Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Honey and Colds

Mostly this blog is dedicated to Bee Venom Therapy (BVT)--i.e. using bee venom as medicine since that's what I use to treat myself.  But BVT is really only a small part of apitherapy.  Apitherapy uses all sorts of honeybee products for health and healing.

And since so many of us currently have colds, I thought it pertinent to discuss how honey can help us alleviate our misery. 

You are probably already aware that you can put a spoonful of honey in hot water or tea to calm a sore throat.  Simply swallowing a spoonful helps with sore throats as well as coughs.

One of the things I learned about while I was at the Charles Mraz Apitherapy Conference in New Orleans was using a honey solution much in the same way that you use a *neti pot.  The point is that you want to draw the honey through your nasal cavity until you can taste it  in the back of your throat.

This site recommends using a propolis/honey solution, but you can do it with straight honey if you want to.  Just get some on a q-tip and swab it up there, then lay on your back until you can taste it.

Given that I am at the point where I have two tissues twisted up and crammed into my nostrils, I think it's time for me to give this technique a try. 

Why does it work?

First, there's an enzyme in raw honey called glucose oxidase.  When the honey comes into contact with your mucous membranes, hydrogen peroxide is produced, which kills any germs that it comes into contact with.  But you MUST USE UNPASTURIZED HONEY.  Pasturized honey is inferior because heating honey cooks the beneficial enzymes right out of it.

It seems redundant to pasturize the stuff anyway.  It is already antiviral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal.  Nothing can grow in it.  That's the reason it is so good for treating wounds.   

I ran into quite a bit of misinformation when I was researching this topic.  One of those things was that honey contains hydrogen peroxide, which it does not.  Honey produces H2O2 when placed in the correct conditions, which are pH level of 5.5-8.0 and sodium.  Honey on its own can't spontaneously generate H2O2, so it isn't right to say that honey contains the molecule.  Where can you find this perfect storm of sodium and pH?  Wounds and mucous membranes. 

Please don't go snort a spoonful of peroxide as a substitute.  That's far too strong to put into your poor snotty fossa. The brilliant thing about honey is that it slowly releases the peroxide, so it's beneficial to you for several hours, not just immediately.

Another misconception is that only Manuka honey can be used for medicinal purposes.   Manuka honey is like super honey when it comes to treating wounds, and kills MRSA to boot, but any unpasturized honey can be used to treat wounds.

*Let's address all this business about people getting the brain eating amoeba from their neti pots, shall we? They were using tap water.  Fine to drink, BUT NOT FINE TO PUT UP YOUR NOSE.  Had they boiled their water or used distilled water, they would have been fine.  When you wash your neti pot in tap water, LET IT DRY COMPLETELY, and then let it sit for a little while to ensure that no bacteria survive on it's surfaces.

Honey, being anti-viral, anti-bacterial, AND anti-fungal, would probably keep those little brain eaters at bay.  However.  If you need to water your honey down a little bit before cleaning your nasal passages with it, use water that has been boiled (let it cool first please) or distilled.  The organisms shouldn't be able to live or reproduce in the honey, but hey--let's not take chances with this one, yes?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Japanese Girls are Hotter

Remember the photo of the Giant Asian Hornet in my last post?  Just look what they can do to a honey bee hive. 

 Payback's a bitch.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

It's All Fun And Games Until Someone Loses An Eye

Betcha didn't know this--there's actually such a thing as poisonous honey.  It's also called mad honey, and it causes all sorts of problems if you eat it.

It is caused by a substance called grayanotoxin, which comes from... dun Dun DUN... Rhododendron, and related plants including azaleas and laurel. 

The main source of "mad honey" is in Turkey near the Black Sea, where, at least according to these people,  it seems as though rhododendron are something of a pest.  It also occurs in North America, but please don't go digging the rhododendron out of your yard or public park just yet.  In order for the bees to produce toxic honey, the plant has to be the dominant vegetation in the area.  Honey which includes nectar from a couple of garden ornamentals isn't going to hurt you as long as it is made predominantly from something else. 

