Remarkable Rata Honey
Last year I did some travel around beautiful New Zealand, visiting beekeepers, researching plants and honey varieties, and soaking up the awe-inspiring natural environment. Anyone that spends time in New Zealand (or Aotearoa, the “long white cloud”, as it is originally known by the country’s Māori people) will vouch for how incredibly unique and pristine it is, and how friendly and humble its people are.
That trip was the first time I heard of the rata plant, and today I want to introduce you specifically to Metrosideros umbellate, the southern rata species. This tree is native to New Zealand, grows up to 15 metres in height, and can have a trunk of over one metre in diameter. The flowers of the rata tree are eye-catching: most usually bright scarlet with yellow centres and stamens about two centimetres long. White and yellow flowers have also been spotted.
Southern rata is found from sea level to the tree line and distributed from Whangarei south to Stewart Island, although it is rare in the North Island. This species prefers cooler regions with high rainfall and is most common along the west coast of the South Island where it reaches its southern limit in the Auckland Islands area. Interestingly, the rare and beautiful red coloured rata flowers only blossom every few years between December and January and needs to be protected from possums who love to feast on it.
But aside from rata being a beautiful and unique plant, what makes it truly remarkable to me? Well, southern rata produces an abundant nectar that bellbirds, kaka (a large species of parrot), tui (Australasian honeyeater), and, of course, bees love to feast on! Because of this, there is a very special honey variety produced in New Zealand that I want to share with you! I am now stocking rata honey from a lovely, local producer in New Zealand, who described taking their hives to the west coast of the South Island in 2018 when the rata flowers were luckily in bloom. As a result, they have a special batch of southern rata honey that is available from Ben’s Bees with a characteristic very light colour and distinctive silky-smooth buttery texture and fruity aroma. Stock won’t last of this very unique, small run of honey, so get in touch or order from my online store to experience this delightful variety.