Mad Honey

Are you mad for honey?


Photo courtesy National Honey Board,

Did you love our tour of worldwide beehives earlier this year? Well then, you’ll want to hop aboard the Jane train as we venture off to the Black Sea region of Turkey in search of a mysterious variety of mountain honey that may be as treacherous as it is tantalizing …


Photo by Dr. Zeynel Cebeci via Wikimedia Commons

As we arrive in the beautiful port of Gulburnu, a small seaside village in Turkey’s Giresun province, the scenery looks peaceful and picturesque. Not a trace of … madness. Let’s have a look around. Hmmm … all is quiet as we ascend the slopes above town.


Photo of mountains on Turkey’s Black Sea coast by Gardenlantern via Wikimedia Commons

Who might we ask about the honey known locally as deli bal … Hello? Excuse me, can you tell us where we might find deli bal? HELLO!?


Photo by Ziegler175 via Wikimedia Commons

Can you imagine? They never even stopped to look at us! Perhaps that’s the reaction we should expect when asking about a type of honey that has, at least once in history, been used as a weapon of war.

It’s true.

“In 67BC, King Mithridates’ army left chunks of ‘mad honeycomb’ in the path of the Roman enemy, who gobbled it up, lost their minds, and were promptly slain,” reports The Guardian.


Photo by Skrissh2013 via Wikimedia Commons

Deli bal, or orman komar bali (rose of the forest honey), is rare regional honey produced by the pollination of certain rhododendron varieties that contain a natural poison called grayanotoxin.


Photo of toxic Turkish Rhododendron luteum by Karduelis via Wikimedia Commons

According to Emma Bryce of Modern Farmer, “In Turkey, not only do the poisonous rhododendrons abound, but the humid, mountainous slopes around the Black Sea 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.”


Photo of toxic Turkish Rhododendron ponticum by Karduelis via Wikimedia Commons

While “mad honey” is rarely fatal, consuming more than minute amounts can cause low blood pressure, heartbeat irregularity, nausea, numbness, blurred vision, fainting, potent hallucinations, and seizures.

No wonder no one wants to tell us where to find it! Mum’s the word …


Photo by Seattle Globalist via Wikimedia Commons

“People believe that this honey is a kind of medicine,” Süleyman Turedi, a doctor at Turkey’s Karadeniz Technical University School of Medicine, told Bryce. “They use it to treat hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and some different stomach diseases.” He went on to say that deli bal is taken in small amounts, sometimes boiled in milk, and consumed typically just before breakfast.

That is, if you dare.

“If you do find yourself in the area and want a taste, you’ll have to dig a bit deeper than supermarket shelves,” Bryce advises. “Ask nicely, and chances are most local shopkeepers will hand over a jar from a stash tucked behind the counter, adding to the old-world mystery of it all.”

So, tell me … would you dare?



Icelandic Snowflake Bread

Few destinations on Earth inspire such wintry notions in our imaginations as Iceland. I mean, the name alone is shivery, not to mention the landscape …


Photo of Sunset at Goðafoss in Winter, Iceland by Andreas Tille via Wikimedia Commons

Excuse me while I grab my parka.

Now that I’m sufficiently bundled, I hope you’ll don your warmest winter apparel and tag along to the far reaches of the far north, where sturdy little turf farmhouses are currently blanketed in snow and cloaked in darkness. That’s right—only four to six hours of skimpy sunlight each day. But don’t fret, there are wonders to behold …


Photo of the northern lights in Iceland by Francisco Diez via Wikimedia Commons

and laufabraud to be made!

“In Iceland, the beginning of the Christmas season means it’s time to make laufabraud, snowflake breads,” writes Linda Raedisch in The Old Magic of Christmas: Yuletide Traditions for the Darkest Days of the Year.

Laufabraud, which literally translates as “leaf bread” but is also known as snowflake bread, is a thin, circular cake fried in oil or lard. Intricate designs carved into each bread often look a bit like geometric leaves, hence the name. They remind me of the paper snowflake cut-outs that elementary school kids proudly bring home this time of year.


Photo courtesy of Nordic Thoughts

Fallegur! (That means “beautiful” in Icelandic—thanks Google Translate.)

“Laufabraud is an Icelandic Christmas tradition that originated in the north of the country. The bread possibly has a much older origin, but references to it in written sources appear around 1736 as the Icelanders ‘candy.'” explains worldly food enthusiast Esther Martin-Ullrich, who blogs at Why’d You Eat That?.

“Many families have their own personal traditions surrounding the bread,” says Martin-Ullrich. “They gather together in the beginning of December, usually on the first Sunday of Advent, and make a full day out of it. Groups of 12 to 15 can make several hundred cakes at a time. At the end of the day, the cakes are split evenly between all and are stored in cookie tins until Christmas. Recipes are passed down from mother to daughter, and there are also designs passed down through generations.”


Photo courtesy of 2011/12/01/day-1-laufabraud/

The patterns were traditionally created using a heavy brass roller called a laufabrauðsjárn (leaf bread iron) like the ones below, but they can also be cut by hand with a paring knife.


Photo courtesy of via Pinterest

Here’s a short video about the making of laufabraud:

Interested in bringing this unique Icelandic Christmas tradition home to your own kitchen and starting an old tradition anew? Learn how to make leaf bread with instructions and fabulous photos on