On March 30, we usually celebrate World Apitherapy Day at our house by eating fried drone brood seasoned with dandelion pollen and buckwheat honey while receiving a few intentional bee stings on our finger tips. What a fun day!
I first learned about apitherapy when I was 17. We had 300 hives scattered around the county. The bees were my job, assigned to me by my father who had enough other farm work to manage. Twenty of those colonies were on the edge of an abandoned hay field. In the fall, when I delivered honey/rent to the landowner, he told me that our bees had been stinging him. Of course, I felt awful. But the bees were a couple hundred yards from the old guys’ house so I was puzzled. “No, not your fault, don’t move them!” He explained that almost every day he trudged across the field to take a sting on his elbow. He said it had cured his annoying rheumatism. I’d never heard of such a thing before. The bees were practicing medicine and I didn’t have a clue about it.
Well, today is World Apitherapy Day. It’s celebrated on March 30 because it’s my birthday. And, coincidentally, Filip Terč, the Father of Modern Apitherapy, shares the date. He was born March 30 1844, and I was not, so we are not the twins most people think we are. And my sporadically produced blog is more current than his.
Terč spent much of his scientific career in Maribor, Slovenia, exploring the benefits of bee-sting therapy on patients with rheumatoid arthritis and other disorders. He published his results in 1888 in a Vienna medical journal. This was the first modern scientific account of apitherapy.
That’s Filip Terč glaring at you adjacent to this sentence. Terč was born in a remote Czech village in western Bohemia, but ended up in Slovenia where he worked as a physician. As a young man, he suffered badly from rheumatoid pain until, at age 22, he was accidentally stung by an aggressive mob of irritated honey bees. It changed his life. The pain was gone.
Terč began a serious study of the effects of bee venom therapy. He published the world’s first article on the clinical trials of bee sting therapy, the 1888 paper “Report on the Peculiar Connection between Bee Stings and Rheumatism”. He presented the results of his treatment of 680 patients with the collective application of 39,000 stings. 82% showed a complete cure, 15% had a partial recovery, while 3% had no relief from their rheumatoid condition. Those are an impressive number of trials and very impressive results.
His work was published 130 ago. His results have not been disputed, but the medical profession was slow at accepting the link between rheumatism, auto-immune dysfunctions, and bee venom. With the rise in cases of immune disorders (ranging from multiple sclerosis to lupus to allergies), the use of apitherapy treatments are becoming more widely available. If you’d like to learn more, there is a great collection of materials at the Bees for Life: World Apitherapy Network website.