Purple Honey in the Sandhills of North Carolina

The illustrious Purple Honey has made a show-stopping appearance in our hives.

We could not have been more shocked to find it there upon a small impromptu harvest yesterday and are still reeling from our discovery. Although Central North Carolina is the best known region for this rare occurrence, we had previously spoken to beekeepers that had been in the area over 30 years and had never seen purple honey in their hives; so we never really expected to find it in ours.

Interestingly, of the two side-by-side hives in our apiary, we only pulled purple honey from one of them. We had always assumed that the bees from both hives were likely foraging in the same areas. As only one hive produced purple honey, this is apparently not the case. Even more interestingly, it is not clear where this purple honey comes from.

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There are three prominent theories, but it is still scientifically unknown. Let that just sink in for a moment. In 2014 we do not know how this rare but well-known occurrence happens. That is completely and utterly amazing.

One theory is that the bees eat the fruit of blueberries, blackberries or elderberries, causing the purple color. To be clear, we both believe this to be the least likely cause of purple honey. First, bees occasionally, but very rarely consume the juice of fruit. It would be unlike that enough of them would do so to deeply tint several frames of honey. Secondly, those types of berries are few and far between in our hives’ foraging range and have wrapped up peek production well before the colored honey is found in the frame. Additionally, honey is produce from nectar. Although fruit juice is a similarly sugar-rich substance, it is not a direct substitute. Nectar is thicker than fruit juice, more similar to the viscosity of honey, whereas fruit juice is more similar to the viscosity of water. We also already know that the color of honey changes dependent on the source of nectar. For example, Orange Blossom Honey is very light and golden, where as Avocado Blossom Honey is dark with a greenish-brown hew. And finally, these berries are found throughout every zone in the US and most of the rest of the world. It would not make sense then that Purple Honey is predominantly found in only one region of North Carolina; albeit only rarely at that.

Another theory is that it comes from the nectar of a specific plant that grows in the forested areas of Central North Carolina. The argument is that it is a plant less-favored by bees and only foraged on dry years or when food is less plentiful. To that point, it has not been an unusually dry year in our region. I have heard mixed information as to what plant that may be, but Kudzu seems to be the most predominantly sited in the beekeeping community. This is certainly a possibility as Kudzu grows rampant throughout the Southern States, but I feel inclined to draw attention again to the wide growth range of Kudzu throughout the South, and the relatively small region that purple honey is found in.

The final theory behind purple honey revolves around varying mineral content of the soil that nourish bee-frequented crops. The Sandhills of Central North Carolina are a grower’s nightmare, full of hard-packed, acidic clay and sand. Could that be it? I really don’t know. And neither do the experts. The result of North Carolina State University’s professor, John Ambrose’s study concluded that nothing was as it seemed. “It’s one of those things that people want to believe their eyes,” Ambrose says. “The best explanation is usually the simplest, but in this case, it’s not.”

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So although we can not explain our stunningly deep purple honey, we can tell you we’re lucky enough to have it for this fleeting moment. We can also tell you it’s delicious.

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46 thoughts on “Purple Honey in the Sandhills of North Carolina

    • You think so, Christopher? It is absolutely possible and there are many bee keepers that adamantly agree with you. I have a hard time wrapping my head around it being Kudzu for the simple fact that Kudzu is an invasive species, running rampant throughout the South. If Kudzu was the cause, wouldn’t we see a lot more purple honey from a much greater area?

  1. Could you please contact me about the blue/purple honey? I am willing to pay a gawd-awful sum of money for a little sample jar of the stuff for a teaching tool, but I need it before October 1st. Do not intend to eat it, but needs to come in a clear container.

      • I too am looking for blue/purple honey for outreach programs. Do you have any this year? I tried contacting Hoke Beekeepers and the Ag office. Thanks!

      • Hello Kelly! Sadly we did not get any purple honey this season and are sold out of last season’s. Due to the nature and rarity of purple honey we are unsure when or if we will see purple honey again. You’re welcome to keep checking in with us here or on our Facebook for updates!

