Poisonous honey is the result of bees pollinating rhododendrons and other toxic plants.
Returning from an unsuccessful raid in Persia in 401 BC, Xenophon’s men raided beehives along the eastern edge of the Black Sea, acquiring a treasure trove of local honey.
By day’s end, the raiding party was immobilized.
They were like men “greatly intoxicated,” wrote Xenophon, whose army was suffering from nausea, inability to walk straight, and lethargy.
Over three centuries later, the Roman general Pompey’s troops also encamped by the Black Sea and gorged themselves on the local honey.
Pompey lost three squadrons to the enemy fighters who had deliberately placed honeycombs in the path of his troops.
Poisonous honey comes from bees feeding on some very poisonous flowering plants that flourish along the Black Sea (and elsewhere), such as rhododendrons.
These plants contain a class of poisons called grayanotoxins that act directly on the nervous system.
The classic symptoms range from tingling and numbness, dizziness and nausea, impaired speech and a loss of balance.
Some victims report a sense of being surrounded by spinning lights, others complain of a tunnel vision.
“Mad-honey poisoning” can be fatal, as the compromised nervous system starts shutting down the lungs and heart.