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When bees feed on the pollen of rhododendron flowers, the resulting honey can pack a hallucinogenic punch.
It’s called mad honey, and it has a slightly bitter taste and a reddish color. More notably, a few types of rhododendrons, among them Rhododendron luteumand Rhododendron ponticum, contain grayanotoxin, which can cause dramatic physiological reactions in humans and animals. Depending on how much a person consumes, reactions can range from hallucinations and a slower heartbeat to temporary paralysis and unconsciousness.
There have been no modern deaths recorded from eating mad honey. But as rhododendrons flourish at high altitudes, and as the bees often nest on sheer cliffs, gathering the honey may be more dangerous than consuming it. In Nepal, honey hunters make dangerous vertical climbs—while enduring stings from enormous bees—to harvest mad honey.
Mad honey has non-culinary uses too. Turkey and Nepal, the epicenters of mad honey production, have traditionally cultivated the honey as medicine. Today, it’s touted as relieving hypertension, providing a burst of energy, and being a sweet substitute for Viagra. As a result, mad honey ranks among the most expensive honeys in the world. It sells for $60 to $80 dollars a pound on the black markets of some Asian countries, several of which have very strict anti-drug laws.
Mad honey can be purchased in the regions of Nepal and Turkey where it is produced, typically from the beekeepers themselves. It is also available online.
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