In past centuries, for people living in Europe’s forested areas, which then included much of the Mediterranean's shoreline, forests of chestnut Castanea sativa were very important. These sweet chestnut forests extended from the mountainous uplands of Portugal and Spain, through France and into northern Germany, the west coast of Italy, and throughout central Europe as far as Turkey, and provided an important source of livelihood. In previous times, chestnuts were harvested and dried, milled into flour, or used whole with other foods, providing an excellent source of protein and carbohydrate-rich nutrition. When chestnut trees flowered between June and July, they provided abundant nectar and pollen forage for bees, from which is harvested valuable chestnut honey with a dark color, a fruity scent like over-ripe apples, and a strong, slightly tannic flavor.
The chestnut forests provided a labor-intensive, slow-maturing harvest – the trees take 20 years to bear chestnuts, but then remain productive for a hundred years or more. The New World’s quick-growing staples such as potatoes, maize and beans eventually replaced the chestnut crop. This left the forests, where chestnuts remained untended and vulnerable, no longer valued as providers of food and income. Equally at risk were the additional crops the forest supported, including the honey produced by the forest’s indigenous Apis mellifera honeybees, as well as valuable fungi such as chanterelles and truffles. In recent years, new harvesters have arrived in some of these forests, often escapees from urban life, who are commercially educated and aware of the need for the forests to create a livelihood. New industries have developed, using local labor and expertise to harvest the chestnuts and market them using modern methods of processing and packaging. Invisible earnings include a sustainable industry to assist the survival of smallholding communities in danger of losing their livelihoods, in addition to fine harvests of forest fungi, and the top value chestnut honey.
(Ref. THE IMPACT OF BEEKEEPING ON MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION OF FORESTS: ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/012/i0842e/i0842e08.pdf)