If it has flowers and nectar, then bees can make honey out of it. This is also true for the common sunflower (Helianthus annuus), a flowering plant in the daisy family grown extensively for its oil-rich seeds that are the source of the famous and quite healthy sunflower oil. Sunflower honey is a variety that crystallizes quickly, but that doesn’t make it less healthy than other types of honey. On the contrary, it’s actually quite nutritious and rich in beneficial elements such as amino acids and minerals, exhibiting antibacterial, energizing and antioxidant properties.
Sunflower honey is surprisingly beneficial for digestive health and supports faster wound healing and recovery following respiratory tract infections primarily as a result of its strong antibacterial action. What makes it particularly healthy and sought-after is its unique composition, especially its high content of pollen, an element with both health benefits and, unfortunately, side effects. Sunflower honey is a great natural remedy for a variety of health issues, from cough and constipation to sore throat, gastritis and even acne.
What does sunflower honey look like? Sunflower honey generally has a bright yellow color, but can range from a light yellow to golden and golden-orange. Even as it crystallizes it retains a bright yellow pigment, but also takes on a delicate beige undertone. An interesting characteristic of sunflower honey is its short crystallization time. The variety is estimated to begin crystallizing naturally as soon as 20 days or 2 months after it’s harvested and extracted. As mentioned above, turning solid doesn’t make it any less healthier than if it had its original consistency because it still contains the same nutrients as it did in the beginning. Only processing such as heating can cause it to lose its beneficial properties.
What does sunflower honey taste and smell like? To me, sunflower honey doesn’t taste as light as other varieties, such as acacia honey for example. I find it is somehow oily and heavy, although this may have to do with its thicker consistency and the fact that it comes from an oilseed plant and thus retains certain elements from it that may influence its taste and smell (example: amino acids). The variety has a medium taste intensity and a not very persistent, basic honey taste, sugary and slightly heavy with a faint oily smell to it. It’s quite unique, but the lack of floral-fruity flavors may have some people think less of it. Nonetheless, it’s actually quite savory. I find it goes great on rye bread and whole grain bread with seeds or nuts.
How fast does sunflower honey crystallize? Compared to other honey varieties, fast (as soon as three weeks to two months). However, this characteristic has been suggested to add to its beneficial action. More specifically, it has been suggested that the healthy elements in the variety are better absorbed if we hold a small amount of crystallized honey under the tongue so that the salivary glands under the tongue can slowly break them down and allow for their absorption.
What about the benefits?
Why is sunflower honey good for you? Because it’s a healthy food and source of natural enzymes, amino acids, minerals and other beneficial elements. Here are the most noteworthy 7 properties, health benefits and uses of raw, unprocessed sunflower honey:
1) Strong natural antibacterial. Sunflower honey contains hydrogen peroxide, a natural antibacterial agent formed when glucose and an enzyme secreted by honey bees called glucose oxidase interact. This natural occurring compound together with the acidic pH of the honey and its relatively low moisture content are responsible for its antibacterial effect. This property is currently being put to use as natural honey wound dressings are being developed. Their aim is to improve wound healing time.
2) Good for respiratory infections. Honey in general is a great resource for treating or at least improving symptoms of respiratory infections such as the common cold or flu. Its thicker consistency helps it adhere to the throat lining, creating a sort of protective layer that allows for inflammation to subside and the mucous membrane to heal. Its antibacterial action helps reduce bacterial load.
Sunflower honey too has a soothing effect on the throat and helps inhibit bacteria growth, but when it’s crystallized it is best consumed in tea (the crystals may hurt the already sensitive throat lining). It is important to remember to let tea cool down until it’s room temperature or lukewarm before adding honey because heat destroys the beneficial compounds in it. Moreover, sunflower honey and lemon juice make a good natural expectorant.
3) Soothing on the stomach. Sunflower honey is said to be good for soothing an upset stomach if taken on an empty stomach in the morning. Actually, honey in general has been used as a natural remedy for gastritis, helping improve the condition by exerting a soothing action on the stomach lining.
4) Energizing and nutritious. Sunflower honey not only has an energizing effect due to the fact that it’s mostly (natural) sugars, but it’s also nutritious, containing micro-elements such as dietary minerals, enzymes and amino acids, including essential amino acids we cannot synthesize but have to obtain through diet. Although they are found in rather small amounts, they raise the nutritional value of the honey, making it a great addition to our diets.
5) Boasts antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are found in all honey varieties, including sunflower. Their role is to protect cells against harmful reactive oxygen molecules called free radicals. Free radicals can damage cells, trigger inflammatory responses and encourage the development of chronic diseases ranging from cardiovascular disease to cancer.
6) Great for skin care. In my experience, sunflower honey is best used for skin care before it begins to crystallize. It can be applied as a natural mask on a clean face, left on for about 20 minutes then washed with lukewarm water. It has both a nourishing and cleansing effect, making skin softer, more radiant and unclogging pores. Moreover, its antibacterial action can help reduce bacteria numbers on the skin and prevent acne breakouts. When it starts to crystallize, the honey can be used for exfoliation in addition to nourishment for the skin. Just make sure to rub it gently on the face to avoid hurting the sensitive skin, then wash the face with lukewarm water.
7) Immune-boosting effect. Why is sunflower honey good for immunity? Mainly because of its relatively high pollen content. Depending on the brand, batch and other factors, the variety may contain up to 30% pollen or more. Pollen is said to help improve immune system function naturally, hence the use of honey for treating various types of infections.
Other uses. The variety is said to help with constipation, but it might not prove to be very effective because the compounds that may help soften stools and relieve constipation are found in trace amounts only, so the overall effect of eating the honey for constipation relief would be negligible. You can read a more detailed article on the best foods to eat and to avoid for constipation in the article 7 easy tricks to treat constipation.
Sunflower honey and allergies
Can sunflower honey give you allergy? Since sunflower honey often contains a relatively high pollen count, it is likely to cause an allergic reaction in predisposed individuals with an allergy to sunflower pollen, honey bee secretions that contribute to making the honey or other allergens from sunflowers. Normally, pollen is a beneficial element which stimulates the immune system and contributes to a stronger immune response.
However, some people’s immune system tends to overreact, viewing harmless elements such as pollen as threatening pathogens, resulting in more mild allergy symptoms (rashes, itching) or more serious ones (anaphylactic shock). It is important to seek medical help if you experience allergy symptoms after eating sunflower or any other honey. As a general rule, if you are unsure whether or not you may be allergic to a certain honey, but are to other varieties, bees or pollen from the plant from which the honey is made, take a skin allergy test first to confirm or rule out a potential allergy.
Despite the fact that it is not very user-friendly seen that it crystallizes rapidly and has a unique, slightly oily taste, sunflower honey is actually delicious and quite nutritious. It can help with digestive problems, respiratory infections, is great for skin care, supports good immunity, has an energizing action and soothing effect. So unless you are allergic to it, raw, unprocessed, unheated and unfiltered sunflower honey is a great food with some wonderful health benefits.