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?

  1. OOOh, Im so glad you posted this, MaryJane. When i wrote to you months ago to let you know about it on the website ” Modern Farmer” , I knew it would intrigue you. As one who loves the bees and their honey, I knew that you would tell all the rest of the farmgirls about this amazing honey story too. thanks for sharing.

  2. Winnie Nielsen says:

    Yes, this was a very interesting honey story! Thanks Lisa for sharing this so we could all get a chance to learn about it. I would love to taste some.

  3. Brenda Wheeler says:

    What a wonderful story! I love learning about unusual everyday things in people’s lives. I would have to past on a taste though. Not to fond of the possible effects that could be caused. It is a beautiful color of honey. I do like and use raw honey. Thank you Mary Jane for sharing this information with us.

  4. Karlyne says:

    That’s not a dare I’d take! I’ll just stick to my local honey, thank you very much!

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  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    If the Wall Tent had heat, I would love to visit in the Winter and just blend into the landscape. That would be such real Farmgirl Romance for this suburban Farmgirl!

  2. Cindi Johnson says:

    I would be your neighbor Winnie. A winter escape like that is just what the doctor ordered ~ well, he didn’t really, but I could get him to 🙂

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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


  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    I will be landing in Iceland on the morning of December 28 and it will still be the holiday season! Oh, I hope I get to see some of these beautiful leaf breads in bakery windows. I will take photos and try them out and let you know. Also, the recent report says that the seeing the Northern Lights has been pretty good this year so far. Here is hoping that holds true when we get there. It is going to be a huge change for this Florida Girl, but I think I have put together enough warm woolies and boots to keep me warm. The tour people told us to bring our bathing suits, however, for swimming in the termal hot pools. I can’t imagine, but I’m taking my suit that includes a LONG sleeve swim shirt I got at Lands End on sale this past summer!

    • MaryJane says:

      We can’t wait to hear EVERYTHING about your trip to Iceland. I thought a post on laufabraud would be a good send off. Fingers crossed on the Northern Lights.

  2. Oh Winnie, I am soooo envious of your trip !( ok ,even though I usually don’t travel to cold countries if I can help it- ok I’ve been to Iceland 4 times but it is one of my ” airport countries”- never even got out of the terminal, solid ice outside, no thanks! )
    Please Do take lots of photos and keep us posted. I have seen the fabulous “southern lights ” when I was travelling in Antarctic waters and they were mind boggling.
    We had Northern Lights when I lived in northern New Hampshire but not the spectacular ones like in Iceland by a long shot. They were mostly in ribbons like curtains, not like in these photos of Iceland. But still wonderfully magical.
    Enjoy your trip Winnie !

  3. CJ Armstrong says:

    Beautiful! Lots of work looks like to me!

  4. Sharon D. says:

    Thanks for sharing MaryJane! The Laufabraud is so beautiful! I really want to try making this. I have only witnessed the Northern Lights once and wish I could experience them again.

    Winnie, how exciting for you!!! Have a wonderful and safe trip 🙂

  5. Alise says:

    Wow! Thanks for sharing such an interesting tradition with us!

  6. Caryn Bloomberg says:

    I am fascinated by these beautiful breads. I have searched the internet as to where one of the brass rollers that cut the pattern into the bread could be purchased, but was unsuccessful. Does anyone know where one could be purchased.

    Nice article. The video was so nice to watch.

    Thank you. Caryn

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  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    It is amazing how these little feathered friends are equipped for such cold conditions. What type of bird is this?

  2. Karlyne says:

    I’m re-reading an old favorite of mine, The Bird in the Tree, so this picture is not only gorgeous, but timely, too! Thanks!

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  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    Such a beautiful place where you live! I enjoy seeing these landscape photos that you share. No wonder you wanted to live in this region of the the US.

  2. Karlyne says:


  3. Sue Morris says:

    I am soon to be leaving my own small beautiful home with flower gardens everywhere. My husband of 9 yrs abandoned me 4 months ago and I can not afford the mortgage. See your beautiful land and farm is very calming and gives me peace. Thank you Mary Jane. No worries though, I’ll make another house home and my flower gardens will flourish.

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  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    I love the sunlight on the frosty hill. Just beautiful!

  2. Cindi Johnson says:

    I’ll bet if I was standing there looking at that, I could hear the earth sleeping.

  3. Iafifa says:

    Awesome view I have ever seen… Just love it…!!!

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  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    Sweet memories and sweet expectations for Spring to follow Winter.

  2. Nancy Coughlin says:

    The leaves disappear and those hidden wonders of nature are now visible to the human eye. What a joy to discover them.

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