Today I am finishing the last bit of the honey I hand-carried home from my most recent trip to Trentino. Sun yellow in color, it is made from the nectar of mountain flowers. Its label tells its origin—di montagna, of the mountains, and its type — mille fiore, often translated as “wildflowers.” Literally, however, it means “a thousand flowers.”
The valley where my maternal grandmother was born, Val di Sole, is renowned for its honey. In Croviana, one of the villages in the valley, new honey is celebrated in July with a sagra, a communal food festival. There are more than a dozen different types of honey from Trentino, including apple, chestnut, and rhododendron. These are plants of place – nature’s gifts that appear in the folk stories and are present in everyday life.
Honey appears in recipes for traditional food, beverages, and medicines. My preference, however, is a taste of honey all by itself, with no other competing flavors or textures. This intentional act of eating honey feels like a direct connection with the mountains of my grandparents’ homeland. I imagine I am taking in the wisdom of my ancestors, the healing of nature, and the essence of place. With a taste, I am in union with the exquisiteness of a thousand wildflowers in spring bloom.
The jar of Trentino honey joins other honey on my shelf each with its own sweetness of memories and place. One jar is from the mountains in Piedmont, in Northern Italy, near the Black Madonna Sanctuary of Oropa. Another small jar is from southern Italy, a gift from a friend who visited the cave of the Cumaen Sybil. From Crete, there is a large jar of mountain honey, the quintessential nectar of place. Of course, there is a quart jar of local reddish-gold honey, from a nearby island store where it is available on tap, and which runs faster on these warm summer days.
Each region of Italy offers its own honey, derived from the flowering plants of that place: miele di macchia from the dense coastal shrubs in Sardegna; fico d’India from prickly pear cactus in Sicily; and mandorlo from almond tree flowers in Puglia. Reading the list on the Honey Traveler web site evokes a living memory of experiences in each of these places.
Honey – wild, raw, and healing —has been considered a sacred substance across time and continents. Shops in Monte Sant’Angelo, Puglia, sell a confection known as ostia ripiena comprising two hosts or flat wafers of bread, with almonds and honey inside, a sort of holy communion with nature. Nearby is an ancient cave/church of St. Michael the Archangel, where a statue of the Madonna di Parto presides.
In the Mediterranean on the island of Crete, bees and bee priestesses appear on fine jewelry of antiquity. A gold signet ring, more than 3000 years old, found near Knossos portrays a Bee Goddess and women in sacred ritual of pollination; each has the head of a bee. An exquisite Minoan gold pendant from Malia is intricately shaped in the form of two bees carrying a golden drop of honey.
While on a pilgrimage in Crete with Carol Christ in 2015, some of us in the group heard the sound of wild bees in an immense tree at Krya Vrysi near the Omalos Plateau. The din added to my already heightened senses as we walked through the rocky, mountain forest to the site of an ancient outdoor shrine. Later, during our lunch at the Aphrodite Taverna in the town of Kato Symi below, we were able to taste the honey that the local farmers had gathered. Pieces of honeycomb, like temple offerings, rested on either side of a small image of the Madonna displayed on the hexagonal mantle, a little altar of tribute and blessing.
It is remembered experiences that I take in with the taste of honey. My now-empty jar from Trentino reminds me that it is time to return to my ancestral homeland.
Mary Beth Moser, Ph.D. earned a Ph.D. at the California Institute of Integral Studies and an MA in Women’s Spirituality. She is passionate about her ancestral heritage, which became the subject of her doctoral research. Her dissertation, The Everyday Spirituality of Women in the Italian Alps: A Trentino American Woman’s Search for Spiritual Agency, Folk Wisdom, and Ancestral Values (ProQuest 2013) received the Kore Award for best dissertation in Women and Mythology from the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology. Mary Beth gives presentations and workshops on her scholarly research at colleges, in her community, and at conferences. On her web site, Ancestral Connections, she shares stories of her cultural heritage. Mary Beth currently serves as president of the Seattle Trentino Club.
13 thoughts on “Honey: A Thousand Flowers by Mary Beth Moser”
How lovely, Mary Beth!!! ❤❤
Thank you Cara Leslene! Do you remember the honey of Sardegna, poured over sheep cheese? Aaah, sweet memories.
Certo! It was sublime. . . !
Thanks for reminding us that some have remembered the ancient custom of thanking the Source of Life for the blessings of life and that others like you (and me) have relearned from them. Blessed be.
Yes indeed. . . .
I loved this essay… It is all about “roots.”
I brought home a a jar of wild honey from Abiquiu, New Mexico (where honey is not treated with antibiotics the way it is here) to keep me close to the powers of that place. I left a jar there for my return… I am so glad that I did because I ended up pouring this precious libation over food offered to a young bear who is living around here and who is being baited by hunters with junk food. These hunters will shoot these shy, intelligent forest loving wild animals who are presently in the hyperphagic period – i.e. needing to eat enough high caloric food to sustain them during the coming hibernation. Trophy hunters will shoot them with their heads stuck in a can. This year, I am “baiting” too, to providing food that I HOPE will keep this one yearling alive through the baiting season which officially opened today although “youth” days opened on the 26th.
There is something about using honey that I hope will help this bear stay alive. In a sense I am calling upon the Mother of the Bears, to protect one of her own… since honey and bees are intimately connected.
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Thank you, Sara, It is so distressing to learn about this practice of Bear baiting. I too hope that your intentional actions work. May the Mother of the Bears guide the yearling to your beautiful honey so that it may live!
Thank you, we need all the help we can get.
Are you aware that honey is a gift from the Blessed Bees? Here’s the invocation:
Twinkle, twinkle, Blessed Bees,
As I ask you, grant it, please–
Wisdom, health, abundancies.
As we will’t, so mote it, Bees.
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It’s been a while since I’ve had wild flower honey, Mary Beth, but it’s my favourite. Thank you for this sweet study! :-) I don’t have any sweetner except honey in the house.
After years. . . .I finally gave up sweetening my coffee with sugar, but now I treat myself to a cup of honey-sweetened coffee in the afternoon. I really feel like I need that natural connection and inspiration.
Thank you for all of your comments! I have been traveling, without good internet coverage in the mountains. Isn’t it interesting that I was stung by a bee in the campground on the day this was posted? And then I visited friends in Montana who were creating garden space for native bee species. So the bees continue to make their presence known to me.
When I was taking a class on Crete with Mara Keller, I went into a deep mediation to assimilate the course material at the end of the course. In my vision, it was the bees who came to visit each of us in the class! They tapped on the windows of our homes until we followed them and gathered together on a hilltop, to bring together the pieces of knowledge that each of us held. They seemed to be affirming that it was important to gather to share and ritualize what we know.