The Story of Mad Honey in Black Sea

Sweetener, Psychedelic, Weapon of War

For centuries, people have invented new methods to catch the “buzz”¹  such as licking toads or pouring vodka into the eyes. When we think about these methods, “honey” can be the sweetest among them. It is known as “mad honey” and has been used since ancient times. “Mad honey” has hallucinogenic properties and could give that “buzz” feeling.

Although there are many studies on mad honey in the world, it can be said that the opinion of Vaughn Bryant, who is the professor of Anthropology at Texas A&M University is very important. Because he is one of the world’s foremost honey experts. He remarks that mad honey has a fascinating history including the usage in war.

Mad honey originated in the Black Sea region, Eastern of Turkey. For this, bees collect nectar from rhododendron flowers. The nectar of some flowers contains a natural neurotoxin called grayanotoxin.

According to Bryant, the honey is the most expensive one in the world which is 166 dollars per kilo.

He also points out that its consumption can cause some effects such as dizziness, euphoria or even hallucinations. It should be noted that if you consume too much mad honey, it can cause some serious side effects such as vomiting, diarrhea, loss of consciousness and seizures. Therefore, you should not exceed one dessert spoon of these kinds of honey in any 24 hour period.

A LITTLE NOTE: In line with this information, you might think that the bees will also feel the buzz. But according to Bryant, some substances that are effective on humans have no effect on bees. Honey obtained from the nectar of some flowers may have psychoactive effects. Consuming more than the prescribed amount can even be toxic to humans. But harmless to bees and their larvae.

If we get back to the main topic, Bryant explains a story about mad honey:

“One of the earliest reports of mad honey came from Xenophon of Athens, a student of Socrates and a Greek historian, soldier and mercenary.”²

Xenophon writes on this subject in his chronicle Anabasis. In 401 B.C.E., a Greek army he commanded defeated the Persians. Then the Greek army was returning to Greece on the Black Sea coast. This army decided to feast with local honey stolen from some hives near Trabzon³. After a few hours, the soldiers began to vomit, had diarrhea, became disoriented and could not stand anymore. The next day the effects passed and they continued to head towards Greece.

A similar story occurred in 67 B.C.E. But this time, the Roman soldiers in Trabzon were not so lucky. Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great) and his Roman army chased King Mithridates of Pontus and his Persian army across the Black Sea. Then the Persians collected pots containing local honey and left the pots for the Roman army to find. The Roman army ate the honey, became disoriented and could not fight. The Persian army returned and killed more than 1,000 Roman soldiers. There were very few losses in their own armies.

In the 18th century, Europeans named this honey “miel fou”. They imported this honey from the Ottomans and added it to their beers (to feel more buzz). Newer versions of mad honey have appeared in Western popular culture. For example: In the animated series “Futurama” written by Matt Groening and in the 2009 film “Sherlock Holmes”…

Today, mad honey is still found in Turkey and beyond. This mysterious and magical honey continues to be the subject of curiosity by many researchers. It is also attracted by people who are keen on new tastes and experiences.

¹ Buzz: A feeling of excitementenergy, and pleasure that something gives you.
³Trabzon is a city on the Black Sea coast of northeast Turkey.