I came across something interesting the other day, a hallucinogenic honey known as “Mad Honey” that is produced in mostly in Nepal and the Black Sea region of Turkey. It’s called mad honey because of the effect it has on people who consume it, below is a quote from Book 4 of Anabasis written around 370BC by Xenophon, an Athenian military leader, historian, and philosopher, documenting an encounter with the effects of mad honey.

For the most part there was nothing here which they really found strange; but the swarms of bees in the neighbourhood were numerous, and the soldiers who ate of the honey all went off their heads, and suffered from vomiting and diarrhoea, and not one of them could stand up, but those who had eaten a little were like people exceedingly drunk, while those who had eaten a great deal seemed like crazy, or even, in some cases, dying men. So they lay there in great numbers as though the army had suffered a defeat, and great despondency prevailed. On the next day, however, no one had died, and at approximately the same hour as they had eaten the honey they began to come to their senses; and on the third or fourth day they got up, as if from a drugging.

Xenophon – Anabasis (Book 4 – Carleton L. Brownson, Ed.)

The effects of the honey are caused by Grayanotoxins, a group of neurotoxins that are produced by two species of Rhododendron which, if harvested by the bees, will produce the so called mad honey.

The honey itself has a reddish colour, with a sharp scent, and a slightly bitter taste. In the regions where it is produced it has been used as both a recreational drug and traditional medicine, however the most interesting recorded use was as a weapon:

The Heptacomitae cut down three maniples of Pompey’s army when they were passing through the mountainous country; for they mixed bowls of the crazing honey which is yielded by the tree-twigs, and placed them in the roads, and then, when the soldiers drank the mixture and lost their senses, they attacked them and easily disposed of them.

Strabo – Geography (Book 12 – H.C. Hamilton, Esq., W. Falconer, M.A.)

In antiquity mad honey has been known as Zanton, Palalon, and Mænomenon, in modern day Turkey it is known as Deli Bal, I’m not sure what it’s known as in Nepal but I’m sure it’s had many names over the centuries.

One final thought I’d like to end on is that honey, in general, is actually a very interesting substance. Most traditional medicines don’t stand up to modern science, however, honey has been demonstrated to have broad-spectrum antibacterial properties. There is also some evidence that honey can speed the healing of second degree burns and post operative infections. For more information and sources check out the medical use and research section of the Wikipedia article on honey.


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