Mead Lover's Digest #0485 Fri 21 June 1996


Forum for Discussion of Mead Making and Consuming
Dick Dunn, Digest Janitor



Re: Mead Lover's Digest #484, 16 June 1996 (Steve Miller)
Toxic Honey (Dan McFeeley)
Re: Mead Lover's Digest #484, 16 June 1996 (Gregg Cluff)
previous message incorrect (Gregg Cluff)
Re: AGING (Robert A. Tisdale)
Elderberry questions (Joyce Miller)
Re: Mead Lover's Digest #484, Bee Pollen as nutrient (Robert A. Tisdale)
dandelion mead (
Help with large batches ("Flinsch, Alex")


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Subject: -rhodo-
From: (Dick Dunn)
Date: 16 Jun 96 00:43:12 MDT (Sun)

Perhaps worth noting, with the recent spate of posting about poisonous
honey derived from rhododendron, that there is an ancient name for a mead
variant, "rhodomel", that has nothing to do with rhododendron. (It's a
caution about terminology.)

Rhodomel is a mead flavored with rose petals, nothing with rhododendrons.

I've always been curious about rhodomel, but have never had enough roses to
attempt it. The intriguing aspect is that people will sometimes smell
roses and say that they smell like raspberries, or vice-versa. I've made
many raspberry melomels and they've been the best-liked of my meads, so I
keep wondering what a rhodomel would be like.

Dick Dunn Boulder County, Colorado USA

Subject: Re: Mead Lover's Digest #484, 16 June 1996
From: Steve Miller <>
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 1996 08:37:03 -0400

>I believe that the plant is "purple loosestrife", and if it's the one I'm
>thinking of, then it's that evil weed with the tall purple flower spike
>that grows everywhere that there's any water at all. It's a non-native
>invader, the botanical equivalent of the zebra mussel. 🙁
>If you can get honey from it, then that's the first remotely good use I've
>heard of for it. [die, die, evil non-native species!!]
>- — Joyce, botanist-at-large
>Subject: Purple loosestrip(?) honey
>From: bakkee01@TIGGER.STCLOUD.MSUS.EDU (Eric Bakken)
>Date: Fri, 14 Jun 1996 10:25:11 -0600
>Jake Galley mentioned picking up some purple loosestrip honey on a trip to
>Door County, and was wondering what exactly purple loosestrip was…
>Here in Minnesota we have a plant called purple loosestrife, which is an
>exotic aquatic plant which is choking out the native grassy-type plants
>along the shorelines of lakes. I'm wondering if that is what the honey is
>made out of.

This plant should not be promoted even if it DOES make a good honey — it's
indirectly reducing various bird populations by replacing cat-tails in many
situations. If we see cattails and loosetrife in the same spot we've been
known (my wife and I) to stop and pull it up by it's roots. It's not an
aqautic plant so much as a wetlands plant, I think. Some fools are actually
selling it as a replacement to "ugly cattails" — but the plant offers no
food nor other ecological value that we've been able to discover.

Steve Miller

  • – – – – – – –

Visit The Authors of the Liaden Universe page



Subject: Toxic Honey
From: Dan McFeeley <>
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 1996 09:53:10 -0500 (CDT)

There is an article in the Nov/Dec issue of _Archaeology_,
vol. 84, #6, by Adrienne Mayor on this topic, also the
_Journal of the American Medical Association_, April 1, 1988
vol 259, #13 on "Rhodendrons, Mountain Laurel, and Mad Honey."

Mayor also refers to the incident with general Xenophon in 401 B.C.
and mentions other instances where toxic honeycombs were set out
as a ruse to entrap invading armies. Three of Pompey's squadrons
fell to this tactic by the Heptakometes, 5,000 Russian foes of
Olga of Kiev were massacred after accepting several tons of fermented
toxic honey, and in 1489 10,000 Tartar soldiers were wiped out by
Russians after they partook of some abandoned casks of mead they
found in an area not far from the Kiev incident.

The area south and east of the Black Sea was apparently well known
in tale and legend for poisonous plants and minerals. The sorceress
Medea of Colchis (where Xenophon's soldiers were overcome) and King
Mithridates VI of Pontus hail from these parts, and both were known
as experts in poisons and antidotes. Dionysos, the god of madness
and his followers the Maenads who, according to playright Euripides,
"waved wands flowing with honey and drank intoxicating concoctions
of alcohol and honey" were from this area. A romantic poet of the 2nd
Century a.d., Longus, wrote of his lover's kiss as like the "madness
of new honey."

