submitted by Cindy Renfrow

In these quotes from 16th-17th c. English sources, you will see that the best honey was allowed to drip out of the combs. After whatever dripped of its own accord was collected, the rest was pressed out. The combs were then washed in water to remove the honey that still remained, and the sweetened water was used to make mead.


The Honey of dry open Countries, where there is much Wild-thyme, Rosemary, and Flowers, is best. It is of three sorts, Virgin-honey, Life-honey, and Stock-honey. The first is the best. The Life-honey next. The Virgin-honey is of Bees, that swarmed the Spring before, and are taken up in Autumn; and is made best by chusing the Whitest combs of the Hive, and then letting the Honey run out of them lying upon a Sieve without pressing it, or breaking of the Combs. The Life-honey is of the same Combs broken after the Virgin-honey is run from it; The Merchants of Honey do use to mingle all the sorts together. The first of a swarm is called Virgin-honey. That of the next year, after the Swarm was hatched, is Life-honey. And ever after, it is Honey of Old-stocks. Honey that is forced out of the Combs, will always taste of Wax. Hampshire Honey is most esteemed at London. About Bisleter there is excellent good. Some account Norfolk honey the best.”

(From Digby, Sir Kenelme. The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby Kt. Opened: Whereby is Discovered Several ways for making of Metheglin, Sider, Cherry-Wine, &c. Together with Excellent Directions for Cookery: As also for Preserving, Conserving, Candying, &c. Published by his Son’s Consent. Printed by E. C. for H. Brome, at the Star in Little Britain. London, 1669.)

“Make your Metheglin as soon as ever you take your Bees; for if you wash your combs in the water you boil your herbs in, when it is cold, it will sweeten much. But you must afterwards strain it through a cloth, or else there will be much wax.” (Digby, #75.)

Speaking of a less than desirable mead: “There is a kind of swish-swash made also in Essex and divers other places with honeycombs and water… Truly it is nothing else but the wathing of the combs, when the honey is wrung out…”

(From Harrison, William. The Description of England. 1587, p. 140. A new edition by Georges Edelen, subtitiled: “The Classic Contemporary Account of Tudor Social Life,” is available from the Folger Shakespeare Library and Dover Publications, Inc. Washington, D.C., and New York, 1994.ISBN:0-486-28275-9 Edelen’s edition has somewhat modernized spelling and is very well annotated. The book contains descriptions of most facets of Tudor life, including directions for cultivating saffron, brewing beer, etc.)

“Our honey is also taken and reputed to be the best, because it is harder, better wrought, and cleanlier vesseled up than that which cometh from beyond the sea, where they stamp and strain their combs, bees, and young blowings [egg, larvae] altogether into the stuff…” (Harrison, p. 337)

Vicky Rowe
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