With the first warm days of spring finally returning, honey produced in the Washington area will soon start to "run." By June 1, we will be able to taste the first fragant drops.

In recent years, as interest in unadulterated natural foods has grown, honey has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity.Not only is it entirely natural, but it contains fructose and glucose sugars which absorb directly into the body, as well as essential acids, minerals and vitamins absent from refined sugar.

Aristotle called honey "dew distilled from the stars and the rainbow." Ancient Greece and Egypt used honeys as currency in trade. Medicinal uses of honey in cough syrups and as a carrier for drugs have long been known, and the fact that bacteria cannot survive in honey has made it useful as a dressing for some burns and sores.

The taste of honey reflects the kinds of flowers from which bees take nectar. Probably the most famous of all honey is that from Mt. Hymethus in Greece, made from nectar of flowers of thyme. Greek immigrants to the United States brough thyme with them and planted it in the Catskill Mountains, where today one may taste a honey said to be remarkably similar to that from Mt. Hymetheis.

In New England one may eat raspberry honey; in California, buckwheat and sage flavor honey. Along Maryland's Eastern Shore and the Delaware coast, where acres of lima beans line the landscape, the honey has a "beany" taste and is usually blended with other flavors.

Honey connoisseurs, such as Dr. Dewey Caron of the University of Maryland faculty, consider the honey produced in the Washington area as fine as that found anywhere. Although there are probably a dozen varieties of local honey, the predominant influence in the Washington-Maryland area is the tulip poplar tree, from which [PARAGRAPH ILLEGIBLE]

In summer month you can find locally-grown honey at roadside stands, fruit markets, most health food stores, gourmet specialty shops, as well as at Consumer's Supermarkets and Magruder's.

At the Smith Honey Co. in Takoma Park, customers may buy directly. [WORD ILLEGIBLE] bees will soon be taking nector from the earliest flowering trees, the maples and willows, until the tulip poplar reaches full bloom. Orders, for a minimum of one case (24 pounds) or a 60-pound can, should be made by telephone. The number is 283-3220.

Another local honey producer is Arthur Strang at his country place in Dawsonville, Md., just past the intersection of Route 28 and Route 121. Entrance is on Route 121, on the left. Strang, who has supplied honey for many years to the Gaithersbury and Bowie Fairs and the Maryland State Fair, sells a honey in which blackberry is a predominant spring influence. In late fall, his honey will come from a nectar of goldenrod and wild aster to combine with other sources for a lovely wildflower blend.

Strang, who also makes hand-dipped beeswa's, candles, sells from his home by appointment only. He may be reached at 948-7803.

For a taste of Virginia honey The Old Virginia Honey Factory is located just east of Berryville on Route 7, or, through town, you find Russell Roberson Apiaries. Both honey factories sell a rich wildflower blend of tulip poplar, mountain flowers, and frequently thistle, honey locust and holly. The Honey Factory is closed on Saturdays and Roberson Apiaries says they have someone there "most of the time."

Is there a difference between light and dark honey? Not really, although some devotees consider light honey too sweet and think the more aromatic ingredients of dark honey seem to dilute the pure sweetness of flavor somewhat.

One of the most remarkable qualities of honey is that if kept in a closed container, it never spoils. Five-thousand-year-old honey taken from Egyptian pyramids has remained perfectly edible. However, honey will often crystallize, and some people take this to mean that it has gone bad. To remedy this, simply lower the honey container into a pan of hot water and simmer. In a few minutes, the honey will return to a liquid state.

Honey lends itself to many imaginative uses in cooking, from simply spooning some onto grapefruit halves before broiling or mixing a tablespoon with milk for a quick pick-me-up to use in elaborate recipes for duck and chicken and moist cakes and pastries of all sorts. Some examples follow: HONEY BUN (Makes 18) 1 (13 2/4 ounces) package hot roll mix 1/2 cup butter 1/2 cup brown sugar 1/2 cup honey 2/3 cup flaked coconut 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon or cardamon

Prepare hot roll mix according to package directions. Let rise. Cream butter and sugar; add honey and beat until well-mixed. Add coconut. Roll dough to an 18-by-12-inch rectangle. Spread with 1/3 of the honey mixture; sprinkle with cinnamon or cardamon. Roll as for jelly roll, starting with the long edge. Pinch edge to seal. Cut into 1-inch slices and place, cut side down, on a buttered baking sheet. Let rise. Press down the center of the buns with a spoon and fill each depression with 1 teaspoon of remaining honey mixture. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from baking sheet while warm. If desired, wrap in foil and reheat in morning.) LAURIE SUNSHIRE'S HONEY CRUNCH CHICKEN (Serves 4) 1/2 cup vegetable oil 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 1 teaspoon thyme 1 cup crashed cracker crumbs (do not need to be fine) 13-pound chicken cut in pieces 1/2 cup honey (or more to taste)

Combine oil, salt, pepper and thyme. Dip chicken pieces in seasosed oil, then in crumbs. Place in shallow roasting pans, skin-side up. You can then press extra crumbs on meat. Bake at 325-degree oven for 50 minutes. Remove pan from oven and dribble honey over chicken. Return pan to oven for another 15 to 20 minutes, testing meat for doneness. When serving, spoon pan drippings over noodles or rice. MINTED CARROTS (Serves 3 or 4) 12 to 16 baby carrots 3 tablespoons butter 1 1/2 tablespoons honey 1 tablespoon mint Clean carrots and cook in boiling salted water until tender. Drain. Combine butter, honey and mint in sauce pan. Add carrots and cook slowly until glazed, about 8 minutes.