Not every type of rhododendron produces grayanotoxin.  There are two types, *subgenera Rhododendron luteum, is an azalea which has yellow blooms (I have never ever seen yellow azalea, not even in the south).  They look a lot like lilies to me:

The other subgenera is Rhododendron ponticum.  Both subgenera have grayanotoxin in their nectar, but R. ponticum is the more dangerous of the two.  It has an invasive growth pattern and will take over an area, hence the earlier link to the forestry article.   Of course, higher concentrations of the plant in an area means a more likely incidence of mad honey.

R. catawbiense are the kind that cover the Appalachian mountains.  As far as I can tell, they are included in the ponticum part of the family.  I think that they also have grayanotoxin, but I'm not positive about that.

Just what does this mad honey nonsense do?  Typically effects last fewer than 24 hours, which is good because they include dizziness, nausea & vomiting, excessive sweating, and more severely--a slowing of the heartbeat.  And of course, we can't forget the stark raving crazies.  It can be fatal, but usually it isn't and is supposedly safe(ish) in low doses.

But why ever would one intentionally consume it?

This entry wouldn't be complete if I left out these folks.  The number one reason that people knowingly buy the stuff is becuase it is rumored to be a sexual performance enhancer.  But is it an aphrodesiac?  Is it like a natural viagra?  Do you have to call the doctor if your boner doesn't subside after 3 hours?

Okay, this is totally not related to ANYTHING in this blog, but I found it when I was searching for pictures of Turkey's Black Sea coastline, and I think it's beautiful so I'm sharing.


Xenophon  describe THE DEFEAT OF AN ARMY at the hands of mad honey.  "The Defeat of the Ten Thousand" occured in 430 BC somewhere in modern Turkey (I think).

Strabo says that they gave the army the honey intentionally:
"For they mixed bowls of the crazing honey that the branches of trees yield and placed them in the roads.  Then when the soldiers drank the mixture and lost their senses, they attacked them and easily disposed of them."

One of the Pliny's said something about it too, but frankly, at present I am feeling too lazy to do anymore historical sleuthing.  But if you want to carpe the diem, I think it's somewhere in here.

And finally, speaking of someone losing an eye, this is an Asian Giant Hornet.  They're about 2" long with a 6mm stinger.  Why anyone would purposely hold one of these things in his hand is beyond me.

* A subgenera is in between genus and species.  As a high-school freshman, my science teacher taught us a mnemonic device for remembering the hierarchy of biological taxonomy.  
 Teach it to your kids too.  They'll remember.   Oh, how they'll remember.
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus Species = King Phillip Can Only F**k Girls Slowly

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Queen Bee Wat(t)son

You know about phantom rings?  Like when you hallucinate hearing your cel-phone even though it isn't actually ringing?  Or your butt goes all tingly because you think your phone's vibrating even though it isn't in your back pocket?  Now I hear bees all the time, even when they aren't there.

Here's a video that Christian made one time when we went to collect bees.  I'm wrong about one thing though--I said that the newspaper gets taken away, but that isn't so.  The bees just chew through the paper, so there isn't any need to remove it.  This lady has a nice explanation on her blog.  In fact, I found tons of blog posts and videos on combining weak hives with strong ones.

You might also wonder why I AM SUCH A DWEEB  in this video.  Probably I would have come across more naturally, but I had already explained this to him once, and he asked me to do it again for the camera.  Wheras the first time I was just telling him about it,  the second time I was trying to remember what I had said and repeat it.  So there. 

Oh, and just so you know that I know, Watson only has one T.  I didn't title the video.  So the spelling nazi's in the audience can pipe down now.

Since the shot of the combined hive in my dorky little film is kind of far away, here's a photo that I found which shows everything quite clearly.

Photo from

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Injectable Bee Venom

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you probably know that I get my bees from my friend Earl, who lives right up the street.  But winter is coming on, and that means cold, wind, and rain.  In turn, that means bees clustering in the bottom of the hive, not near the top where I get them from.  It's already hard enough for me to get my own bees.  I have to go to the bee yard at least twice a week, and psychologically it's a bit like having to pick my own switch. Don't get me wrong--I like going out to the bee yard.  But sometimes I don't feel like it, and then I don't sting within my 72 hour window, and the BVT isn't as effective as it should be.

So to secure an additional source of bees I mail ordered some from a place called Allen's Bee Ranch in Redding, CA. They should arrive today! This will be a good option for me as well if I need to travel, because I can just have the bees sent to my destination, and they will be waiting for me!

