World Honey Market's Florida Holly Honey is available for purchase year-round, but something about it feels perfect for the holidays.
Florida Holly has a little secret. It isn't a holly at all. Scientifically it is known as Schinus terebinthinfolius, but more commonly, Florida Holly has a lot of names. It is known as the rose pepper, broadleaved pepper tree, Christmasberry, Brazilian holly, Brazilian pepper, Christmas berry, pepperina, and South American pepper. Despite it being called a holly or pepper, it is, in fact, neither. Florida Holly is a member of the sumac family. Yes, that sumac. The sumac family also includes poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and poisonwood.
But fear not. While the sap can make you itchy, and the berries aren't recommended for human consumption, the honey is excellent for eating!
The plant is native to subtropical and tropical South America. It is a medium-sized shrub, sometimes growing to tree height along waterways in southern peninsular Florida. Florida Holly is one of Florida's prime nectar-producing plants. The honey has a distinct "peppery" taste and is a local favorite for many Florida natives.
While our bees love it, some people hate it. Despite its prevalence and the state's title right in the name, the plant is very invasive.
How did it get here, you ask? Well, it used to be a lawn and garden exclusive. Still, by the 1950s, it was creeping from its home in the landscaping into the open. It now covers an estimated area of more than 700,000 acres in Florida and is regulated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as a Category I invasive species.
According to the University of Florida's website, Brazilian pepper is an aggressive and widely spread invasive plant that "produces a dense canopy that shades out all other plants and provides a very poor habitat for native species."
And while the plant has caused issues for Florida's coastal ecosystem, this plant does have a redeeming quality: it yields an abundance of nectar used by honey bees to produce the tasty Florida Holly Honey. And it turns out the honey may potentially help fight antibiotic resistance.
Medical ethnobotany scientists at Emory University explored South American botanical folk medicines for wounds and infections several years ago. They were intrigued to learn that traditional healers in the Amazon region had used the Brazilian pepper plant to treat skin and soft tissue infections for centuries.
This discovery resulted in research stateside, and a scientific publication in 2017 that documented how they had found an extract from the Brazilian pepper tree can "disrupt signaling" between MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) bacteria cells.
When the MRSA cells could not connect, the study determined the cells were "unable to release toxins that cause serious infection, essentially disarming them." MRSA kills tens of thousands of people each year.
Scientists in the study also used extracts from the bark of the Brazilian pepper tree to successfully kill several pathogens.
For World Honey Market and our bees, the Florida Honey may be hiding a less than stellar history, but the benefits far outweigh the negatives.
Check out our recipe below for Honey Roast Pears with Walnuts using our Florida Holly Honey.
World Honey Market's Florida Holly Honey
Roasted Pears with Walnuts
Two large ripe Bartlet pears
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp World Honey Market Florida Holly honey
1/4 cup chopped black walnuts
Optional plain Greek yogurt
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Cut the pears in half and place them on a baking sheet (You can also cut a sliver off the rounded end to help them stay upright and not roll around on the baking dish.)
Using a spoon or melon baller, scoop out the seeds.
Place pear halves in an oven-safe baking dish.
Top evenly with chopped walnuts, sprinkle with cinnamon, and drizzle honey over each.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
Remove, let cool, and serve with Greek yogurt drizzled with honey or eat them as is!