My summary: bee-keepers in Turkey have for centuries made a honey containing a nuerotoxin called grayanotoxin. The flowers responsible are two or three members of the 700-member Rhododendron family, and the resulting honey is some powerful stuff:
Visit the remote mountainside towns in Turkey’s Black Sea region during springtime and you may witness beekeepers hauling their hives upslope, until they reach vast fields of cream and magenta rhododendron flowers. Here, they unleash their bees, which pollinate the blossoms and make a kind of honey from them so potent, it’s been used as a weapon of war.
The dark, reddish, “mad honey,” known as deli bal in Turkey, contains an ingredient from rhododendron nectar called grayanotoxin — a natural neurotoxin that, even in small quantities, brings on light-headedness and sometimes, hallucinations. In the 1700s, the Black Sea region traded this potent produce with Europe, where the honey was infused with drinks to give boozers a greater high than alcohol could deliver.
When over-imbibed, however, the honey can cause low blood pressure and irregularities in the heartbeat that bring on nausea, numbness, blurred vision, fainting, potent hallucinations, seizures, and even death, in rare cases.
“People believe that this honey is a kind of medicine,” Turedi says. “They use it to treat hypertension, diabetes mellitus and some different stomach diseases. And also, some people use deli bal to improve their sexual performance.”
The honey is taken in small amounts, sometimes boiled in milk, and consumed typically just before breakfast, he adds — not slathered on toast or stirred generously into tea the way normal honey would be.
In 67 B.C. Roman soldiers invaded the Black Sea region under General Pompey’s command, and those loyal to the reigning King Mithridates secretly lined the Romans’ path with enticing chunks of mad honeycomb. The unwitting army ate these with gusto, as the story goes. Driven into an intoxicated stupor by the hallucinogenic honey, many of the flailing soldiers became easy prey, and were slain.