bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Paterson’s Curse strikes the Antipodes

Honey is good for you — well nearly always. A rare event occured in the bee world this week when an alert was issued in Australia and New Zealand advising consumers who eat more than two tablespoons of honey every day not to eat honey made exclusively from Paterson’s Curse or Salvation Jane. Apparently, the nectar of these plants contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which won't do your liver a great deal of good when eaten in quantity.

Paterson's Curse / Salvation Jane, native to the Mediterranean and North Africa, was introduced to Australia in the 1800s as an attractive addition to botanic gardens. It escaped into pasture and is now regarded as a noxious weed that can be dangerous to grazing animals.

Fortunately, toxic honey is very rare. In her wonderful paperback, A Book of Honey (not easy to obtain, but seems to be available from IBRA), Eva Crane explains that generally toxic honeys shouldn't concern consumers. Even if there are toxins in nectar they will usually disappear by the time the honey is “ripe” (processed by the bees and sealed under cappings in the comb). In any case the bees usually blend so many nectars together that any potential toxins are usually extremely diluted — and then the beekeeper blends even further as a natural part of the extraction process.


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