Honey is a natural sweetener. It is an effective preservative. It can be used to reduce the effects of allergies. All told, honey has been a remarkable boon to mankind in many ways.
It has also, on at least one famous occasion, been a remarkably effective weapon.
The honey used is called “Mad Honey”. As explained in a research paper from Texas A&M:
Mad honey originated in the Black Sea region of Eastern Turkey where bees pollinate fields of rhododendron flowers, some species of which have a natural neurotoxin called grayanotoxin in their nectars. The honey that results is the most expensive in the world at $166 per pound, notes Bryant, and when consumed, can cause light-headedness, feelings of euphoria and even hallucinations.
It’s not surprising to learn that such a delicacy would command high prices. It does have a mild neurotoxin, though. When the honey is consumed in significant quantities, the effects become considerably less pleasant. Specifically, large amounts of “mad honey” can cause dizziness, diarrhea and vomiting.
This effect was well-known to the armies of Pontus (an area that today encompasses Turkey and some surrounding lands), circa 65 BC. That was when the Roman forces under Pompey the Great were routing the forces of Pontic King Mithridates in battle after battle, pushing them back beyond the Black Sea.
Mithridates lost the war, but there was one battle near Colchis (now a portion of Georgia) where the results were staggeringly one-sided. The Roman legions were pressing forward after a series of successful battles and happened upon a particularly lucky find: a series of local beekeeper’s hives and their honey stores.
They had no way of knowing that the honey had been placed there by Mithridates’ retreating troops. The soldiers did what soldiers of the time did: they pillaged. This time, the pillaging involved ingesting their “war spoils” of honey.
It didn’t take very long for the first effects to be felt, but it took long enough that most of the force had a chance to eat some. It’s likely that some thought that the returning Pontic forces were merely another hallucination… but the Romans were not so lucky. With his enemy effectively incapacitated, Mithridates had his greatest success of his doomed campaign. A thousand Roman troops died, with almost no losses to the forces of the Pontic king.
Question of the night: what honey-added or honey-tinged foods do you enjoy?