It began seven years ago working for an urban farm in Reno that Anna Maria Desipris fell in love with bees. From a beekeeper to a woman of medicine, she has gained years of knowledge and turned her fear of bees into an admiration for these little pollinators. We sat down with Anna Maria to ask: Why are bees important? For our planet and for our health.
How did you first become interested in bees?
Anna Maria Desipris: I was afraid of bees my whole life until I began working on an Urban Farm in Reno. I was working in the office at the time but one day my boss ran in and said ‘I need you to help me catch a swarm of bees, I just got a call.’ I was working in events at the time so I had a dress and heels on as he told me to hop in the car, I immediately thought, no way!
Somehow, I found myself in the car, hiking up a small hill where we found a swarm of bees on a branch. He said to me, “hold the box and I’m going to shake the branch of bees into it.” With tears in my eyes, I reluctantly held the branch afraid of being stung.. He put a veil on my head and shook the branch, there were hundreds of bees all over me but I didn’t get stung. That was the transformational experience, and from that moment I wanted to know what this was all about. From then on I couldn’t stop learning about them and I fell in love.
What’s the day to day as a beekeeper?
AD: I’m either doing removals, getting calls to remove bees from homes or businesses, or checking on the hives I already have. This includes going inside the hive and doing an inspection, checking for ants and checking on the overall well being of the hive. Four years ago, When I was working as a full-time beekeeper, I was going to a different hive every day, checking on it and then making sure they were healthy and harvesting honey.
Why are bees so important to our planet and our health?
AD: The honeybee is not native to this continent, they were only brought here for agriculture when we started colonizing. They’re native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. So in those places, they’re part of the ecosystem and food web.
Some people argue that here in North America honeybees take away resources from the native bees and other pollinators from North to South America. Instead what we have done is integrate them into the environment and into our ecosystems. Aside from the native pollinators, we’ve almost enslaved them to pollinate our food. No other pollinator is as efficient as the honeybee.
Also on a higher level, I think bees are an indicator of health in an ecosystem. If bees who are very resilient and efficient are failing, then that means probably everything else in the system isn’t doing very well either. Bees seem to be a mirror for us and, of our own well being.
With your background in medicine, what are some things bees can provide for us medicinally?
AD: Most often honey is used every day and if bought locally can be used for allergy relief by building up immunity to the pollen. It’s also a really good wound healer for burns and open sores. Honey is anti-bacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal and helps with digestion.
Also, from the hive is propolis, which is resin bees collect from trees that make the glue inside of their hive that makes everything sterile. You can buy it as a powder and it’s really great for killing any viral or bacterial infections we may have internally. Propolis is also good for your oral health, helping with cavities.
And pollen, of course, has a ton of amino acids and minerals that we wouldn’t really get otherwise. It’s a crunchy texture that can sometimes taste floral and can be added to smoothies, acai bowls, ice cream or even salads.
There are some people who are afraid of bees, what would you tell those who are wary of them?
AD: Bees are not offensive or aggressive creatures their actually just acting on defense. If there’s ever a bee on you or around you there’s really no reason to panic. I’m not sure where this fear comes from and honestly, the sting lasts about an hour, unless you’re allergic.
Bee venom is also very medicinal, people are using it to help with arthritis or any kind of inflammatory issues in the body.
If you get stung you can look at it as a gift, a gift of medicine. Try to change your perspective and watch bees in nature, watch them on a flower, be more observant and then from there you can start to shift your anxiety around them.
As a bee guardian, what do you want people to take away from bees?
AD: Stop using pesticides. That’s one of the main reasons why honeybees and all pollinators are dying, is by pesticide use both in the home, commercially, in our neighborhoods and in our schools. It’s truly destroying everything.
Also buying honey from a local beekeeper making sure that you’re supporting local enterprise and also ensuring you’re not buying something that might be fake. Those beekeepers can continue to work with the hives that they have and continue to protect bees.