Friday, September 16, 2011

Off the Beaten Track: Healing Stings

Marianna with her honey frames
Our guest today is Marianna Holzer, a third-generation bookbinder, who also happens to be Heidi’s sister. She owns the Holzer Bindery in Hinesburg, Vermont, and specializes in book restoration and preservation, a topic that she wrote about for us earlier this year (you can find her bookbinding post here). Marianna is also a beekeeper and her post today is all about the medicinal uses of bee venom. Marianna can be found at the Holzer Bindery website.
Nearly twenty years ago, I suffered a mysterious health crisis. One day, without warning, I went completely blind in my right eye. Gradually, my vision came back and then it happened again -- six months later I lost the vision in my other eye.

After much testing and a few other episodes, I received the diagnosis: Multiple Sclerosis (MS). This was a condition I knew nothing about, but after learning as much as I could, I became quite depressed and fearful of when it would strike again. Fatigue is common problem in MS, and I had that in spades. I had always been a very healthy person and loved being outdoors, counting gardening, hiking, and bicycling among my favorite activities.

A friend told me about a man in a town not far from us who had helped folks with MS by stinging them with honeybees. This sounded pretty far out, but I was ready to try anything in order to feel better. My husband, Rik Palieri, and I drove down to Middlebury, Vermont, from our home near Burlington to meet this man, Charlie Mraz, and to learn about the bees.

Charlie Mraz

Charlie, a tall, gray-haired man with a twinkle in his eye, was an old-time Vermont beekeeper who had recently turned 88. As a young man, he had suffered from rheumatoid arthritis until older beekeepers told him that bee stings would be a good remedy for this condition. He wrote their advice off as an old wives’ tale until he was accidentally stung on the knee by his own bees. The next day, he realized that he felt much better. He began intentionally stinging himself with the bees and found it helped so much that he began to offer the same treatment to others.

One day a woman came to Charlie saying that he’d treated her for arthritis only to discover a few years later, when her symptoms returned, that she had MS. Since the bee stings had kept her symptom-free for so long the first time, she thought she’d try it again, and sure enough, it helped!
Charlie ushered us into his home where he was helping a woman with severe arthritis by holding bees against her hip and her leg until she received several stings. He then turned to us. He asked me a few questions about my symptoms, allergies, and medications. I asked him if it would hurt. He gave me a test sting on my leg and waited a few minutes to see if I would have a severe reaction. While we waited, he told me about acupressure points and meridian lines (healing pathways in the body), pressing on these points to see if I was sore. Every time I said “ouch!” he chuckled and marked the spot with a red wax pencil. He gave me 7 or 8 stings, telling me to start out slowly with only a few stings, and then he taught us how to handle the bees ourselves.

The next step was to go out to his bee yard to collect bees in a jar to take home. We walked up a few steps to go outside, and the woman he had treated when we arrived turned around and went down the stairs, paused, climbed up them again and paused once more, a quizzical look on her face. After going up and down several more times, she turned to us with tears in her eyes and told us that this was the first time she had been able to climb stairs without pain in many years. It gave me hope.

Charlie gave us an old mayonnaise jar into which he had put a little honey, covered with a tissue, and then added a cardboard roll for the bees to cling to. He clamped the jar over a hole drilled into the side of a hive and the bees flowed into it. He slid the jar off the hive and screwed on a perforated lid. Charlie sent us home with this jar full of bees and told us to get tweezers to hold the bees while stinging.  He said we should come back when we needed more bees or to call if we needed advice or support.

The honey bee treatment I learned from Charlie Mraz is called Bee Sting Therapy or Bee Venom Therapy. It is a form of apitherapy, a holistic medicine that relies on natural products of the beehive to improve and maintain health and to alleviate pain and disability, whether from injury or illness. There is even an Apitherapy Society dedicated to promoting this approach to healing. Products of the honey bee include bee venom, honey, pollen, royal jelly, propolis, and beeswax. These amazing insects have been used in alternative, or complimentary, medicinal therapies for thousands of years.

Marianna's bee hives

Honey bees and their healing venom have changed my life. My husband, Rik noticed a lightening of my spirit right away, I have more energy, more hope and feel empowered, as I have now found something I can do for myself.
To keep up with my treatment, I became interested in beekeeping and soon had hives of my own. I loved sitting by the hives and watching those busy little creatures coming in for a landing, loaded down with nectar and colorful pollen sacs on their legs. I felt a return of my love of nature, and rejoiced in gathering the honey to share with friends.

Come join me in watching these busy little workers as they gather nectar for the hive in the following video of my bee yard (set to music by Rik Palieri from his CD, Music in Me).


  1. What a great post. Thank you, Marianna for sharing this.

  2. I'd only heard about this kind of treatment before but am surprised to hear it actually works and works well. So glad you discovered it and that it has been such a powerful healer for you! And Marianna, beekeeping, bookbinding, and musician...what don't you do? You're amazing. Thanks so much for sharing this lovely story!

  3. I'm glad you liked it Gerhard, and thanks also Supriya for your kind words

  4. What a fascinating life, Marianna. I'd never heard of the bee sting therapy, but I'm so glad to hear that it works for you and for others. I'll definitely remember this and tell others about it. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

  5. Thanks LynNerd for your comment, I would be very happy if my story were to help others.

  6. Thanks for sharing this very personal story with us today. I'm curious, though: did Charlie Mraz ever get stung accidentally when tending his bees? Or did the stings stop bothering him? In the photo, he is the only person not wearing protective gear.

  7. Everyone gets stung accidentally when tending their bees, some days not at all, some days more. One does develop a tolerance in that you no longer swell up or itch. I think it always hurts a little, but really no worse than a quick mosquito bite. The unpleasant part is the itching later & thankfully that stops.

    Charlie though was quite a showman, even putting a live bee into his mouth, then opening up & letting it fly out. Only other beekeepers would know it was a drone & they don't sting.

  8. Marianna, thank you so much for sharing. I'd heard of this treatment before, so it was nice to have someone who's experienced it share with us. Thank you! The video is lovely, as is the music.