Yellow star thistle (Centaurea solstitialis) was extremely prolific in some areas of California this year. Many commercial beekeepers commented on it. One said that he hadn’t seen this much star thistle in over 20 years. Personally, I saw huge fields of it all over the Sacramento Valley, from Redding down to Davis. Further south, I didn’t see nearly as much as it is considered a noxious weed and invasive species, and the eradication programs may be working well in the southern regions.
Yellow star thistle originates from the Mediterranean. The similar climate of the Central Valley makes it ideal for it to grow. According to the USDA, yellow star thistle has spread to 15 million acres in the western states. Yellow star thistle is bad news for grazing animals because it out competes native plants and can also be a physical barrier. Walking through a patch of star thistle will result in its skinny sharp thorns piercing right through a person’s pants. It is unfortunate that yellow star thistle has some undesirable qualities. For their part, beekeepers love it because it produces a uniquely colored honey with a complex flavor profile and can sell for a premium. It can retail for up to $12 in half pint jars. Wholesale buckets have sold for $3 a pound and barrels for $2.85 a pound.
Pure yellow star thistle honey is actually green. I have never seen it pure enough to be outright green, but I have seen it as a light amber honey with a definite greenish hue to it. I have seen pure yellow star thistle nectar in the comb and it looks dark green. That was likely due to the bees back filling the brood nest with it. The comb was dark, which made the nectar appear dark green. When I poked at it with my hive tool to taste it, it appeared much lighter but still very green.