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A Taste of the Lowlands

Lunenburg Heath Honey

By Reinhard F. Hahn, Seattle, USA, ©July, 2007

Aside from blooming heather, honey is one of the first things North Germans tend to associate with the Lunenburg Heath (Low Saxon Lüünborger Heid’ or Lüünborger Heiloh, German Lüneburger Heide). Heidehonig (Low Saxon Hei(d’)honnig) — meaning “heath honey” or “heather honey ) — is for many an almost magical word, because this type of honey is reputed to be of particularly high quality.

Traditional-style beehives at the Heath town
of Schneverdingen (Low Saxon Snevern)
(Courtesy Nikanos and Wikimedia Commons)

It’s really a matter of taste and preference. Heath honey has a fairly strong and distinctly herbal flavor. Its water content tends to be higher than that of other types of honey. Its color tends to be reddish brown or dark amber. Particularly high protein content makes its consistency almost jelly-like. There are regional differences, depending on soil conditions and on predominance of derivation from either true heather (Calluna vulgaris) or cross-leaved heather (Erica tetralix). Lower-lying areas tend to have more true heather, higher-lying ones more cross-leaved heather or a mixture of both. True heather tends to start blooming somewhat earlier than cross-leaved heather, and both of them tend to bloom simultaneously starting with the middle of July. So timing is another factor.
In various Indo-European languages, names for “honey” and for “mead” (an ancient type of honey wine) tend to be related, such as miel for “honey” in French and Spanish, mel in Latin and Portuguese, miele in Italian, мёд (myod) in Russian, miód in Polish, medus in Lithuanian, μέλι (méli) in Greek, mjalti in Albanian, mil in Scottish Gaelic, mêl in Welsh, and madhu in Sanskrit and other Indo-Aryan languages. Many other languages adopted such words by way of contact, such as Hungarian méz, Indonesian madhu and Javanese madu. The extinct Indo-European Tocharian language of Eastern Turkestan (now under Chinese rule) has mit for “honey,” and this may well be the origin of the Chinese word (Middle Chinese *myit) for the same thing. Related words became the names for the honey drinks in Germanic languages, only Gothic retaining milip for “honey.” The word “honey” and its Germanic relatives are by some believed to refer to the golden color of the substance (IE *kĕnko’;yellowish brown’).

If you are particular about all this just ask when and where the honey for sale was produced and if it is derived mostly from true heather (German Heidekraut or Besenheide, Low Saxon Hei(d’)kruud or brune Heid’) or cross-leaved heather (German Glockenheide or Erika, Low Saxon Klockenheid’, Heidbloom or Doppheid). Well, some vendors may actually know the answers, especially those that are beekeepers themselves or are in contact with the producers.

A bit of romanticism may come into this heath honey thing as well, for North Germans love their Heath and associate with it unspoiled nature, clean air and a relaxed, old-time lifestyle. They love visiting the Heath’s nature reserve park, especially when the heather is in bloom. Then they will park their cars or arrive in tour buses, go hiking or take horse-and-buggy sightseeing rides. (For many people, especially seniors, in and around Hamburg it is a seasonal must up there with viewing apple blossoms in Olland, much like viewing cherry blossoms, fall foliage and chrysanthemums are a must for people in Japan.) At the periphery of the park or anywhere in the inhabited regions of the Heath the sightseers will go in search of souvenirs. Decorative heather wreaths, buckwheat torte and heath honey spring to mind first. They are offered for sale everywhere.

True heather (Calluna vulgaris, left) and cross-leaved heather
(Erica tetralix, right)
(Courtesy :Bdk: and Christian Fischer at Wikimedia Commons)

If honey is your thing and you tour the Heath, just look for the German word “Heidehonig” on signs at shops, restaurants, apiaries and anywhere else along the way. Many heath farmers keep bees and sell their honey as a sideline. Yes, you can buy heath honey elsewhere too. But taking it home directly from the Heath, perhaps as a gift, is much more fun and is probably more meaningful to most, especially if it is freshly produced small-production honey. It feels more like “the real thing.” Well, and it is, isn’t it?

If you are keen on trying heath honey but live outside Europe and can’t visit the Heath yourself, also don’t know anyone that could bring you some back from a trip, you could visit your nearest German or European (“Continental”) delicatessen shop or look online for a business that will ship the honey to you.

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