- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
The UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) targets the yellow starthistle on its "How to Manage Pests; Pests in Gardens and Landscapes" site.
But in the opinion of many a honey connoisseur (including Eric Mussen, emeritus Extension apiculturist, UC Davis), starthistle makes one of the best honeys.
What about the mead (honey wine) made from starthistle? What's that like?
You can find out at the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center's "Mead Making 201" course, where you'll taste "Star Thistle Ambrosia," from St. Ambrose Cellars, Beulah, Mich.
Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center, says you can take take Mead Making 201 "in the comforts of your own home." The online course covers core information including guided tastings with selected meads and honey. "Each participant will go on virtual meadery tours and get to directly ask our mead makers questions."
The online course is scheduled June 22-23 and June 25-26, from 8 a.m. to noon each day, Pacific Daylight Time. The deadline to register is June 1.
The course, sensory-driven to help mead makers learn more about their craft, is designed for mead makers who have made six more fermentations and "have a lot of questions about how to improve," the officials related. "This mead maker knows that it isn't always beginner's luck and needs to do much more work to learn how to be successful each and every time."
The full-bottled meads to be featured:
- Blackberry - Schramm's Mead
- Statement - Schramm's Mead
- John Lemon - St. Ambrose Cellars
- Razzputin - St. Ambrose Cellars
- Tom Cat: Gin Barrel - Sap House Meadery
- Echoes: Rye Barrel - Sap House Meadery
- Coveters B2 - Lost Cause Meadery
- Snow Melt - Superstition
- Star Thistle Ambrosia - St. Ambrose Cellars
- Melia - Rabbit's Foot Meadery
Other items on the agenda:
- Spiked mead samples for defect tasting
- Mead Tasting Wheel
- Honeys for Honey to Mead Tasting
- UC Davis Aroma and Flavor Honey Wheel
All you mead is love--plus a little money (well-spent) and the time (well spent) to learn more about how to craft the world's oldest alcoholic beverage.
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
It's a perfect example of "the bad, the ugly and the good."
In that order. Not "the good, the bad and the ugly."
The yellow starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis) is the kind of obnoxious weed you wish would go away forever. It's highly invasive, thorny as a pincushion jammed with needles, and poisons horses.
It's also a non-native. From Eurasia, it's been in the Americas for about 161 years. Today it infests more than 14 million acres in California alone.
But this stickery plant makes fantastic honey. If you've ever tasted starthistle honey, you probably won't want another variety.
Large-scale migratory beekeeper John Miller of Gackle, N.D., who trucks his bees all over the country, including California, likes honey. Which honey does he like the best? Starthistle. He describes starthistle honey as like "a wall of sunshine."
You can read about him and his love of honey in Hannah Nordhaus' newly published book, The Beekeepers' Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America.
"The best honey plants aren't always the best plants for other human purposes," Nordhaus writes. She quotes Miller as saying that the starthistle is a "terrible, noxious, invasive nasty weed."
"It is so hated by farmers that in California, state agriculture officials have released a wasp that lays eggs that kill the bloom, so starthistle honey guys just don't get the production they used to," Nordhaus points out.
"Botanists," she adds, "suspect that the weed hitchhiked to the New World with alfalfa seeds from Spain, and it can now be found all over the West..."
At the annual UC Davis Picnic Day, starthistle honey is a favorite of honey samplers. Every year Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology sets up a table in the Briggs Hall courtyard and invites folks to sample about six varieties of honey.
"Omigosh this is good!" they exclaim after tasting starthistle honey.
It's good, but the plant it came from is...totally undesirable.