Sourwood Honey

Sourwood Tree

Sourwood Honey comes from the Sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboreum) a member of the Ericaceae family, also called the Sour gum, Sorrel tree or Lily-of-the-Valley tree. This showy, USA native tree is the lone species of its genera. Growing in the upland forests of the southeastern United States, it is most abundant in the Alleghenies and the Blue Ridge mountains. As a source of nectar it is chiefly valuable in the mountainous regions of North and South Carolina and Tennessee. In summer the sourwood tree has long, drooping clusters of sweet smelling white, bell-shaped flowers, called “angel fingers” in the Appalachians, and the origin of the name Lily-of-the-Valley tree. The name sourwood comes from the sour (or sharp acidic) odor and flavor of the leaves (from oxalic acid). The name oxydendrum is Greek for “oxy” meaning sharp or acid and “dendrum” for tree. The fall brings bright scarlet crimson and orange leaves.

Sourwood Blossoms

Sourwood trees bloom from mid June to late July. In North Carolina, the blossoming time is around 25 days. Under favorable conditions the nectar is so abundant, it can be shaken from the blooms in small drops. Careful beekeeping is required to avoid diluting the sourwood honey with other nectars growing before (Tulip poplar, Sumac) and after the sourwood blossoms. All sourwood honey contains some other nectars and this may affect the color but as long as the percentage is low, will not affect the flavor of this honey.

Sourwood Honey

Sourwood honey is prized by connoisseurs and  honey purists worldwide. It has won best honey in the world twice at the presitigious Apimondia World Honey Show. Sourwood honey is extra-light to light amber in color and crystallizes slowly. It is extremely aromatic, with a distinctive honey flavor of anise and spice. It also has a sweet aroma of anise. It has a persistent sweet and pleasant astringent aftertaste.

Often in short supply—a recent exception was 2010, a great year for Sourwood honey—nectar flow is inconsistent from year to year. It has a short blooming season and shortage of rain and lower-than-normal temperatures can affect nectar supplies and bees. Lack of habitat due to development is also affecting the amount of sourwood honey. Some help may be coming with a reclamation project in partnership with the coal mining industry of Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia focused on replanting bee plants like sourwood on thousands of surfaced-minded acres. The ideas is to develop the reclaimed land for ‘higher’ uses and beekeeping may be the answer. See Notes from Academe: In Appalachia, a Researcher Makes Honey From Coal

State Honey Standard:
Like many states there has been some question of the veracity of the ‘purity’ of their honey, more so through distribution than directly from the bee farm. It has been said that more Sourwood honey has been sold than produced in North Carolina. So like a growing number of states such as Florida, California and Wisconsin, North Carolina has moved one step closer to incorporating the proposed honey standard into its rules and procedures that govern food safety. The goal is to enforce labeling laws that protect the consumer. The standard prohibits any additives or adulteration if it is to be sold as honey. The country of origin must be identified. And if the honey is marketed from a specific floral source, such as Sourwood, the honey must contain at least 51 percent nectar from that source. The first step has been taken to protect stop falsely label honey being sold at specific farmer’s markets statewide. New NC state guidelines require approved honey sellers keep records showing when and where the honey was produced and packaged, the name of the person or business that supplied the honey, and the date of receipt.

Recipe: Sourwood Honey Muffins Video By Great Smoky Mountains National Forest. Includes an interesting short segment on Sourwood Honey (

Use honey anywhere you use sugar, but use 3/4 of a cup of honey for 1 cup of sugar since it is sweeter than sugar. Serving suggestions for sourwood honey; honey barbecue sauce (sourwood honey is often the secret ingredient), hot cornbread smothered with sourwood honey and a little butter, honey cupcakes, honey muffins, honey-covered pancakes or waffles, and honey banana-nut bread.

In the Appalachians, a drink for hot summer haymaking days was called “switchell.” It was made by mixing a half cup of honey and a half cup of cider vinegar. This was kept in a jar and four teaspoons of the mixture were added to a dipper of water for a refreshing drink.

Recognition: Ark of Taste Sourwood honey. The Ark is an international catalog of foods that are threatened by industrial standardization, the regulations of large-scale distribution and environmental damage. In an effort to cultivate consumer demand—key to agricultural conservation—only the best tasting endangered foods make it onto the Ark.

Festivals:Black Mountain, North Carolina Sourwood Festival: Early August: Almost 200 vendors of arts, crafts, specialty items, food, and more. Music and dancing in the big tent. No admission. Festival Website

Honey Origin:In the Piedmont uplands in NC and in the higher elevations of North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and North Georgia.

Translations:French: Miel sourwood, Italian: Miele sourwood, Spanish: Miel sourwood, German: Sourwood Honig, Russian: Сорвуд меда

Image Credit:
AttributionShare AlikeSome rights reserved:Sourwood blossom image by Ryan Somma, Sourwood Tree image by beeJim828

North Carolina Beekeepers
Apimondia International Beekeepers Association

21 comments to Sourwood Honey

  • Lee Ward

    I am looking for Sourwood Honey. My uncle has been eating this honey since he was a small boy. He turned 80 in August. Last year I got him a case and a half from a local beekeeper, however, he does not have any this year. I live in Greensboro and my Uncle lives in Asheboro. I’m willing to travel or have it shipped. Any ideas?

  • HT

    Hi Lee:

    Oh yes! I have purchased from Blue Ridge Honey Company and was delighted with the both the Sourwood and the Gallberry honey.


