The USF Botanical Gardens dripped with sweet honey at its first annual Honey Tasting Event on Saturday, as attendants gathered to sample nearly 50 varieties from around the world.
Yet honey and bees have spread across the Tampa Bay area as well, from the garden’s beekeeping workshop series to their use in local food and beverages.
Ali Yazback, a sophomore majoring in biomedical sciences, said he usually spends his time at the garden tending to cacti, but worked Saturday’s event by spooning out samples to hungry patrons.
“It’s usually only the regulars to the Botanical Gardens who come,” Yazback said. “Since this is the first one, I thought we would have a low turnout. It’s surprising.”
Maya Codina, a senior majoring in psychology, said she could not pick just one honey as her favorite.
“I really liked one from France – the Miel de Lavande,” Codina said. “It is lavender-flavored and delicious. The thistle and the blackberry were really good on the American table.”
At the cost of $7.50, Codina said she had to get a jar of Botanical Gardens Honey because “it tastes great, it’s affordable and it’s made right here.” She said she saw her purchase as “a cool way to support the school and the industries around here.”
The growth in popularity of honey around USF’s campus has been due partly to the garden’s beekeeping series hosted once a month by master beekeeper Gary VanCleef.
Kim Hutton, the garden’s special events coordinator, said that many of the 40-60 workshop attendants “started to come just to get over their bee phobia.”
“As they learned more from our beekeeper Gary, they became engrossed and passionate … it has just grown and grown,” Hutton said.
The gardens’ next beekeeping workshop will take place on Oct. 16 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and will cover “queens and requeening,” according to USF’s event calendar. Those interested can register for $10 and learn more by calling 813-910-3274.
Hutton said a “party for the bees,” like Saturday’s event, celebrates the organic food that local bees can produce.
“Pollination is important (and) globally responsible for so much of the food we eat,” Hutton said. “As far as the honey, it is just so healthy for you.”
Hutton said eating local honey has its benefits and, since bees are collecting pollen from the source of allergies, eating their honey helps to alleviate reactions.
Allergy relief is only one of honey’s touted medicinal properties. As an ingredient within cough drop products, honey is also a well-known treatment for an itchy sore throat.
According to the National Honey Board, honey contains carbohydrates that can be an athletic aid pre- and post-workout by maintaining blood sugar levels, promoting muscle recuperation and contributing to glycogen restoration.
Linda Taylor, owner of the Clearwater organic clothing line “It’s Our Nature,” was on hand at the tasting to promote her environmentally friendly products. She said the movement to go green is having an impact on the popularity of honey within our society. “People are striving for wellness, they are striving to be closer to the Earth, and they realize that an awareness of bees and what bees produce … it’s just something that is more real, more of what we used to do,” Taylor said. “It’s getting back to that kind of a connection to the earth and a connection to ourselves.”
Patrons at Saturday’s event were able to treat their taste buds to organic honey-infused fare like the Hoodoo Voodoo Chicken with Tofu or Moroccan Beef with Honey Spiced Couscous.
W. Fisher Bee Farm has one of its two locations in nearby Dade City – with more than 10,000 bee hives altogether – and wholesales its bulk honey in drums and 5-gallon buckets. The farm produces honeys ranging from orange blossom to fall wildflower, and begins seasonal use this month.
Even Floridian alcoholic beverages like Orange Blossom Pilsner, a local craft beer brewed in Orlando, boast honey as an ingredient. On the label, the beer is described as having “a subtle honey nuance … perfect for the tropical Florida lifestyle” and uses 30 percent orange blossom honey.
The next scheduled event at the USF Botanical Gardens is the Fall Plant Festival, which runs Oct. 9 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Oct. 10 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The event includes more than 60 plant clubs, societies and growers and admission costs $5. For more information, visit cas.usf.edu/garden/.