The Roman naturalist Pliny warned about the "meli maenomenon" ("mad"
or "raving honey") from the Black Sea coast. Greek and Roman medical
sources valued "mad honey" as a "pharmakon" or drug, citing it as
efficacious in reversing the illness of the insane ("sympathetic magic,"
I suppose, or "hair of the dog that bit you"). Pliny wrote that
meli maenomenon made a fine mead so long as it was properly aged.
In the Caucasus area, people were known to add small amounts of Pontic
azalea honey to alcoholic drinks in order to intensify the effects.
Mad honey was known as "deli bal" in Turkey, and a spoonful added to
milk was supposed to be a tonic. Deli bal was a major Black sea
export in the 18th century, and was known to Westerners as "miel fou"
("crazy honey"). Benjamin Barton wrote of Pennsylvanian beekeepers
who added liquor to honey made from mountain laurel (observing the
use of the mountain laurel as a drug by area native Americans) and
sold it as an elixer in New Jersey under the name of metheglin.

Ancient descriptions of toxic honey vary. Some described it as red
and liquid, or smelled odd or tasted bitter, or that it couldn't
be distinguished from good honey. Aging or boiling was supposed
to neutralize it, while others said that you could get used to it.
Barton, writing in 1794, said that Scottish heather honey had
roughly similar effects on him as a "moderate dose of opium" while
the doughty Scots suffered no ill effects at all. Most writers
said that toxic honey was to be found in the spring, others said
that dry spells at high elevations produced it. Others said that
a single honeycomb could contain both good and toxic honey.

John T. Ambrose, state apiculturist of North Carolina offers a
good explanation for the seasonal variation of toxic honey. He
points out that honeybees prefer flowers with a higher sugar content
over the flora of the Ericaceae plants (including rhododendron,
mountain laurel, etc.) but that rhododendrons are vigourous early
bloomers. Hence, in the early spring when these are the only flowers
available, spring honey is likely to contain the grayanotoxins of
the native Ericaceae flora, especially if it is from green and unripe
cells not yet capped with wax — explaining ancient sources describing
toxic honey as watery in consistency and found in parts, but not all
of the honey comb.

The dangers of ingesting toxic honey seem limited to purchasing honey
from small farms where only a few hives are kept, but even this
potiential seems minimal. Small beekeepers in areas where the flora
may be toxic are usually familiar with the dangers. Commercially
processed honey is even safer since grayanotoxins are neutralized in the
hive by the dehydration of the ripening process, according to Mayor,
and the large-scale blending of different honeys further reduces the

The article, which I've tried to summarize as succinctly as possible,
was especially interesting to me in the hints it gave of the role of
honey and mead in the ancient world. Mayor argues that oracles such
as the Maenads or even the Delphic oracle relied on toxic meads to
produce their trances. They seemed to be known as "melissai" or
"bee oracles" in the Greco-Roman world of the pre-Christian era.
Although it seems tempting to attribute the use of some forms of
spiked meads to Berserker rages or the frenzy attributed to ancient
Celtic warriers, I'm cautious about this since the effect of toxic
honey seems to inhibit, rather than inspire activity.

BTW — thanks to those who sent private e-mail replies to my
previous post about mead and mythology. Everyone agreed that a
good source to obtain is the reprint of Hilda Ransome's 1938
text, _The Sacred Bee in Ancient Times and Folklore_. I'm working
at getting my own copy, and if I find anything relevant to 'net
discussions I'll be sure to post them here.


Dan McFeeley

Subject: Re: Mead Lover's Digest #484, 16 June 1996
From: Gregg Cluff <>
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 1996 16:02:01 -0700

>It is probably a major reason why heating is done…the poisoning is
>likely from botulinum toxin, and children are more susceptible to it
>(infant botulism) heating will kill the toxin. It isnt the plant which
>matters so much I think as the quality/qantity of the nectar, as
>botulinum is a bacteria which produces the toxin.
>Len Meuse

While heat will kill the botulinum bacteria, If I recall correctly
from medicinal chemistry, botulinum toxin isn't suseptable to low heat.
It takes a very high heat > 300ºCelcius for a sustained period of time
to break down botulinum toxin. Most people wont be able to do this to
their honey.
Be careful. If the toxin is already produced, you may have no choice
bet to toss the batch. Fortunatly this isn't likley to happen to mead
if good cleanliness procedures are taken during the brew.
Gregg Cluff, Pharm.D.

