A bit of a repeat as this was first posted in early April, however that post was a bit nuked, so here it is again. Next week will have a brand new topic!
So, most people know that bees make honey from the flowers they find nearby, and that the honey they make can take on different characteristics depending on the flowers the bees go to. That’s how we get blueberry honey, avocado honey, alfalfa honey, and soooo many others.
“Mad” honey occurs when the bees go for Rhododendron flowers, but it’s not just any Rhododendron flower – it’s one that includes grayanotoxin in their nectars, which whittles the field of flowers down to two-three known ones. There are eighteen different forms, but the one in Rhododendron is grayanotoxin III. Turkey has a perfect habitat for these flowers and when the bees make honey in certain fields, no other nectar gets mixed in to dilute it. Overconsuming this dark, reddish honey normally results in dizziness, weakness, excessive swearing, vomiting, and low blood pressure – however, heart complications is not off the table for those who have too many doses. Most cases of mad honey poisoning last no more than twenty-hours hours and are non-fatal. In fact, in Nepal, the bees nest on sheer cliffs and it’s more dangerous to get the honey than it is to ingest it.
History also shows that the honey itself might not be what humans need to worry about most. Sure, for the Greek soldiers in 401 B.C.E., feasting on local stolen honey led to vomiting, diarrhoea, and disorientation, but the next day they continued back to Greece. The Roman soldiers in 67 B.C.E. weren’t that lucky – their route along the Black Sea was trapped with honey (yep, a literal honey trap), and when the soldiers ate the honey, the Persian army they were chasing returned, under King Mithridates of Pontus’ command and killed over 1,000 of the disoriented and poisoned troops.
While mad honey is mostly found in Turkey and Nepal, if a cold snap favors the Appalachian Mountains in the Eastern USA and kills off all the other flowers, bees will make the non-diluted mad honey. There are tales of Union troops during the Civil War finding hives of mountain honey and becoming just as sick as the Greeks and Romans before them.
It’s not just the honey a person had to watch out for after all. In 1946 Stain Olga of Kiev supplied mead made from mad honey to the Drevian ruling class (after they killed her husband Igor). Her soldiers killed all 5,000 of the people who drank the mead. In 1489 C.E. a Russian army left many casks of mad honey mead behind when they “fled” their camp. After the Tatars consumed all the mead, the Russian returned and slaughtered the 10,000 incapacitated Tartars.
A fortunate find if you’re looking to write a way in which an opposing force is defeated without bloodshed (you don’t have to murder everyone afterwards) or if you like finding strange cases in history.