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April 1, 1988

Rhododendrons, Mountain Laurel, and Mad Honey

Author Affiliations

American Medical Association Chicago

American Medical Association Chicago

JAMA. 1988;259(13):2009. doi:10.1001/jama.1988.03720130073034

One of the earliest reports of poisoning was the mass intoxication that resulted from the ingestion of honey produced from the nectar of Rhododendron ponticum, which was described by Xenophon in the anabasis during the expedition of Cyrus in 401BC near Trebizond (today's Trabzon):

The number of bee hives was extraordinary, and all of the soldiers that ate of the honey combs lost their senses, vomited, and were affected with purging, and none of them was able to stand upright; such as had eaten only a little were like men greatly intoxicated, and such as had eaten much were like mad men and some like persons at the point of death. They lay upon the ground, in consequence, in great numbers, as if there had been a defeat; and there was general dejection. The next day, no one of them was found dead; and they recovered their senses about the