  • Jan

    Really great Sourwood honey from Charlotte Anderson in Pickens SC

    (After visiting the site, I didn’t see an explicit reference to sourwood honey, so I contacted Charlotte. She responded promptly and explained that they do offer Sourwood honey. It is harvested through early Summer but you must contact her and confirm there is any left. … Scott)

  • How can I keep honey from turning to sugar? and can I still use it if it does turn to sugar?

  • HT

    You are referring to crystallization which is naturally occurring in most honeys. Some people prefer this in certain types of honey since it is easier to spread without mess. The honey is perfectly safe to eat in this state. However sometimes it can get quite hard and difficult to spread. In this case, simply put the whole honey jar in a medium sized pot or pan of hot water with the top of the jar open. The water should be hot, but not so hot you can’t put your finger in it for 10 seconds or so (100 – 110 degrees F) . Let it sit for 30 to 60 minutes and it will return to its original liquid state and stay that way for quite a while without rewarming.

  • Just want you to know that our Sourwood Honey won Best Tasting Honey in the USA last fall in Asheville, NC. This annual national honey tasting contest was sponsored by the Center of Honey Bee Research. Sourwood Honey is a true jewel of the Appalachians and we need to spread the word about this wonderful honey.
    We are full time commercial beekeepers who use no chemicals or treatments within our beehives to treat bees for disease or mites. Our goal is to provide the best quality honey available here in NE Georgia.
    Would love for you to try our honey.
    Virginia Webb

  • Just want you to know that our Sourwood Honey won Best Tasting Honey in the USA last fall in Asheville, NC. This annual national honey tasting contest was sponsored by the Center of Honey Bee Research. Sourwood Honey is a true jewel of the Appalachians and we need to spread the word about this wonderful honey. We are full time commercial beekeepers in NE Georgia and we use no chemicals in our hives to treat for disease or mites. Would love for you to try some of our own Sourwood Honey.
    Thanks, and Have a Honey of a Day!
    Virginia Webb

  • Hi Virginia:

    I have been watching the success of Appalachian Sourwood honey in international competitions and am happy your honey has also been recognized! I love Sourwood honey and will happily recommend it to any and all!


  • Ken

    I have purchased sourwood honey from Virginia at several is ALWAYS top notch! I especially love that it’s from an area close to my mom’s home in Suches, Georgia…in the heart of the Chatahoochee National Forest in God’s Country, North Georgia! (Just up the road from Dahlonega!) That’s where I first learned about this nectar from God, back in my high school days..and I’ve been hooked ever since and I’m 56 nowadays! If I don’t have sourwood..I figure I’m outta honey!

  • Hi Ken:

    Thanks for the recommendation! Others will appreciate it. Sourwood honey is considered among the best in the world by many in the honey industry. I like to always have a jar on hand myself.


  • Johnny

    Is sourwood honey ever available at stores such as Harris Teeter, or do you have to buy it directly from the producers?


  • Hi Johnny:

    There are some honey companies such as Bee Raw honey that distribute nationwide. If you check their website ( or contact them, you might find a store near you that carries it. If you don’t find it, then simply order via phone or internet. there are several good companies. I have personally ordered from Blue Ridge Honey and been quite happy with the service and product.

  • Fred

    Just purchased some sourwood honey… It is incredible! The supplier said it is only produced every four years? Maybe just from his source I am thinking?

  • Hi Fred:

    It is good isn’t it! Production of Sourwood honey largely depends upon the weather. I think your supplier was talking about average production. And weather conditions, and therefore production does vary across the state, and generally affect all. What I have seen is that sometimes Sourwood honey production for a year is severely diminished, and make it hard to find, but I have never heard of no Sourwood honey being produced at all. Does anyone care to elucidate?


  • marcia moen

    I just bought a sourwood tree and also 50 sourwood seeds. Am a new beek with two top bar hives. Will sourwood grow in the Columbia Gorge, state of washington at 500 feet elevation.

  • Availability of true Sourwood Honey is indeed an ebb and flow harvest. In 2012, I made about 600 pounds. In 2013, I made 2 pounds. I am not in a prime sourwood location so my harvest is always small but I do get some in good years. Who know what 2014 will bring, the trees are in bloom now.

  • Dennis Wicker

    Been working on fence this morning, and looking at different sourwood trees, some have blossoms, some don’t, do all sourwoods bloom or are there male and female trees like the Persimmion tree, or are some just late bloomers.

  • Melody

    I’m looking to buy Sourwood Honey in the New York City area in order to avoid the shipping charges I would incur if I were to purchase online. Does anyone know of a place in New York City that sells Sourwood Honey? Thanks

  • Hi Melody:

    I saw it for sale in NYC just a couple of weeks ago. I believe I saw it being sold at the Amish Market (53 Park Pl New York, NY (212) 608-3863). Try giving them a call and check.


  • .

    sourwood & “sour gum” are not the same tree. “sour gum” refers to Nyssa sylvatica (“tupelo tree”)

  • Hi Agua9:

    Thanks for the clarification! Sour gum is a local name for both Nyssa sylvatica (Tupelo) and Oxydendrum arboreum (Sourwood).

    This is an ongoing challenge for all classification efforts. That is why the latin or scientific name is always best for describing a plant (or any living creature) in an unambiguous fashion. Imagine the confusion when trying to identify something described in another language!


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