  2. Is there any way I could buy any and have it mailed to Ohio before Christmas. My son-in-law would flip. He just heard about purple honey and is a honey freak. I would love to get him some for Christmas. Thank You Tammy

  3. Hi my name jayce I want but purple and blue honey I always to try some I think I can sell and send in georgia atlanta

    • Great question, Molly! We have also pondered this possibility. Ultimately, I believe it is very unlikely to be caused by pollution. Occurrences of Purple Honey have been documented for over one hundred years and are limited to this very small region of North Carolina. There is no pollutant that is isolated to our area and has been here for that long. Also, the appearance of Purple Honey in hives is sporadic. It doesn’t happen every year, and when it does occur, it doesn’t happen in every hive. Moreover, within a hive that has acquired this confounding honey, only a small percent of the hive is purple, while the majority of it is regular honey. For example, in our hive, approximately six out of twenty-four frames were purple. With pollution being such a wide spread issue, I tend to believe we would see a significantly higher rate of occurrence if it were responsible for Purple Honey.

      That being said, environmental pollution is a huge (and still GROWING) problem, and I don’t want to diminish the detrimental impact it has on our local and global ecosystems, as well as on bee populations. I’m glad you brought it up!

  4. has anyone done a microscopic examination to identify the pollen in the honey, this is how we got our THICK brownish maroon honey identified, its was from sumac, extremely tasty, thanks.

    • Interesting – sumac! Where are you located? Where did you send your honey to for study? We contacted the head of entomologist at NC State, who had previously conducted studies on the North Carolina purple honey phenomenon, and they were not interested in doing any further studies on it at this time.

    • Thank you for your interest, Joseph. Sadly we do not have any purple honey currently available. Due to the nature and rarity of purple honey we are unsure when or if we will see purple honey again. You’re welcome to keep checking in with us here on our FAQ page or on our Facebook for updates!

  5. Hi, I myself also would be interested in purchasing for myself and its remides in Herbal Health but for so many others for X-Mas gifts 2015 if not then next year???

    • Hello, Madonna. Sadly we do not have any purple honey currently available. Due to the nature and rarity of purple honey we are unsure when or if we will see purple honey again. You’re welcome to keep checking in with us here on our FAQ page or on our Facebook for updates!

    • That is a great question. They likely have the same nutritional value. The only minor difference *may* be a slightly increased presence of antioxidants, just as purple vegetables are associated with higher levels of antioxidants due to the presence of anthocyanins – the phytochemicals responsible for purple, blue and red pigments in highly pigmented vegetables. However, this has not been studied to my knowledge.

  6. I’m also looking for blue honey. I’ve been looking for it for years, asking everybody, all my friends who go down South could never find it. I think I’m crazy. If you know where I could get some could you please email and let me know? Thank you!

    • Carmen,

      Unfortunately we haven’t had any significant blue (purple) honey since the 2014 harvest. We’ve had sporadic sections of honey comb filled with it, but not entire frames which is ideal for harvesting. We have spoken with many local beekeepers that get it from time to time, unfortunately they dont seem to think it’s special enough to harvest separately. It’s a shame. We will keep you in mind if it ever reappears in our hives.

  7. A friend of mine in Dawsonville, GA had purple honey in 2 of his hives this year. Best tasting honey I’ve ever had!

  8. We just harvested today and found it in three of four hives side by side. We got 5 gal. And it does taste very good! We are n northern Granville county . Oxford nc

  9. We just harvested last night and got 5 gallons ourselves! These two medium supers were pulled from two different colonies. We live about 5 minutes from RDU airport on the Durham/Wake county line. There is zero Kudzu in out area but a lot of wild blackberry’s. We are in absolute shock!!!

    • Congratulations, Robert!! That is so exciting. I don’t know if I have head of someone getting purple honey quite so far north from us, but it is definitely a season for purple! We have not harvested yet, but know there’s purple lurking in at least two of our hives too. ENJOY!

      • Thank you very much. BTW the guy above me posted that he had purple honey as well, he lives in Oxford and that is North of me.

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