Monday, July 30, 2018
THE BIRTHPLACE OF ANTINOUS
IS THE HOME OF 'MAD HONEY'
IS THE HOME OF 'MAD HONEY'
TURKEY's hallucinogenic "Mad Honey" is produced when bees pollinate rhododendron flowers in the remote mountainside towns of the Black Sea region ... where Antinous was born and spent his childhood.
After his death and deification, Antinous was identified with ARISTAEUS (below right), the inventor of beekeeping, so it is likely that he knew about the effects of Bithynian "Mad Honey."
He must have seen beekeepers hauling their hives up the slopes of the mountains of his homeland until they reach vast fields of cream and magenta rhododendron flowers.
Here, they unleashed their bees, which pollinated the blossoms and made a kind of honey from them so potent, it has been used as a weapon of war.
The dark, reddish "Mad Honey," known as "deli bal" in Turkey, contains an ingredient from rhododendron nectar called grayanotoxin ... a natural neurotoxin that, even in small quantities, brings on light-headedness and sometimes, hallucinations.
Throughout the ages, Bithynia has traded this potent produce with Greece and Rome and (in later centuries) Western Europe, where the honey was infused with drinks to give boozers a greater high than alcohol could deliver.
When over-imbibed, however, the honey can cause low blood pressure and irregularities in the heartbeat that bring on nausea, numbness, blurred vision, fainting, potent hallucinations, seizures, and even death, in rare cases.
Nowadays, cases of mad honey poisoning crop up every few years ... oftentimes in travelers who have visited Turkey.
Rhododendron flowers occur all over the world, and yet mad honey is most common in the Bithynia region ... the biggest honey-producing region in Turkey.
"There are more than 700 different species (of rhododendron) in the world, but according to our knowledge just two or three include grayanotoxin in their nectars," says Süleyman Turedi, a doctor at the Karadeniz Technical University School of Medicine in Trabzon, Turkey, who studies deli bal's effects and has witnessed more than 200 cases of mad honey poisoning.
In Turkey, not only do the poisonous rhododendrons abound, but the humid, mountainous slopes where Antinous grew up provide the perfect habitat for these flowers to grow in monocrop-like swaths.
When bees make honey in these fields, no other nectars get mixed in ... and the result is deli bal, potent and pure.
Although the product makes up only a tiny percentage of Bithynia's honey production, it has long held a strong Turkish following.
"People believe that this honey is a kind of medicine," Turedi says. “They use it to treat hypertension, diabetes mellitus and some different stomach diseases. And also, some people use deli bal to improve their sexual performance."
The honey is taken in small amounts, sometimes boiled in milk, and consumed typically just before breakfast, he adds ... not slathered on toast or stirred generously into tea the way normal honey would be.
Its value to customers has given beekeepers an incentive to keep visiting those rhododendron fields and producing it alongside their normal honey products.
Johnny Morris, a travel journalist from the United Kingdom, puts its Turkish predominance partly down to history, too. In 2003, for his popular travel column called "Grail Trail," he went to taste mad honey in Trabzon, a Turkish city that’s backed by mountains and faces the Black Sea.
"It’s got a long history in Turkey," he says. "It was used as a weapon of mass destruction for invading armies."
Indeed, in 67 B.C. Roman soldiers invaded the Black Sea region under General Pompey's command, and those loyal to the reigning King Mithridates secretly lined the Romans' path with enticing chunks of mad honeycomb.
The unwitting army ate these with gusto, as the story goes.
Driven into an intoxicated stupor by the hallucinogenic honey, many of the flailing soldiers became easy prey, and were slain.
Mad Honey is still sold under the counter at shops in the area today. Turedi explains that Turks in the region have the know-how to consume it responsibly.
"Local people are able to distinguish mad honey from other honeys. It causes a sharp burning sensation in the throat and thus it’s also referred to as bitter honey," he says.
People who have tried is say that even a drop or two of it on the tongue has a numbing effect. Experts say deli bal retains its numbing, head-spinning traits because it is untreated, unprocessed, and essentially pure.
"We know that if you eat more than one spoonful of honey including grayanotoxin, you are at risk of Mad-Honey poisoning," Turedi says.
"In spring and summer, the honeys are fresh and may include more grayanotoxin than in other seasons."
If that doesn’t dissuade the adventurous foodie, then Turedi says to limit intake to less than a teaspoon, "and if you feel some symptoms associated with mad honey, you should get medical care as soon as possible."
For adherents of Antinous on pilgrimages to the land of his birth, the dangerously sweet syrup retains its ancient mystery, tucked away in shops that are difficult to find.