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Toxic Honey Truths at Te Ara

Media Release
1 April 2008

Toxic Honey Truths at Te Ara

The recent spate of serious poisonings from Coromandel honey has prompted the team at to post a blog on Signposts with links to toxic honey and its origins:

Toxic honey develops in dry autumns when honey bees feed on honeydew secreted by passion vine hoppers after they've sucked juices from the poisonous tree tutu. There are close ups of both culprits - although the 'little Ozzie overstayer' insect is indicted as the real 'fly in the ointment'.

Humans complete the chain of players, often experiencing nasty reactions to the poisoning. The latest episode has been frustrating for commercial beekeepers, who must adhere to strict regulations, unlike their hobbyist counterparts.

Tutin poisoning, however, is hardly a new epidemic sweeping the nation. A Bay of Plenty investigation in the 1940s led to the discovery of mellitoxin, closely related to tutin. The connection to tutu was made when it was noticed that bees were collecting honeydew from vine hoppers, which were in turn feeding on tutu (

A link to an article from 1902 (in Te Reo Maori) records the deaths of young men who chanced upon a beehive and ate its honey. Four French sailors died even earlier, in the mid-1830s, after eating the Maori culinary treat, tutu berry pudding, complete with toxic seeds. Tutu wine also packed a fair punch to early European settlers unfamiliar with this toxic home brew.


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