Asal al ‘arz
“Asal al ‘arz” (cedar honey) is a honeydew honey produced in the cedar forests of Lebanon where the primary vegetation is the Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani), which is also the country’s national emblem found on the flag.
There are many cedar forests in Lebanon, most of which have protected area status. However they cannot all be used to produce cedar honey as a main requirement for isolating cedar honey, or any mono-strain honey such as cedar honey, is that the hives be located within a 4-6 km radius of a single plant or vegetation. This requirement is only met in the Barouk cedar reserve in the Shuf region and in the Tannourine and Bcharreh reserves in North Lebanon.
In Lebanon as in the eastern Mediterranean, beekeeping is an ancient industry dating back thousands of years. Clay hives still containing residues of honey have been found in Phoenician and Roman archeological sites. Cedar honey is used in folk medicine as an unguent and is attributed with wound healing properties.
The production of this honey depends on a symbiotic relationship among three types of insects that live in the cedar forest/ the aphid, the ant and the honey bee. Cedar has no flower, so there is no source of nectar on which the bees can feed. But aphids can consume the tree sap, and digest it in such a way that part of the sugar bypasses their midgut and is expelled as a drop of sugared water (honeydew). This sugar water feeds the ants that in return protect the aphids from other predators (a type of mutuality relation). Honey bees also consume this honeydew released from the aphids ad in turn change it into honey (Sawyer 1988). This is the way honey is produced from pine, cedar, oak and other forest trees.
Cedar honey is produced mainly by the Lebanese bee strain called Apis Mellifera Syriaca. This is the only type of bee that can withstand the vast fluctuations in climate and temperature that are found in the high altitudes of the Lebanese mountains, where the weather can be very hot during the day and very cold at night. Although their production in terms of quantity is relatively lower than that of other strains of bees, they are still the most efficient in such an environment (Sawyer, 1988).