A complex system of national parks and natural reserves protects 30% of the region of Abruzzo. Up in the Apennine mountains, many nomadic beekeepers move their hives directly from one protected area to another. Thanks to agricultural and livestock farming activities with a low environmental impact and the wealth of wild plant species unharmed by intensive agriculture, excellent honey can be made here.
In the area around Gran Sasso, Laga and the Sirente Velino mountains in the province of L’Aquila, two particularly interesting monofloral honeys are made from two typical mountain herbs: winter savory (Satureja montana L.) and ironwort (Sideritis syriaca L.).
Winter savory and ironwort are shrubs belonging to the Labiatae and Lamiacee family which grow in arid grassland and chalky soil at altitudes of up to 1,300 meters and 1,500 meters respectively. They flower one after the other, ironwort from May to July and winter savory from July to September. The production of honey from winter savory is rare and irregular but not insignificant in some parts of the Abruzzian Apennines, particularly around Gran Sasso. Ironwort (often confused with nettles because of its similar appearance) is common throughout central Italy and used medicinally as a decongestant.
Winter savory honey is pale amber in color, tending towards yellow-green when liquid and gray-green when crystallized. After collection, it usually crystallizes rapidly, forming a very fine structure of crystals that gives the honey a soft texture, very pleasant in the mouth. Ironwort honey, on the other hand, is very pale and stays liquid for a long time. It has a slightly floral note in both its fragrance and flavor.
As well as the monofloral honeys, an interesting multifloral honey is also made in the L’Aquila mountains, produced in the mountain pastures from beehives placed at altitudes over 850 meters above sea level. Recent studies have shown how the biodiversity becomes richer in proportion to the mountain altitude, with an extraordinary increase in the number of flowers above 850 meters (with 80 different species in the spring and over 130 in the summer). Among the most common plants are many grasses, rock roses and mints, along with white clover, blackberry and other members of the rose family, poppies, sainfoin and bird’s foot trefoil, while ivy and wild asparagus flower in the late summer. All of this means a multifloral mountain honey with unusual and very characteristic scents and flavors, delicate and floral in the spring and stronger later in the season.
The flowering of the monoflorals follows one another. In July the ironwort flowers, and from July to September, the winter savory. Multifloral honey is produced all summer.