bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Mad for it

“Mad” honey, traditionally used in the Black Sea area of Turkey as a sexual stimulant and as a treatment for stomach and bowel problems, has caused an poisoning outbreak according to the Emergency Medical Journal as reported in the UK's Independent newspaper.
Nineteen patients were admitted to hospital ... suffered nausea, vomiting slowed heart rate and fainting after eating honey. The researchers say they had been poisoned with andromedotoxins found in the leaves and flowers of plants and extracted by bees. ... Fifteen of the patients had been diagnosed with duodenal ulcers which, according to local tradition, can be healed by continuous eating of honey.
Apparently, poisoning incidents are not uncommon [pdf file] in the area and the toxins are extracted from the leaves and flowers of Rhododendron ponticum by bees. The plant grows elsewhere, but probably not in such great profusion as to cause a problem -- and in any case the honey is not likely to be consumed in such huge quantities.

There's an amusing report of its full range of effects including how it was used as an early weapon of mass destruction:
Trabzon locals placed tempting pots of deli bali [mad honey] along the route of the invading Roman army. Strabo, the Roman historian, described the result: “The men tasted the honey and lost their senses. They were attacked and easily dispatched.” In all, three squadrons, or about 1,200 men, were killed by guerrillas.


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