Honey scented with rosemary is transparent and clear, that scented with salvia has a light yellow colour, with lavender smells like the flower itself whilst that of strawberry- is dark and bitter. The bees’ way of living as well as what it produces is still a secret today. However, for many years, it is well known that apiculture is one of the most useful and most pleasant occupations and hobbies. Today honey is produced everywhere there are herbs that flower, but that produced at the island of Hvar has always been something very exotic and eagerly sought by honey lovers. It is hard to determine when bee-keeping began on the island of Hvar. Thanks to archaeological research we have discovered that it began in Roman times as the Romans attached great importance to honey. They regularly drank wine sweetened with it but they also used it as a sacrifice. The first fragments of an antique beehive made of baked clay of a cylindrical form were found in Stari Grad’s field as well as in Bogomolje and Sućurje. Among the herbs from whose pollen honey is made, Rosemary, Salvia, Lavender, Heather and Strawberry-tree particularly stand out. Honey scented with rosemary is transparent and clear, with a pleasant taste and is one of the higher quality varieties of honey.
Rosemary blooms in the spring and lasts around 40 days but the harvest is often disturbed by strong winds that blow in that period of the year. Salvia honey is a light yellow, slightly greenish colour with the same essence as its flower. It is preserved in a liquid state for a long time and is particularly desired for its features in healing respiratory organ diseases.
It is well known that the island of Hvar is an island of sun and Lavender. Lavender likes sunny areas near the sea so this is why it grows well here. Lavender is one of the herbs whose pollen is used most; its honey has a strong smell and is one of the finest quality honeys.
Both large and small heathers also grow on Hvar. Large heathers bloom in spring whilst the smaller one blooms in autumn. Honey made of both species is almost the same, cloudy and crystallising quickly. The latest bee pasture is given by the Strawberry-tree. This blooms in October, November and December and has red fruits called manjiga. Its honey has a bitter taste. Honey is also the main ingredient of Stari Grad’s paprenjok a tasty pastry that Petar Hektorović also mentioned in his work Fishing and Fishermen's Talk.
Honey production on the Island of Hvar
The archaeological findings of antique farm economy in the Stari Grad Plain with finds dating from the 2nd Century BC up to the 5th-6th century AD, prove that the island of Hvar was part of that civilization and it was there where a fragment of ancient ceramic beehives was found. One can say that tradition of beekeeping on the island is as old as the beginning of the civilized life on the island. There is not much data available about the further development of beekeeping on the island until the 19th century.
However, the bees are being mentioned in the 1331 statute. The Croatian poet Petar Hektorović mentions the honey in the comb in his work „Fishing and Fishermen's talking“ in 1566 which was taken by fisherman Nicholas on the boat trip. There is also the first record of traditional „Starogrojski paprenjak“ (typical pastry from Stari Grad), whose main ingredient is honey, in the same book. It is interesting to mention that even today there are bees on the wall in the eastern part of Hektorović's Tvrdalj.
As in the very beginnings of civilization, and going through the history, honey was mostly used by wealthy social layer and the bees were grown for their own needs and therefore we cannot talk about the real honey production. The first data on honey production on the Island date back to 1824 and firstly mentioned is the data of 56 hives on the island and the honey of rosemary, sage and heather has already been recognized as a honey of exceptional quality. This number rose until the mid 19th century, and then stagnated.
More intensive engagement in the production of honey and beekeeping on the island began in the early 20th Century, and it was the consequence of having the new species of lavender planted (Lavandula officinalis cxaix). At the same time, the first beekeeping cooperatives were established.
The endless blueness of lavender fields have ensured the real prosperity of beekeeping on the island in the sixties. There was enough pasture for domestic beekeepers who had some 6000 hives as well as for the beekeepers from the mainland who brought about 15000 bee hives during the lavender pasture to the island! During those years, the island produced over 400tns of high quality honey. That was until the late 80“s when the fires ravaged the Island and the lavender plantations were burnt and the organized purchase of lavender oil on the island was stopped and lavender plantations have not been replenished. And today? Although there are about 5000 hives on the island, the total annual honey production does not exceed 30 tons. The quantities that are produced are not great, but the honey is of exceptional quality and Hvar's beekeepers have received awards and recognition at various competitions in Croatia and abroad.