Ever heard of Mad Honey? Both the army of Xenophon and Pompey discovered it with nasty outcomes. Bees making honey from rhododendron blossoms in the region of Colchis caused it to be saturated with grayanotixins. About as pleasant to spell as they are to ingest these toxins cause vomiting, dizziness, weakness, paresthesia, severe hypotension and bradycardia. To give you an idea of how effective this honey was the way you could test to see if it was the mad stuff would be to hold some in your hands. If it was mad honey you’d soon feel an odd tingling sensation running up your arm.
Needless to say eating large amounts of it would leave you in a very bad place. Xenophon’s battered army on its long walk home stumbled across some (Ana 4.820-21) though there were no casualties the troops experienced dizziness, vomiting and left many of them unable to walk for several days.
It wouldn’t be soon before this natural occurrence was weaponised with varying blossoms being used to create differing varieties of ‘Mad Honey’. An army of Pompey, whilst pursuing the Heptacometae again in Colchis came across large amounts of prepared honey on their march. The troops thought they’d struck gold, as foraging whilst in the march was a regular activity. Unfortunately the honey was a trap, the soldiers in a near paralytic state were easily overcome by the enemy (Strabo 12:3:8)
As mentioned it may have been different types of honey that befell Xenophon and Pompey, but it was in the same region, Colchis. For those with a keen memory this might ring a few bells as it was the region Medea, that arch witch and poisoner, hailed from.
You can take the woman out of Colchis……
(image from an black figure amphora c 540BC, the scene depicts a bee attack)
Do not eat the rhododendron honey.