutritional profile and therapeutic effects of all honey varieties is a good thing. that don’t cause a ton of side effects. The potential of honeydew honey to be an alternative, more available medical grade honey than Manuka honey is very exciting. Just remember, the invasive spotted lanternfly is not the only producer of honeydew.
Nolan VC, Harrison J, Wright JEE, Cox JAG. Clinical Significance of Manuka and Medical-Grade Honey for Antibiotic-Resistant Infections: A Systematic Review. Antibiotics (Basel). 2020 Oct 31;9(11):766. doi: 10.3390/antibiotics9110766. PMID: 33142845; PMCID: PMC7693943.
Bucekova, M., Buriova, M., Pekarik, L. et al. Phytochemicals-mediated production of hydrogen peroxide is crucial for high antibacterial activity of honeydew honey. Sci Rep 8, 9061 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-27449-3
Siluana Katia Tischer Seraglio, Bibiana Silva, Greici Bergamo, Patricia Brugnerotto, Luciano Valdemiro Gonzaga, Roseane Fett, Ana Carolina Oliveira Costa, An overview of physicochemical characteristics and health-promoting properties of honeydew honey,
Food Research International, Volume 119, 2019, Pages 44-66, ISSN 0963-9969, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2019.01.028.