Wednesday, July 03, 2002

Bee facts

Her philosophy: Just let it bee               Print Page


MORNINGVIEW — She isn't really going to do this, is she? That's a bee lying there, body trapped in a pair of tweezers, six legs wriggling furiously.

This can't be good.

“I almost threw up the first time I did it,” Margaret Walter admits. “It goes against your natural inclination not to inflict pain.”

She grabs the tweezers and maneuvers the bee onto her hip. At first it does nothing. Then, finally, it strikes.

Ms. Walter doesn't flinch. The bee, having imbedded its stinger in human flesh, begins the process of dying.

“These guys are like a miracle,” Ms. Walter says. “They're God's first hypodermic needle.”

Nonetheless, she cautions against anyone trying this at home.

Not that we would.


Holding a bee in a pair of tweezers, Margaret Walker prepares to let it sting her.
(Patrick Reddy photo)

Ms. Walter, 43, is one of those people who takes an off-kilter approach to problems. A former draftswoman in the Navy, she lives with her husband and sons on a hilltop in rural Kenton County, where she keeps a Phoenix rooster for its long tail feathers and a goat named Bender for weed control. The cat is more of a hanger-on.

When Y2K threatened, Ms. Walter wasn't content to be like the rest of us, watching CNN and maybe buying a few cans of tuna. She started making an underground shelter.

And when the time came to give up smoking, she couldn't just switch to gum. She had to try gnawing on beeswax.

That's how her obsession began.

Beeswax from health stores is expensive, so Ms. Walter decided to get her own hive. Soon she was researching the industrious creatures and harvesting all their handiwork — not just honey and wax but also pollen and propolis, the caulk-like material bees use to plug holes. Believing pollen has healthful properties, Ms. Walter started eating small amounts of it.

She also stings herself. She and others think bee venom stimulates the body's immune system in a way that relieves certain symptoms of disease. A seminar on the concept, known as apitherapy, will take place July 26-28 at the Drawbridge Inn in Fort Mitchell.

When the osteoarthritis in her hip starts hurting, Ms. Walter coaxes a bee to sting her there, and the pain disappears for several days, she says. As a result, she no longer takes Celebrex or gets cortisone shots.

There is no scientific evidence that bee-venom therapy works.

People with multiple sclerosis have tried it, however, so the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America funded a safety study in 2000. The results are pending, Program Director Peter Damiri says. If it indicates bee stings are safe, the next step will be to test their effectiveness.

For now, “We do not recommend MS patients going out and getting bee stings,” Mr. Damiri says.

Still, one Northern Kentucky woman with MS receives stings from Ms. Walter, who does not charge for the service. The woman, a friend of hers, is hoping the stings will help her regain feeling in her feet, Ms. Walter says.

She keeps medicine on hand to counter allergic reactions, should they occur, and she emphasizes that people taking beta-blockers should not try bee stings. Their blood-pressure medicine renders the allergy treatment ineffective, Ms. Walter says.

In her homemade beekeeping hat, she's a walking Discovery Channel of interesting bee facts.

Honey, she says, is the only food that won't spoil. Bees always wipe their feet before entering their hives, to keep the environment germ-free. They also invented air-conditioning; when the hive is in danger of overheating, select bees bring back water and dribble it around. They they all gather at one end and flap their wings in the same direction.

“I'm hooked. I can't stop,” Ms. Walter says of her bee investigations. “If it has to do with bees, I drop everything and listen.”

Happily, she also has stopped smoking.

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