Subject: previous message incorrect
From: Gregg Cluff <>
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 1996 16:25:12 -0700

The previous message was posted backward
Botulinum toxin is heat sensative
The bacteria in heat tolerant

Subject: Re: AGING
From: (Robert A. Tisdale)
Date: Mon, 17 Jun 1996 08:27:50 -0600

What changes occur during the aging process? Do these changes occur while
the mead is still clearing or do they only happen after?


Bob Tisdale

Robert A. Tisdale TEL: (601) 325-2085
Dept. of Entomology & Plant Pathology FAX: (601) 325-8837
Mississippi State University E-mail:
Mississippi State, MS 39762-9775, USA

Check out our World Wide Web Home Page

Subject: Elderberry questions
From: (Joyce Miller)
Date: Mon, 17 Jun 1996 10:43:09 -0400

Has anyone out there made an elderberry mead? Or is this something that
should be used for a straight wine? How about the flowers?

While out rollerblading, I've noticed a lot of elderberry bushes starting
to flower. I'm a little surprised that I didn't notice them last year, and
am wondering if perhaps these will turn out to be the "green elderberries"
that I read about recently (the kind that stay green when ripe, rather
than turning purple-black). Has anyone tried making mead or wine out of
the green kind? If so, how do you tell when they're ripe?

Also, has anyone tried a rose mead? If so, how many cups of fresh petals
are used per gallon? I was planning on racking onto the petals after the
initial ferment had died down.

  • — Joyce

Subject: Re: Mead Lover's Digest #484, Bee Pollen as nutrient
From: (Robert A. Tisdale)
Date: Mon, 17 Jun 1996 13:01:04 -0600

Dan McC says

I would love to have you elaborate on the nutrient effects of bee pollen,
how it improves the ferment and how a non-beekeeper can get it. Do you
know the chemical composition? Is it expensive?

Bee pollen is readily available at health and natural food stores either in
capsules or whole. However, it is very expensive relative to yeast
nutrient. I don't know the ratios of the components, but it is relatively
high in protein, amino acids, and nucleic acids (DNA).

How much would one add to a 5 gal batch?

Bob Tisdale

Robert A. Tisdale TEL: (601) 325-2085
Dept. of Entomology & Plant Pathology FAX: (601) 325-8837
Mississippi State University E-mail:
Mississippi State, MS 39762-9775, USA

Check out our World Wide Web Home Page

Subject: dandelion mead
Date: Tue, 18 Jun 1996 00:57:02 -0400

I have made a great many dandelion meads. As a child I spent plenty of time
in the spring picking dandelion heads for my mother to use in wine making. I
later applied this to my mead making, although I have never heard of anyone
else making dandelion mead. I use approx. 3-5 lb.s of dandelion heads per
five gallons of must. I collect the flowers over a period of time form my own
property only so as not to worry of pesticides etc… The flowers are stored
in a zipp lock bag in the deep freeze until I have enough. I place the
flowers in the water that I am going to use for the must. I heat the water/
flowers up to a boil, then skim them out and add the honey.

I would like to note, as I saw a metion of pollen as a yeast nutrient, that,
while I am a great advocate of matching honey types and special nutrients for
optimal fermentation, I have never added yeast nutrients to my dandelion
meads. The flowers seem to have it covered.

micah millspaw – brewer at large

Subject: Help with large batches
From: "Flinsch, Alex" <>
Date: 19 Jun 96 08:02:00 -0400

I am seeking some advice on LARGE batches of mead (20 gallons or more).
I started a 20 gallon batch back in early March and it seems to be going
along much more slowly than other batches that I have used. These are the
details of the batch

72 lbs honey from local beekeeper
8 lbs light malt extract (for nutrients)
4 oz acid blend (don't have the exact mixture here at work)

mead was not boiled, but rather blended with 170-185F water then cooled to
about 80F with a wort chiller (45F water thru 25 foot chiller for about 2

batch was then aerated for about 3 hrs with an aquarium pump/airstone

the yeast pitched was 6 packets of RedStar sherry yeast that had been
started in 1 1/2 gallons of a water honey mixyure (OG unknown).

The starting gravity of this mead is guesstimated at 1.140 as it was off
scale on my hydrometer.

Fermentation temps have been fairly stable in the 60-64F range and the
current gravity is around 1.065.

What I need to know is
1- Is there any way to speed up this fermentation a bit, as the mead is
needed for a

friends May 97 wedding

2- Is there any way to speed up the aging of this brew once it is bottled. I
have some

filtration equip so getting a clear product should not be much of a



Alex Flinsch

End of Mead Lover's Digest #485