This honey is exclusively found in the hives of the Himalayan cliff bee (apis dorsata laboriosa). This flying insect is the largest bee in the world at just over 3cm long and only nests in altitudes between 2500 and 3000 meters (8,200 and 9,800 feet). They like to build their nests under the overhangs on the south-western faces of vertical cliffs.
This makes the honey nearly impossible to collect. Even experienced collectors have difficulties collecting it, but nevertheless—year in and year out—they keep trying. These bees scavenge pollen from Rhododendron flowers. These flowers are highly poisonous to humans but can be taken in small amounts when in honey form.
Many Rhododendron species contain grayanotoxins which are poisonous to humans. Although less toxic in honey form, they still produce some interesting results.
‘Mad honey’ is known to be a powerful hallucinogen and recreational drug as well as being ascribed many medicinal features. The honey is thought to be effective in treating everything from hypertension and diabetes to poor sexual performance, when taken in small doses. (The Mind Unleashed)
But users need to beware of the amount of honey they consume. Eating a little may be enjoyable, but eating too much can be life threatening.
In small amounts, the honey is intoxicating, giving a feeling of relaxation and a pleasant dizziness and tingling sensation. With slightly larger amounts, it can be hallucinogenic, although there is little scientific literature regarding its effects. When taken in larger doses, however, mad honey can cause Rhododendronpoisoning (or honey intoxication) which is characterized by vomiting, progressive muscle weakening and heart irregularities. (The Mind Unleashed)
What is most amazing about this honey is the process by which the local harvesters collect it. They do so without any protective coverings while hanging over a cliff face. It is incredible.
Their fear of being stung is all but absent because many of these harvesters live with bees in the walls of their homes, this is a common practice for some Himalayan villagers so that the honey can be collected from the inside.
Honey has plenty of health benefits and finding it locally is the best option. As local as the walls of one’s home is the best ever.
Many villagers do not consume ‘mad honey’ because it fetches too great a price at market. It is generally sold to benefit the entire village.
The following is a mini documentary about a tribe in Nepal that collects and sells this honey. However, compared to the effort exerted to get the honey, little profit is made.
Check out these honey collectors and their mad skills!