I also want to give injectable bee venom a try.  My source says that live bee venom is 100% potent in the spring and summer (when the weather is warm and they can forage from good pollen sources) but only 25%-35% potent in the winter.  Injectable bee venom, also called Apitoxin, is around 85%-90% potentcy.  Of course, these numbers are approximate, because some bees have more potent venom than others for various reasons--even bees in the same hive.  But the point is that in the winter, injectable venom might be preferable to live venom.  It also will be much more convenient.

In any case, I would like to have different options available to me so that I don't have an excuse not to sting.  I try to be committed to it, but sometimes it is really difficult, especially now that I do so many stings per session.  

Here's a video showing how bee venom is harvested using an electronic venom collector.  I have to warn you though--the music will really get you going.  As in, you'll want to adventure on the high seas like a pirate or something after watching this video.  Additionally, if you have a coke problem, you probably shouldn't watch it.  You'll see what I'm talking about. 

The thing is, for me to procure ampules of bee venom, I need a doctor.  I don't necessarily need a prescription, but here's what the website states as their requirement:

"Powdered and liquid bee venom orders must be received in writing on the letterhead of a medical practitioner, pharmacist, researcher or a laboratory that is certified to work with chemicals."
My rheumatologist might be willing to help me with this, but I don't know.  I'm kind of afraid to ask her.  I'm thinking about putting something a request up on Craigslist.  Or possibly one of the doctors who I met at the AAS conference in New Orleans would lend a hand.  Or maybe one of you, my dear and faithful readers, has a doctor or a researcher friend...   

Hook a girl up.  In the name of science and adventure. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Stinging other People

As I was falling asleep last night, I realized that I had forgotten to include something very important on my last entry.  While I was on Ocracoke, I stung two other people!!!

There *is* a bit of safety protocol that I skipped over, of which doubtless my friends at the AAS would disapprove, and that is the test sting.  Before stinging a new patient, an apitherapist is supposed to deliver a quick sting on the back of the wrist and remove it immediately.  Then you wait 10-20 minutes to make sure that no adverse reaction develops.  After that, you can proceed.  I just asked them if they had been stung by a bee before and were they sure that they weren't allergic.  They both said no, they'd been stung many times as children and they were not allergic.  I warned them that they would swell and itch for a few days, as they aren't acclimated to the venom, but that would go away.

My aunt Kathleen, an extremely talented metalsmith and jewelry designer,  has arthritis in the fore-knuckle of her right index finger.  Her shop, incidentally, is the house where I lived when I was a brand new person, except that it was red and white back in '78.

As an artist,  I've really been influenced by her very organic aesthetic.  At that time, her studio was in her house, and she had the most beautiful stones, metals, bones, glass, etc.    Here's my favorite piece that she's ever made.  It's called "Toy for a Child of Doom".

Leslie and I were having lunch at Jason's, where we ran into Kathleen, and she asked me to come by her shop the next day and sting her.  We did a quick sting on her finger--didn't leave the stinger in for too long since fingers can be such a sensitive place.  There are LOTS of nerve endings there.  The only place I think is worse is the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and toes.  Toes are TERRIBLE.  Last time I did my toes, I had intermittent involuntary kicking spasms for about 30 minutes.

The second person was a lady named Margarita who helps my grandmother sometimes.  She was actually familiar with bee stinging as medicine, because her father had arthritis in his elbow.  She told me that when he would find a bee, he would catch it, place it on his elbow, sting.

Margarita is from Mexico, which is relevant, because I think that in Mexico, using BVT is a common folk remedy. Samuel told me about a friend of his who works for an apiary that employs lots of Mexicans, and each day, before beginning work, they estimate the physical difficulty of the labor.   Based on that, they decide how many bees to use, and they sting each other on the back, like a little pre-emptive steroid.

Like her father,  Margarita was having elbow issues, although in her case, it is tennis elbow, not arthritis.  I had offered to sting her earlier, but she had declined.  However, as I was packing my car to head back to Raleigh, she asked me if I would sting her.

Talk about a champ.  When I stung her, she didn't even flinch.  Her expression never changed.  She never sucked in her breath, grimaced, anything.  I had to ask her if it hurt, to which she replied yes, but I was impressed.

