By Lindsay Suto

Inland NW Food NetworkThe mead moon appears around the time of the summer solstice, when the earth is fertile and the farmers’ hard work and long hours are rewarded with an abundance of crops. It seems appropriate that mead, a drink made from honey, would symbolize this time of year since bees are known for their busyness.

Although honey contains fructose and glucose like any other sweetener, it also contains amino acids, vitamins and antioxidants, making it a healthier alternative to the refined sugars commonly used today. Honey is also used as an antimicrobial and a natural form of medicine, treating digestive issues, allergies, skin problems and other ailments.

Honey is the oldest sweetener in the world, dating back to the earliest hunter-gatherer days.The importance of honey in history is seen in numerous references to honey bees and honey in literature, art, and religious texts. Bees are associated with industriousness, and honey was seen as a symbol of prosperity and even used as a currency in some cultures. Honey is one of the few foods that has an indefinite shelf life, and crystallized (but still edible) honey was once found in an Egyptian tomb alongside furniture and other preserved artifacts.

Mead is believed to be the oldest alcoholic beverage in history, served wherever bees and honey were found. There are many rituals and myths surrounding mead—including the tradition of drinking mead under the mead moon to promote healing, fertility, and prosperity throughout the year. This may be why newlywed couples were instructed to enjoy mead during their wedding ceremony and until the next moon, a tradition that came to be known as the honeymoon.

Although the only ingredients needed to make mead are honey, water, and yeast, each culture had their own style of mead, made with regional honey and crafted with the addition of fruits, spices, and even medicinal herbs. The resurgence of this craft beverage may be due to this versatility which appeals to beverage artisans.

One of the reasons mead makers can craft distinct flavors with their brews is because honey flavor can vary depending on the type of flowers the bees have been pollinating and collecting nectar from. Buying local, raw honey not only allows you greater selection of flavor profile, but also ensures you are getting the unadulterated honey that provides all of the health benefits mentioned above.

Unfortunately the shift to commercial farming makes it difficult for bees to pollinate as they once did. Additionally, commercial honey producers tend to over harvest the honey, not leaving an appropriate amount for the bees to survive the winter, instead supplementing with high fructose corn syrup which hurts the natural bee population. Fortunately there are many local, sustainable beekeepers who sell pure, raw honey. Much like raising chickens, beekeeping is even becoming a hobby for backyard enthusiasts!

This is the perfect time to take advantage of the health benefits of local honey, as production ramps up in spring when the flowers are in bloom, and harvest starts in late July.

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