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Author Topic: Rhododendron honey toxic?  (Read 3149 times)

Offline Nukolator

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Rhododendron honey toxic?
« on: January 21, 2014, 10:27:20 PM »
Hi folks,
My friend pointed out this section in the NSW AgSkills beekeeper training manual:
"Avoid areas of rhododendrons to minimize the risk of grayantoxins. Grayantoxins can cause vomiting, drooling, diarrhoea, weakness and depression of the nervous system. The most severe cases usually lead to a coma and then death due to the collapse of cardiovascular system. However it is unlikely that Australian beekeepers will be producing rhododendron honey!"

Has anyone come across this?  We have a lot of rhododendrons in our area, but I doubt the bees would be gathering enough from them for it to be a risk.

Offline edward

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Re: Rhododendron honey toxic?
« Reply #1 on: January 21, 2014, 10:29:41 PM »
Some army back in ancient Greek roman times ate some and didn't do well in battel

Offline Nukolator

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Re: Rhododendron honey toxic?
« Reply #2 on: January 22, 2014, 12:57:47 AM »
After some more research, this doesn't look like it will be such a problem, but better safe than sorry!

Offline JackM

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Re: Rhododendron honey toxic?
« Reply #3 on: January 22, 2014, 09:06:29 AM »
I have oodles of Rhodies on the property next door.  The bees ignore the flowers on them completely.  It cannot be because there are other flowers, as they usually bloom before most of the other stuffdoes
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Online kathyp

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Re: Rhododendron honey toxic?
« Reply #4 on: January 22, 2014, 12:15:31 PM »
mine get on them, but they flower so early that the hives are not supered for honey yet.  i have not found it to be a problem and we have tons of them.
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Offline rwlaw

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Re: Rhododendron honey toxic?
« Reply #5 on: January 22, 2014, 02:49:56 PM »
I've got two large ones against my polebarn, bloom like crazy. Have never seen a bee on them, the bumbles love em tho.
 I keep any dink hives that I need to keep an eye on between them, I think they naturally avoid em.
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Offline edward

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Re: Rhododendron honey toxic?
« Reply #6 on: January 22, 2014, 03:28:15 PM »
In gardens they probably flower so early that the bees eat the necktar under there build up period.

Offline Michael Bush

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Re: Rhododendron honey toxic?
« Reply #7 on: January 23, 2014, 08:02:10 AM »
In Turkey they had it in very small jars at a premium price as medicine for ED.
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Offline swflcpl

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Re: Rhododendron honey toxic?
« Reply #8 on: January 23, 2014, 08:32:42 AM »
"Honey bee plants of South Florida" by Julia F Morton sites that Greek story as well as recent work in Scotland that shows some are also non toxic. Doesn't list any varietals but maybe if you found the work she sites (E. Oertel) it might be more specific.

Offline Cedar Hill

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Re: Rhododendron honey toxic?
« Reply #9 on: January 23, 2014, 12:41:04 PM »
    Supposedly, Leonidas at the battle of Thermopolae  had positioned large jars of mountain laurel honey on the sides of the pass that they had to defend in order to drug the oncoming enemy.   ABC and XYZ (32nd edition) pages 511 to 512  has a pretty good discussion about poisonous honey.   OMTCW (Only My Two Cents Worth)

Offline NCbeekeep

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Re: Rhododendron honey toxic?
« Reply #10 on: January 23, 2014, 09:44:23 PM »
Hi Nukolater
About 5 years ago we had a drought here in the foothills of NC and very little of anything was blooming.The honeybee being the resourceful creatures that they are found a nectar source, the Mountain Laurel. I thought that my girls were bringing in some real pretty light colored honey. I got a real surprise when I tasted of that honey. Let me tell you that was the most disgusting honey I have ever tasted in my life. I have not tasted anything that bad before or since. I heard it was poison, and how it people had died from eating it. I will tell you I took a couple of spoon fulls and I could not imagine anyone eating enough of this to kill them. They would have to be drunk out of their mind to eat that much as bad as it taste.

Offline sc-bee

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Re: Rhododendron honey toxic?
« Reply #11 on: January 26, 2014, 03:50:41 PM »
Excerpt from Pickens beekeepers assoc.

(Mountain Laurel Honey)
This year when I was extracting my first crop of honey, I thought I was very lucky for my bees to
have made so much in such a bad frost year.  It was so beautiful, light and clear, that I could hardly
wait to work it.  One of my perks for extracting is that I get the first sample of my honey - imagine
my surprise when that first taste was so bitter that I spit it out in the honey barn sink!  I nearly
cried when all that honey turned out the same way - so very bitter and bad tasting that even my bees
would not go back to the two frames I had uncapped, preferring the current nectar blooms over that
bitter honey. 
Here is the information and references I have been able to find about what happened...
(From the NC Bee Buzz, vol 33, no 3, Fall 2007, page 9)

Dr. David Tarpy, the NC State Apiculurist, writes that this bitter honey has shown
up in North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia.  When samples of it were
analyzed by a leading expert in pollen identification, it was found that the
"overwhelming majority of the pollen found in the sample was laurel, strongly
suggesting that this is the source of the honey" (page 9).