Aunt Kathleen says that her finger is better!  I don't know how my other "patient" is faring though.  I'll have to ask Granny next time I call.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Traveling with Bees

 Recently I flew back to North Carolina for an emergency trip to see my paternal grandfather, who was in the final weeks of his life.  I got the call on a Monday that I needed to be there within two weeks if I wanted to see him, so I purchased my ticket and flew out at 6:15 on Thursday morning--Thanksgiving Day.

The only time I've traveled since beginning with the bees in April is to New Orleans, and that was an apitherapy conference.  Which meant that I didn't have to worry about procuring bees.

But a last-minute trip with virtually no planning time is a different story.  I'm not supposed to go more than 72 hours without stinging, and I had a week in NC.  And while I didn't ask, I made a pretty reasonable assumption that I could not bring a jar of bees on the plane.  Can you imagine trying to go through airport security with a jar of live bees?

After a little research, I called Dr. David Tarpy at NCSU, but as I was flying in on Thanksgiving day, there was no way for us to coordinate.  And no students were going to be at the NCSU apiculture lab, as it was vacation time.  I hope I can visit their facility next time I come home though.  It seems like it would be an interesting way to spend a couple of hours.

Luckily for me, a friend recommended Monica and Todd Warner, who have in Apiary in Youngsville, NC--about 20 minutes north of Raleigh.   I explained to Monica how I "package" my bees, and on my way out to the island on Friday, I swung by her place.  She had gathered about 100 bees in a jar for which she'd also made a mesh lid so that they could breathe.  I placed the jar in my pocketbook so that it wouldn't roll around during the drive, and commenced the 6 hour journey to Ocracoke.

I had to stop a few times for water, groceries,  and pee-breaks.  I did all of these things with a jar of aggitated bees buzzing in my bag.  Some women carry little dogs in their purses.  Me?  Bees.  Turns out, it's probably a good thing that my cel-phone broke before I left.  Hell, I don't get reception on the island anyway.

The other thing I needed was someone to sting me.  My long-time friend Leslie stepped up to the plate.  The weather was beautiful pretty much the whole time I was there, so we did the stings on the back porch of her book store, where I used to work for a couple of summers while I was in college.  

 Leslie did AWESOME.  Saturday morning was the first time.  I did the first six stings on my hands myself to show her, and then she did the remaining 14.  As the stingee, I've been doing this for long enough that I don't really get nervous (although anticipating the stings is often unpleasant).  But it can be nervewracking for the stinger, especially the first time.  Reaching into a jar of bees with a long set of tweezers isn't exactly a relaxing past-time.  Leslie was very brave throughout the process.  Then, when she did the last sting, she was so relieved that it was over that she cried.  We did it twice more while I was there, and she handled those bees like a pro.

I want to say something about what kind of friend Leslie is.  My poppy was in the final stages of cancer.  It had spread through his entire body, and I knew that he was going to look bad.  I didn't know how bad, but when you only see an older person once a year, the changes from one visit to the next can be...dramatic.  I wanted to be strong for him, but I was afraid that I break down in tears the moment I walked in the door from seeing him suffering so much and from knowing that I was going to lose him soon.

So when I got off the ferry, I first drove to Leslie's shop, and asked her if she would go with me to my grandparents' house.  She let me know that she'd heard from people who went up there that he seemed to be in pretty good spirits, and was enjoying the company.  Just knowing this helped me to be more relaxed.  Then we went together, and I was able to keep it together.  Which helped me be confident that I could keep it together for the entirety of the trip.  I had a few moments where I had to go sit in my car and compose myself, but that's only natural.

Leslie, you were really there for me when I needed you, and I don't think that words can express just how much I appreciate your friendship. 

My Poppy passed away in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.  It was December 7--Pearl Harbor Day.  Today was his funeral.  It made me very sad to miss it.  I was told that the church was packed.  People were standing against the walls on the sides and the back.  People were packed into the space traditionally reserved for the choir.  People were outside.  I know it must have been a beautiful service, because that room was overflowing with love.

Poppy, I will miss you so much.    You will always be in my heart.
RIP Ronald Thomas "Conk" O'Neal
November 2, 1929-December 7, 2011