When people find out I am a beekeeper, one of the first questions is inevitably “do you get stung a lot?” To which I can merely shrug and say “meh.” The truth is the more you work around bees and the more comfortable you get, the less stings you’ll receive-but you’ll always get some. Honey bees are quite gentle, and to sting is a suicide mission for them, so it’s not taken lightly. Some days your bees are crabby and you’ll get a couple of stings, but most days they are fine with letting you rip the roof off their home, expose their precious brood, and handle the frames holding their priceless pollen, nectar and honey.
After enough stings, many beekeepers build up a tolerance to the venom, and while it still hurts, there’s a lot less of a reaction in the way of swelling, heat, and itchiness.
Bee venom, or apitoxin, is a colorless liquid composed primarily of proteins. It’s these proteins that cause the local inflammation and associated discomfort with a sting. A honey bee can inject roughly 0.1 mg venom, and most adults-barring those with allergic reactions-can safely withstand 10 stings per pound of body weight.
I’ll have people say “I got stung once-I am terribly allergic, it got all swollen!” That’s actually not an allergic reaction-it’s a normal, localized one. Anaphylactic shock, or a systematic reaction, (which are quite rare) are the only true allergic reaction there is. So don’t panic. But having worked with bees for a while, and been stung, I have a few solid go to home remedies for bee stings to help ease the discomfort.
1. Lavender Essential Oil
This is one of the only times I will recommend using an essential oil “neat”, or undiluted. When taking my course on aromatherapy, it was one of the rare exceptions that my instructor used as well. Lavender essential oil is incredibly soothing, and it can ease discomfort, greatly reduce that infuriating itching, and help with swelling. If you aren’t comfortable using the oil neat, feel free to dilute it-it will still help. You should make sure beforehand that you don’t get irritated by the essential oil, as the last thing you want is to make the sting even more uncomfortable.
You will need…
-1 drop of lavender essential oil
-a small amount of liquid neutral oil (if diluting.)
Apply one drop of lavender essential oil directly on the sting. Make sure the stinger is completely out before doing so. You can also dilute it 50/50 with a liquid neutral oil. Do this twice the first day, and one time the next day.
For those times when you’re caught completely unprepared, mud will work just fine to help with the initial pain that comes with a sting.
You will need…
-Some dirt (or mud if it’s nearby)
Add enough water to dry dirt to make a thick but easily applicable mud. Cover the sting completely. When you get home, rinse clean and pay dry.
3. Bee Balm
This simple blend of beeswax and essential oil (and honey if you’re feeling extra sassy, and ironic) makes the perfect little rub for sore stings. Balms make a great home remedy for bee stings as they can be carried about in your purse or pocket in a handy little tin, and can be readily utilized the moment you get stung.
You will need…
-2-3 teaspoons of beeswax
-1 tablespoon of coconut oil
-4 drops of lavender essential oil
-A ½ teaspoon or so of raw honey
-A double boiler
-A little tin
Melt your beeswax and coconut oil together, and remove from the heat. Stir in essential oil and honey (if you’re using it.) Pour into your tin, put the lid on, and let it cool completely before use.
4. Baking Soda Paste
Sodium bicarbonate (also known as baking soda) is a great bee sting home remedy that just about anyone can pull off. All you need is baking soda, of course, and a bit of water. The baking soda will help relieve swelling, as well as soothe itching.
Add enough water to a bit of baking soda to make a paste. It should be thin enough that you can spread it over the sting, but not so thick as to not spread around or clump up and fall off. If the sting is on your hand, covering it with an adhesive bandage can be helpful. Rinse clean with cool water before reapplying.
5. Rhubarb Juice
Long before I was a beekeeper, I was a child running barefoot full tilt through the woods up at the cabin, mostly blissfully innocent when it came to stings. One moment I was fine, and the next there was a sharp stabbing pain in my foot. I looked down to see a bumblebee stumbling away, and my first thought was how horrible I felt for stepping on it. My next thought was “ouch.” Since it was a bumblebee, which can sting repeatedly as they have smooth stingers, there was no stinger to pull out. I limped up to my friend’s cabin and her mom hurried out into her garden to grab some fresh rhubarb, whereupon she promptly squeezed some juice onto the spot where I’d been stung. It was only a minute or two and I was back out running around. I couldn’t pinpoint the science behind it, but some questions don’t need answers!
You will need…
-A fresh rhubarb stalk
Break open the fresh stem of rhubarb and apply the juice directly to the sting. Repeat as needed (and note that this may stain your skin temporarily!)
What to do when you get stung:
If you’re near a hive, calmly move away. Do not swat, or run, or wave your arms about. Don’t freak yourself out, as the more stressed you are, the more likely you are to upset the bees. Quickly remove the stinger, as it releases pheromones that signal to other bees that you are a threat. This doesn’t mean they’ll all come swarming you, but it’s a good idea to get it out as soon as possible.
When you do remove the stinger, do not grab the end and pull it out. The venom sac is at the end and you’ll just squeeze more out. Take your nail (a credit card works well too) and scrape the stinger out.
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