Preventing Stings & Naturally Treating Them

Why do bees sting and how to treat stings, naturally

In the midst of a decline in honeybee colonies, it seems prudent to respect the bees that cross our paths. Swatting, smushing, and spraying should be avoided—and remember that when a honeybee stings you, she dies.

In a hive, the female worker bees are the bees that sting. The larger male drone bees don’t have stingers. Queen bees also have stingers, but they rarely leave the hive to use them. When a bee stings you, its sharp, barbed stinger pierces the skin to inject venom called apitoxin.

When a honey bee stings a person, it cannot pull the barbed stinger back out. It leaves behind not only the stinger, but also part of its abdomen and digestive tract, plus muscles and nerves. This massive abdominal rupture kills the honey bee. Honey bees are the only species of bees to die after stinging.

According to beekeepers though, it’s rare to be stung by a honeybee. One of the only reason honeybees sting, is to protect their hive, as a defence mechanism. What most people think of as a bee sting, are actually from a wasp.

What to do it you do get stung, ouch!

If a stinger is left embedded in the body, then remove it as soon as possible. This should be the first step. Use whatever tools are immediately available to dig it out. You could use a knife, credit card, pliers, tweezers, or a needle. Sterilize the tool if possible, but do not waste time. For maximum absorption, clean the area with soap and water before applying remedies, otherwise the oils on the skin will repel them.

Baking Soda: In the case of bee stings, baking soda will help to neutralize the acidic venom. Make a paste by combining baking soda with water. Leave this paste on the sting site for at least 15 minutes. Some of the dissolved baking soda will leach through the skin to neutralize the venom somewhat. After applying it, and cleaning the sting area of residue; a chamomile tincture may be repeatedly applied for any residual itching or swelling.

Lavender and peppermint essential oils: These essential oils help disinfect bites and soothe itchy skin. In most cases, these oils are safe to apply directly to skin, but all essential oils are potentially irritating, so test them on a small patch of skin before applying liberally. If you find the oils too strong, add them to clay, olive oil or vegetable oil before applying.

Ice: Try applying ice to the bite or sting. Anecdotal evidence shows that this simple remedy may be the most effective at providing immediate relief.

Lemon: Lemon juice seems to stop the allergic reaction to bug saliva. Rub a piece of lemon on bug bites to soothe them.

Yellow onion: “The onion’s detoxifying sulphur compounds help neutralize the poison of the bite or venom of the sting, reducing inflammation,” says Andrea Candee, author of Gentle Healing for Baby & Child. Just slice open an onion and rub it on the bite. Repeat as often as necessary until itching stops.

Know what to do when you’re exposed to bees

If a few bees are flying around you, stay calm and slowly walk away from the area. Swatting at an insect may cause it to sting. If a bee stings you, or many insects start to fly around, cover your mouth and nose and quickly leave the area. When a bee stings, it releases a chemical that attracts other bees. If you can, get into a building or closed vehicle.

Allergic to bee stings? Prevention strategies can help you minimize your chance of getting stung by bees.

• Take care when drinking sweet beverages outside. Wide, open cups may be your best option because you can see if a bee is in them. Inspect cans and straws before drinking from them.

• Tightly cover food containers and trash cans.

• Wear close-toed shoes when walking outside.

• Don’t wear bright colors or floral prints, which can attract bees.

• When driving, keep your windows rolled up.

• Be careful when mowing the lawn or trimming vegetation, activities that might arouse insects in a beehive or wasp nest.

• Have hives and nests near your home removed by a professional.

Know thy insects; wasps, hornets and honey bees

Wasps and bees are both members of the Hymenoptera order of insects. However, their physical bodies are different. In general, wasps can be distinguished from bees by their lack of body hair and thinner, elongated bodies. Bees are hairier, while wasps usually have smooth and shiny skin.

Wasps and hornets have similar hairless bodies, and are both types of Vespid wasps. The major difference between wasp and hornets is size and colour. Wasps are about one-third of an inch to one inch long. Hornets are larger. Wasps have black and yellow rings, while hornets have black and white rings. While bees can sting only once and die after attacking, a single wasp or hornet is capable of stinging multiple times.

Wasps and hornets cannot produce honey, but all species of honey bees are capable of producing and storing sizeable amounts of honey within their hives.

Where do they live?

The areas surrounding houses provide a number of ideal homes for bees, wasps and hornets. Some of these areas include verandas, ceilings, attics, walls, trees and shrubs. They will find holes and small burrows and set up nests, because holes and burrows are often near food sources (such as fallen fruit, flowers or nectar-producing plants).

How to prevent wasps and hornets from circling your garden?

Both wasps and hornets are attracted to sweet foods and decaying materials so eliminate any posible food sources, except for a sugar-based trap that you may have hanging.

Know the bees

There are about 20,000 different species of bees in the world. The most common are honey bees, carpenter bees, and bumble bees. The big producers are the honeybees, who have much larger hives than other bees and are able to communicate amongst one another to help them complete their honey gathering work.

How to attract bees to your garden

Most gardeners are familiar with the vital role bees and other pollinators play in a healthy and productive garden. But their importance touches our lives every day. Did you know that one out of every three bites of your food depends on a pollinator? Over 150 crops grown in North America depend on pollinators, including apples, almonds, blueberries, citrus, melons, pears, plums, pumpkins and squash.

How Gardeners Can Help

Every home gardener can take steps to increase food and encourage an ideal habitat for bees. Creating diverse plantings, and keeping a garden with a variety of plants that bloom from early spring through to late fall.

To attract the full spectrum of pollinators, choose plants of various heights, including flowering trees and shrubs, and those with a range of flower shapes and sizes.

Flowers that Bees Love

• Alyssum

• Agastache (anise hyssop)

• Asclepias (butterfly weed)

• Aster

• Echinacea (coneflower)

• Geranium (cranesbill)

• Monarda (bee balm)

• Papaver (poppies)

• Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan)

• Trifolium (clover)

Tip: Perfectly neat yards do not provide the raw materials wild bees need to construct their nests. Let your garden grow a bit wild! Provide a good nesting habitat by preserving a small brush pile, areas with dry grasses and reeds, and dead wood.

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