Mad Honey
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Basic Information

Mad Honey is honey contaminated with toxins derived from the source plant. For example, if the bees that made it gathered pollen from rhododendrons or other ericacae plants, it could be loaded with grayanotoxins. Rhododendron honey is darkly-colored and reddish in hue. In small quantities, it causes light-headed-ness and a burning sensation in the throat, but larger doses can cause hallucinations, dangerous drops in blood pressure, paralysis, and potentially death by poison.

Accounts of "mad honey" poisoning occur in Xenophon and Strabo. The former was accidental, when the Greek army under Xenophon got lost in Armenia in 401 BC and feasted on wild honey. The later was due to Mithridates deliberately abandoning supplies of mad honey where Pompey's legionaries would find and consume them in 67 BC. He then attacked while the Roman soldiers were incapacitated.

Unsurprisingly, given what appears to be the default human response to toxic alkaloids1 (which grayanotoxins are), "mad honey" is deliberately produced and distributed in some areas. In Turkey (particularly the region of Turkey that's near the Black Sea) it can be found under the names deli bal, bitter honey, orman komar bali, or rose-of-the-forest honey. It's sold as a legal hallucinogen, unregulated despite somewhat frequent cases of honey poisoning. A similar product is harvested and sold in Nepal as well. It is sometimes dissolved in mead or other alcohol to magnify the hallucinogenic effect. The largest danger of overdose seems to be in males who take it for sexual enhancement purposes.

Plants whose pollen might result in Mad Honey include: Azalea, Oleander, Laurel, Rhododendron.


3. Non-Fiction Book: How To Mellify A Corpse by Vicki León

Game and Story Use

  • As usual, as a trade good, this probably counts as a treasure. In this case, it is also a recreational drug and a poison.
    • A more restrictive government might clamp down on this, resulting in a honey-sweet black market.
  • A bit like ergotism poisoning the grain supply, entire communities could potentially be hit by Mad Honey Poisoning if a new Invasive Species introduces a toxic pollen to a region known for its beekeeping. The PCs have to identify the cause in order to save the day.
  • Other products might be ruined, corrupted or poisoned by similar environmental factors. Mad Milk, Mad Beer, even something like a Mad Healing Potion could introduce an unexpected twist to your campaign.
    • Mad beer is almost a thing - ales made with a calluna gruit can be mildly psychoactive already and are prone to contamination with ergot fungi which have much stronger effects. Meanwhile, has anyone experimented with making mead from mad honey?
  • A "Mummy" produced via Mellification with Mad Honey might have intoxicating, enchanting or toxic special abilities.
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