How can honey bees produce honey from nectar that is toxic to them?
Some plants produce nectar that is poisonous to bees. It is difficult to understand how honey bees can produce honey from this toxic nectar. The effect on the bee is probably dose related at an individual as well as a colony level. The bee must consume a minimum amount of the toxin before it is affected. If the bee is visiting other non-toxic plants before returning to the colony, the toxin from the poisonous nectar may be diluted. Another factor may be the time it takes the toxin to act. The bee may eventually succumb but not before it brings the toxic nectar back to the colony. At the colony, a toxic nectar could be mixed with non toxic nectar, diluting the toxin in the honey. For a water soluble toxin, as the nectar is processed and water removed to make honey, the concentration of the toxin may increase to a level that may cause a response.
-John Skinner, University of Tennessee