The Sourwood has quite a collection of common and local names: Sorrel Tree, Sorrel Gum, Sour Gum, Arrow Wood, Elk Tree, Lily-of-the-Valley Tree and Titi Tree. But the scientific name for this native tree to the eastern US (Oxydendrum Arboretum), refers to the sour taste of its leaves. Though sour, their moisture provides a thirst-quencher to hikers and mountain climbers.
Native Americans used it for sled runners, cooking tools and firewood. Pioneers collected the sap for fever concoctions, chewed the bark to soothe mouth pains, and made teas to treats diarrhea from its leaves.
But the best-known byproduct of the Sourwood is the honey the bees produce from its fragrant blossoms, which look like lily of the valley flowers. Sourwood honey is a light amber color and aromatic, with a rich buttery caramel flavor. The aftertaste has a slight tang that has been likened to gingerbread, and some say it smells like cinnamon and cloves. It generally commands a premium price, as many say no other honey can match it.
Every August, Black Mountain, North Carolina, hosts the Sourwood Festival to honor their native tree and its honey. Hundreds of vendors and families attend the festival, which offers everything from music and dancing to arts and face painting. In addition, local beekeepers attend the festival to sell their celebrated product.