Don't eat the poison honey

One interesting fact and one bit of useful advice, courtesy the Neuroskeptic blog:
• When bees use nectar from wild Rhododendrons the honey they produce is poisonous. Not poisonous as in, "dude, you have to try this poison honey it made me see god," but poisonous as in "was once left out as a deadly trap for invading armies."
• Although, like Viagra, rhododendron honey does have cardiovascular effects, you should not ingest it as a "marital aid." If you do, you will risk both death, and ending up the subject of a funny report in a medical journal.
Via Vaughn Bell


    1. If you live in western WA, you can almost guarantee that they are. A little bit is OK –  from sole sources, not so much. If there are other flowers available, the bees will go to those too, the closer the more likely.

       Basically, don’t keep beehives in a Rhody garden and expect to eat the honey.

  1. Bees tend to harvest one flowering plant exclusively, then move on to another. As a beekeeper, I try to keep an eye on what they’re polinating — are they in the orchard like I’d like, or off in the goldenrod in the back fields?

    If I had rhododendrons, or if there were a large concentration in the area, I’d pay attention to when they were blooming, and try to separate that out from the regular honey by adding a super when it was in bloom. Bees prefer to add new honey to the top of the hive, so by adding a new super on top, you can get varietals based what’s blooming at that time.

    As a small home-hobbyist, though, I just mix all the honey together at the end of the season; since Rhododendrons don’t make up any sort of significant percentage of the mix, so the mixed honey I get, if it had any rhododendron nectar in it, is heavily diluted by the time of consumption.

  2. Very few rhododendrons are very poisonous.  The bright yellow one, prettiest of all, Rhododendrum luteum (Azalea pontica) is by far the most toxic. 
    The bees make some honey, but it kills the hive. 
    Or so my grandpa told me, who kept bees.

    1.  Rhododendron ponticum has been known to produce toxic honey. As this is an invasive species in much of Europe (estimated to be at least one plant in every square kilometre of mainland Britain), it’s possibly surprising how infrequently this happens.

      When my family kept bees, they were more worried about oilseed rape pollen, as this gives honey that sets extremely rapidly (sometimes in the comb).

      1. Well, (fun fact!) it’s technically that babies’ guts are a better growth medium for C. botulinum than adults’, so the grown-ups never culture active bacteria to resist in the first place. But yes, botulism vulnerability is the basic issue.

  3. Xenophon documented the effects of intoxicating honey, circa 401 BC:

    [T]he numbers of bee-hives were indeed astonishing, and so were certain properties of the honey. The effect upon the soldiers who tasted the combs was, that they all went for the nonce quite off their heads, and suffered from vomiting and diarrhoea, with a total inability to stand steady on their legs. A small dose produced a condition not unlike violent drunkenness, a large one an attack very like a fit of madness, and some dropped down, apparently at death’s door. So they lay, hundreds of them, as if there had been a great defeat, a prey to the cruellest despondency. But the next day, none had died; and almost at the same hour of the day at which they had eaten they recovered their senses, and on the third or fourth day got on their legs again like convalescents after a severe course of medical treatment.

    — Xenophon: Anabasis

    Translator’s footnote:

    “Modern travellers attest the existence, in these regions, of honey intoxicating and poisonous …. They point out the Azalea Pontica as the flower from which the bees imbibe this peculiar quality.”—Grote, “Hist. of Greece,” vol. ix. p. 155.

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