Thyme is a genus of plants that is very popular with bees and of which there are several species. It is only possible to obtain a monofloral honey from one of them, Thymus capitatus, which grows spontaneously in most of the Mediterranean basin. In the Hyblaean Mountain ranges – between the Sicilian provinces of Syracuse, Ragusa and, to a lesser extent, Catania – from this species which is known as “satra” or “satarèdda” in the dialect, a thyme honey is produced in summer which tends to crystallise slowly, with a more or less transparent amber colour. The honey has slightly spicy floral smells, a sweet taste and intense and persistent aroma.
In this part of the Sicilian region the so-called garìghe are widespread, a botanical term given to a type of vegetation that is characterised by low bushes with various shrubs and herbs, common to the arid rocky, stony and usually calcareous areas of the Mediterranean area. The Hyblaean garìga environments, from a floristic point of view, see the association of numerous species which, overall, constitute an excellent pasture for bees; in particular, those characterised by the constant and prevalent presence of thyme and rosemary are essential for producing the traditional and precious monofloral honey.
Already, during the classical age, thyme honey was famous and appreciated, as evidenced by the numerous citations that are scattered in Greek and Latin literature, from Strabo to Virgil, from Ovid to Pliny the Elder and many others. The myth of Hyblon is connected to this: an ethnonym of uncertain origin from which the names of some cities, both real and presumed, of ancient Sicily are derived, including the Greek colony of Megara Hyblaea, whose remains are located a few kilometres from the current city of Augusta, that of the mountains of the Hyblaean mountain ranges and the territorial identification of the thyme honey which was called “ibleo”.
Unfortunately, the thyme bushes are becoming more and more scarce, after being attacked in recent decades on several fronts from air pollution and chemical products (pesticides), fires, as well as uncontrolled harvesting for therapeutic and cosmetic uses. In addition to this there is the more general problems which are present due to the effects of climate change on the blooms of the flowers. Furthermore, it should be remembered that part of the reason for the decrease in thyme bushes in Sicily is due to the too many areas of rocky land that are converted into agricultural land, with the reckless excavation of many areas of garìga.
In recent years, the production of Hyblaean mountain thyme honey has dropped significantly. From the 6 kilograms per hive that were produced in the best years it has now dropped to an average of 2 kilograms. In any case, these are limited quantities of production when compared to the monofloral honeys produced from orange blossoms and wildflowers, which during most regular years can guarantee an average of 25 kg of honey in a single box.
Fewer and fewer beekeepers continue to bring their bees to forage the thyme shrubs in areas where the habitat suitable for its spontaneous spread still manages to continue. Usually between the end of May and the first weeks of August, depending on the altitude, the pinkish-purple of the flowers and their scent emphasise their presence in the low-hill countryside and climb the plateaus of the Hyblaean mountains. They are commonly found in some of the cut sections of the areas known locally as “cave”, which are in the deep gorges that are rich in nature and history.
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Hyblaean Mountain range, in the Ragusa and Syracuse provinces
Slow Food Sicily
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