Himalayan Honey Harvesting in Nepal
Himalayan Honey harvesting in Nepal is not an ordinary occupation. It involves gathering honey from treacherous cliffs as high as over 2,500 to 3000 meters from sea level. At such altitudes, we find a particular species of bees known as the Himalayan cliff honey bee that are a subspecies of the Apis Dorsata, the giant honey bee. They have only been found in mountain regions of Nepal, Bhutan, India and Chinese province of Yuman. These cliff honey bees can grow up to 3 centimeters in length and are highly adapted to the Himalayan region.
They are known for producing honey that is known as ‘mad honey’ due to the fact that the bees yield honey made using pollen from Rhododendrons which contains alkaloids called grayanotoxins – a group of poisonous chemicals that is rarely fatal to humans but could be lethal for some animals. It induces hallucinations upon consumption and has been extensively used in treatment of diabetes, alleviate hypertension and as an aphrodisiac by Gurung people.
Throughout history, a lot of people such as Xenophon, Aristotle, Strabo, Pliny the Elder, and Columella have documented the consumption of ‘mad honey’. In 67 B.C., the Romans under the command of General Pompey invaded the Black Sea. Followers of King Mithridates had lined the Roman’s path with enticing chunks of mad honeycombs. The Romans unable to resist its allure, consumed the mad honey and were dazed fairly quickly. Unable to combat the Turks due to their state –were slain and lost the battle. Similarly the same strategy was used against Xenophon’s army in 401 B.C.
Although, science has yet to confirm its therapeutic effects. The honey also make the people ‘mad’ in the sense that they are eager to get their hands on it. It grosses copious amount of profit to the locals as Himalayan honey is five times more costly than conventional honey. Every harvest could gross as much as 60 kg of honey from the hives. The wealthy crave it for its hallucinogenic properties as it gives a mild dizziness followed by a prickling sensation.