When we think of honey and bees, it is usually in association with flowers but in Muğla Province, delicious honey is produced from a symbiotic relationship between honeybees, a tiny aphid and the red pine tree.

When we think of honey and bees, it is usually in association with flowers but in Muğla Province, delicious honey is produced from a symbiotic relationship between honeybees, a tiny aphid and the red pine tree.

Ziya Şahin, Chairman of The Union of Muğla Beekeepers’, is surrounded by pictures of bees, information about bees, indeed everything anyone ever needed to know about honey and it’s by products; everything connected with the fascinating world of the Apiarist.

His office, in the capital of the South Western Turkish province, is the centre of operations and it is immediately obvious that this man is both knowledgeable and passionate about his work.

He explains the production and unique qualities of pine honey.

“We have a European market hungry for all the pine honey we can sell to them.

Here in Muğla we produce 92% of available pine honey against the 8% from Greece. It is very important for us.”

But, you may ask, what is so special about this honey?

The red pine or Pinus Brutia, is indigenous to the Eastern Mediterranean.

Its bark is a dark rusty colour and it is happy to grow on the rockiest mountainside and contend with the salty winds from the sea or the misty summits of the mountainous areas; in fact anything that Mother Nature can hurl at it.

The trees host the benign Marchalina_hellenica that does not harm the tree but fortuitously excretes excess starch, a substance that makes the bark sticky.

{mosimage}Called ‘honeydew’ or ‘Basra’ in Turkish, it is this that the bees collect during the summer months.

The production of pine honey is crucial to Muğla’s economy; in 2008 hosting the First International Muğla Beekeeping and Pine Honey Congress.

Ziya Şahin and academic Dr. Ali İhsan Özturk gave a paper, explaining the importance of beekeeping in the province.

“Out of 398 villages…294 of them employ beekeeping as their main source of income and livelihood….”

Muğla accounts for more than 75% of Turkey’s pine honey production.

It is therefore very discouraging to see some of the most productive areas being threatened by incompatible industries.

Some 42 licenses, issued by the government in Ankara, for mining and possible mineral extraction in the Marmaris area, put pine honey production at risk, from loss of trees (plus the resident ‘Basra’ producing aphid,) and the dust fatally damaging the bee population.

This danger has been taken so seriously that there is now legal action pending and the Forest Ministry has clearly stated that it will oppose the felling of trees containing the aphid.

Unfortunately, it is not just government departments that risk damaging honey production, the parasitic Varroa mite has taken its toll on the bee population worldwide and many pine trees are dying from infestation by the Pine Processionary Caterpillar Thaumetopoea Pityocampa (which is also has very itchy and unpleasant consequences for unwary humans and animals should they come into contact with them.)

The white ‘cotton wool’ nests can be seen of the south sides of unhealthy looking pines.

The residents are sucking the life out of the trees and are very difficult to destroy.

But despite these unwelcome and potentially fatal predators the Muğla bees and their keepers press on so that we can enjoy the fruits of their labours.

“This honey smells and tastes of pine resin, does not crystalise and it is said to have medicinal qualities: it is wonderful for easing sore throats and as a mild antiseptic dressing for wounds.

Propolis and pollen are known as having natural antibiotic properties.”

Ziya Şahin looks so healthy, this must be the case…even his name seems to buzz!

His wish is that all beekeepers join the Muğla union, as obviously there is safety and strength in numbers and the economic importance of this miraculous synthesis between aphid, tree, bee and man must be encouraged and protected at all costs.

His ambition to build a pine honey museum remains a dream but meanwhile those of us fortunate enough to have discovered the pleasures of the special honey as a delicious and versatile food, a health aid and as a natural beauty treatment must support the beekeepers of Muğla.

For more information on Pine Honey and related products: www.maybir.org.tr