The A, B, C’s of Bees: Xenophon


Xenophon was a Greek soldier and mercenary who recorded his expeditions and thus also became a writer and historian.  His most famous work, Anabasis, describes Cyrus’ attack on the Persians (of which he took part).

But what is Xenophon’s connection with bees?

Toxic honey.

Toxic honey!

Yes, bees can make honey that is toxic to humans. Nectar collected from the flowers of rhododendrons, mountain laurels, sheep laurel, and azaleas may cause honey intoxication.  In New Zealand, toxic honey is produced by bees that are cultivated near tutu bushes.  Common symptoms include:

  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations

Sometimes the ingestion of toxic honey can also cause low blood pressure, shock, heart rhythm irregularities, convulsions and in rare instances, death.

Toxic honey is most often seen in unprocessed honey (straight from the hive) and honey collected from small farmers with only a few hives.

Um….that will be me in a year or so….

Do I need to worry?

We have several rhododendrons on our property very close to the planned site of our apiary and our woods are full of mountain laurel.  The thought of collecting toxic honey, which I didn’t even know existed until tonight, is a bit unnerving.

After further reading and thinking though, it seems to be pretty rare for a typical backyard beekeeper to produce toxic honey.  First, most people on the internet seem to agree that bees are not fond of the flowers that produce toxic honey (again, smart bees).  Second, the toxic effects are mainly seen when the nectar is predominantly from one of the poisonous plants.  In a typical foraging situation, the contribution of nectar from these plants would be negligible when compared to the abundance of other plants in the area.  Third, toxic honey was never mentioned in my bee class, so I am going to assume it is not a problem in our area.

Back to Xenophon

Xenophon and the Greek army may have been some of the first victims of biological warfare!  The army experienced three days of madness, feeling of drunkenness and vomiting after eating Deli bal in the Black Sea’s Trabzon region. Unbeknownst to them, Deli bal meant crazy honey and is still produced by bees that feed on various rhododendron plants in that region.

And it wasn’t just a freak accident.  Deli bal was also used against Pompey’s Army during the Third Midratic War.

I guess you could say it gave them a buzz!

Blogging my way from A to Z as part of the 2015 April A to Z Challenge!  My theme for this year:  Honeybees


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