Because of our late freezes and continuing drought this year, the early nectar plants
were not good, forcing the bees to work other things that were available - mountain
laurel for example (remember I was surprised to find my bees working the red azaleas
in front of my home? that was not good...)

Dr. Tarpy tells us that mountain laurel contains something called grayanotoxins that
are harmful to people if we eat enough of them.  They affect our nerves cells and
other organs and tissues, causing weakness, slow heart beat, perspiration, nausea, and
can even kill you in high enough doses.  Dr. Jeff Harris at the USDA Baton Rouge
lab says a "potentially lethal dose for humans is 3 milliliters of laurel honey per
kilogram of body weight."  This is about 14 tablespoons for a 150 pound person.  It
has to be in a fairly short period of time though, because the effects usually wear off
within 24 hours (still on page 9).

They say that if your honey tastes bitter, do not eat it or sell it, save it and feed it back
to your bees as winter feed.  It will not hurt them (last bit from page 9).
Jaycox, Elbert R. (1982).  Beekeeping Tips and Topics.  Modern Press.  Alburquerque, New
Mexico.  Article of interest (Bees, People, and Poisonous Plants) is on pages 105-107.

Mr. Jaycox writes that toxic honey is produced all over the world, Turkey, Japan,
Greece, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, and the US.  In 1965, T. Palmer-Jones
did a thorough review of the subject in the New Zealand Medical Journal.  "...Honey that
causes vomiting, dizziness, and even death was well known before the time of Christ"
(page 105).  People then knew that this kind of honey was associated with plants from
the Rhododendron and Azalea families.

These plants are the most common form of toxic honey in the US.  They grow wild and
are cultivated all over the country.  In 1969, this toxic honey (mountain laurel, Kalmia
latifolia) was implicated in Washington state as having made some people sick (page

"In some cases, the bees do not normally visit the particular ploant but do so because
of the failure of other plants to bloom at their ususal time.  Nectar that is toxic to
humans but not to bees is often consumed for brood rearing early or late in the year or
is used only for winter stores, so that none of it is taken from the bees" (page 107).
Atkins, E. Laurence.  (1997) Injury to Honey Bees by Poisoning, article from the Hive and the
Honey Bee, pages 1153-1208.  Dadant & Sons.  Hamilton, Illinois.

Mr. Laurence tells us that honey from mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is one of the
two types of honey that can hurt human beings, the other being from a honeydew in
New Zealand. 

"The mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, is found from southern Maine to Florida and Louisiana on
rocky hillsides and acid swamps.  The plants contain a poison andromedotoxin which poisons and
sometime it occurs in honey.  After eating a spoonful of such honey, people may feel numbness and
may lose consciousness for several hours.  No aftereffects have been reported (Lovell, 1956)" (page
Honey Plants.  (2007). Article from the ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture, pages 398-444.   A.I.
Root Company.  Medina, Ohio.

Page 440-441, section on Rhododendron.  Here we find that plants from the heath
(Ericacceae) family are recognized as sources of toxic honey.  There is a story about some
Greek soldiers in 401 B.C. who are supposed to have died from eating toxic honey from
the Rhododendron ponticum plant.  This article says that laboratory tests confirm that several
species from this family are poisonous to bees too.  The experts suspect both the pollen
and nectar and believe that the toxicity is dose-related or has a delayed effect.  They also
think that perhaps the toxins are dilute in nectar, becoming more concentrated as the
moisture is evaporated out in making the honey.

Page 441-442, section on Mountain Laurel.  Mountain laurel grows in the moist
woodlands of upper elevations of the Appalachians.  All parts of the plant are harmful to
This is what I was able to find in my bee books about toxic honey, mountain laurel,
and rhododendron.  If you have anything to add, e-mail me at

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Offline ScituateMA

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Re: Rhododendron honey toxic?
« Reply #12 on: April 01, 2014, 11:19:05 PM »
In Turkey they had it in very small jars at a premium price as medicine for ED.

I was born in that part of Turkey, Black Sea Region.  I used to have 35 bee hives there. We have thousands of them in nature and I used to move my bees to the forest with full of them. Bees love them there and they are a big resource for brood rearing. Since bees are not very strong when they bloom, you do not collect any honey from them.
there is another kind which has yellow flower and nectar from this yellow kind is toxic and bees mostly avoid them.
I live in MA and last year was my first beekeeping year here and I did not see any bees on them and I was surprised,  I dont still get that! Either those we have here are not the same  kind with in Turkey [ even they look the same to me ] or there are better resources out there when they bloom.
if someone knows the answer , pls let me know )!

Offline edward

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Re: Rhododendron honey toxic?
« Reply #13 on: April 02, 2014, 03:08:10 AM »
Hallucinogen Honey Hunters - Hunting mad honey - documentary

Hallucinogen Honey Hunters - Hunting mad honey - documentary

mvh Edward  :-P