Monday, October 11, 2010
Rhododendron kiusianum section tsutsusi
The nectar of rhododendrons is toxic. Somehow the bees can deal with it, but the humans cannot. In 401 BC, Greek soldiers ate honey from wild hives near the black sea and became sick for several days. That was just an accident. But an event in 67 BC was more like chemical warfare. Pompey's Roman armies were tempted by the same kind of honey in the same area, but this time the honey was deliberately placed by the enemy. Pompey's soldiers were so sick that they were easily killed. In 946 AD, the foes of Olga of Kieve were defeated by mead made from toxic honey.
Toxic honey has also been used in religious ritual. If you eat just a little, you hallucinate instead of getting really sick. In the 7th century BC, bee priestesses or "Melissae" revealed the future under the influence of maddening honey according to the Greek poet Homer. They ate "meli chloron" or green honey to put them in a spiritual frenzy and inspire their prophecies. Was it just toxic honey, mead made from toxic honey, or mead spiked with toxic honey? No one knows for sure.
In the 18th century, toxic honey, or "miel fou" was shipped from Turkey to European taverns where it was mixed with Ale to give it an extra kick. I guess it is no longer available, though. I couldn't find any rhodie honey on Goggle shopping.
I don't really think of this as Rhododendron season, this R. kiusianum is in full bloom now at the UC Botanical Garden.