I’ve just discovered there’s a form of neurotoxic honey, genuinely known as “mad honey“, created by bees taking nectar from the beautiful rhododendron ponticum flower, pictured on the right.
The nectar from these plants, prevalent around the Black Sea region of Turkey, occasionally contains grayanotoxins, a class of neurotoxin that interferes with the action potential (electrical signalling) of nerve cells by blocking sodium channels in the cell membranes. This leads to problems with the muscles, peripheral nerves, and the central nervous system.
Mad honey apparently causes “a sharp burning sensation in the throat” and poisoning leads to dizziness, weakness, excessive sweating, hypersalivation, nausea, vomiting and ‘pins and needles’ although severe intoxication can cause dangerous heart problems.
Luckily, most cases aren’t fatal and resolve after 24 hours.
Mad honey was known to the Romans, and was specifically discussed by Pliny the Elder.