How Safe is Raw Honey?

by Jessica
(Indiana)

I have been checking into raw honey, and I have found some sources that say it is not safe to eat due to some form of toxin in it. Is this true? I have eaten it before and not been bothered by it at all, but if it has some sort of toxin in it I would rather eat the processed stuff. Is it safe?

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Hi Jessica,

The 'toxin' you were told about may have been a reference to honey produced from 2 plants: rhododendrons and mountain laurel. Consuming honey produced from these plants can cause illness. Though rarely serious, the symptoms can be quite uncomfortable. In fact, someone posted to this website an account of his encounter with this type of honey.

It's very unlikely that you would encounter this honey for 3 reasons:

1) These plants are not widespread enough in sufficient quantity for large amounts of honey produced from these plants to be harvested.

2) Even if a hive does produce honey from these sources, when the honey is harvested, most of the time the honey will be mixed with honey produced from other plant sources, diluting the negative effect of the honey.

3) If a beekeeper does harvest honey produced primarily from rhododendrons or mountain laurel, he or she is likely to be the first person to be made sick with the honey. (And would presumably not then sell it.) After all, I've never known any beekeepers who didn't eat their own honey. I no longer produce enough honey to have extra to sell, but when I did, I always consumed a fair amount of it in the process of harvesting and bottling it. Not because I was conscientiously taste testing it, but because I simply couldn't resist!

One of my old bee books tells of beekeepers who lived in a mountainous region where mountain laurel honey was produced in large quantities in rare years. These beekeepers had a habit of testing the honey after it was harvested by first feeding a nice large chunk of honey comb to their dog. If the dog had trouble walking in 30 or 40 minutes, they would dispose of the honey, otherwise they'd let their kids feast on the freshly harvested honey! (The illness is temporary, so the dog would have recovered. And of course, I'm not suggesting that anyone feed honey to their dog.)



On very rare occasions, the safeguards listed above have failed, and consumers have become ill from eating mountain laurel or rhododendron honey. As a honey consumer myself, I don't worry about it, but it's something to be aware of. If you're buying honey from an individual beekeeper, feel free to ask whether he or she has eaten any honey from the batch you're considering purchasing.

All of the above, though, has absolutely nothing to do with the honey being raw. If you were to eat processed honey produced from rhododendrons or mountain laurel, the effects would be quite the same.

I've not heard of any other type of toxin being associated with raw honey. The only possible problem with raw honey that I'm aware of is the slight possibility of a consumer having a reaction to the pollen grains in raw honey.

Processed honey is highly filtered, which removes most if not all of the pollen grains that are naturally present in honey. If a person were to eat some raw honey containing a type of pollen to which they were hyper-allergic, they could potentially have a serious allergic reaction. (Read more about raw honey and raw honey and allergies.)

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