Michelle Obama's Special Gift: White House Honey

The first lady was the first to have a beehive set on the South Lawn.

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By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers

What started out as a springtime lark meant to help Michelle Obama's South Lawn veggie garden—a simple beehive—has produced an abundance of sweet honey that the first lady is treating like gold. While initially planned for use in the first family's recipes, the light honey with a hint of mint from local basswood trees has been given an elevated role in the East Wing: It's the main feature in the first lady's gift packages. At the recent G-20 economic meeting in Pittsburgh, for example, the first lady had a wooden gift box made up for each of the visiting spouses. Inside were a tea set colored like the purple-and-white Lincoln china and a crystal vase with two little jars of White House honey. Etched on the vase: "White House Honey 2009." The remaining honey will be jarred for other gifts, used in the kitchen, and offered as tasty treats for visitors.

The homegrown gift is a White House rarity, say historians, which could make it the most sought-after nectar since Romans gave it to their gods.

The credit, of course, goes to the bugs. First beekeeper Charlie Brandts, a White House carpenter, says the bees produced some 10 to 12 gallons, about right for four hives. What's more, when their queen wasn't producing broods up to their standard, the worker bees replaced her, something beekeepers typically do by importing queens. "It's been a cool thing," says Brandts of his bees. "I'm happy that everybody has embraced them."

Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR.

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