Best bee sting relief: how to ease the epic pain

Spotted jewelweed, shown above, is an old-fashioned remedy for stings and itches that works wonders. I have used it on bee stings, poison ivy, and nettle burns. Just rub the leaves between your palms until juicy, and dab it on your skin.

Inside: If you need bee sting relief, beekeepers have your back. Here are some of their favorite remedies.

It’s a beekeeping fact: stings happen

After I posted “How to get stung 22 times in one place,” many beekeepers and gardeners wrote in with suggestions for dressing bee stings. Below, I put all these remedies in one place, so people can find them.

This is a work in progress, so be sure to leave your favorite remedy in the comments.

Sting relief according to experienced beekeepers

      • My personal favorite is cold water, mostly because I’m too impatient to do anything else. Along the same lines, some people like to add ice to keep down the swelling.
      • Taking the opposite tack, beekeeper Harold uses hot water. He writes, “I place the part that was stung under the faucet. I start with warm water and slowly increase the temperature to as hot as I can stand, but not scalding. This method has three benefits. One the warming of the area increases blood flow spreading the venom away from the area. Two, the increase in temperature also denatures the protein that is in the venom.  And three, the pores in the skin open up flushing out any contamination. The itch goes away and gives relief for most of the day. I repeat as needed.”
      • Danielle uses raw vegetables. She writes, “I use a garlic, onion, or potato. I cut it in half and rub the juice on the sting. It works.”
      • Art, who favors ammonia, writes, “As far as treatment of bee stings go, I find that using ammonia (like in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, “Put some Windex on it!”) helps the symptoms to abate much faster. The way I understand it most of the organic poisons are acid based and ammonia is basic, thus neutralizing acid. The only caveat is that you have to apply it right away, which is not always practical.”
      • Brad of BingalingBees says, “I take baking soda type toothpaste (Pepsodent) into my yards with me for a quick smear after removing a stinger. Seems to help, takes the place of making a baking soda paste, which isn’t practical unless it’s your own backyard hives.”
      • Jonathon of Kansas says, “Mustard. Honey mustard is best. Rub it right in.”
      • Carolyn who, like me, has dropped a full box of bees writes, “[Remedies that] work well for me are dandelion sap and plantain (the kind from the lawn, not the banana type). For the dandelion sap, pick the flower—with a long stem—and let the sap well up. Dab the sap on the sting and immediate relief is noticed. The plantain is also a great remedy. Pick the leaves and either crush them by balling them and smooshing them with your fingers or zap them in the microwave for a moment and put the poultice on the sting. It works in a very similar manner as the dandelion cure.”
      • Karen says, “So many remedies! I keep a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a baggie of cotton balls in my bee box in the car. It works for me. I’ve also heard that you can use vinegar. But I haven’t tried it yet.”
      • Shawna, a four-year beekeeper, uses mud, “Mud that is cool, wet, and gritty feels devine!”
      • George from Pennsylvania uses a local secret. “The older people here use the leaves of the jewelweed plant. They roll the leaves in a tight ball until the juice flows and then rub it on the sting. It’s good for bumble bee stings and poison ivy, too.

Now, let’s hear it from you

So now it’s your turn to let us know your favorite bee sting relief. I can promise that other beekeepers will appreciate your advice.

Be sure to read the comments below for even more sting relief advice straight from the apiary.

Honey Bee Suite

A beekeeper's red and swollen hand after a bee sting could benefit from some time-testing sting relief.
A bee sting on a beekeeper’s hand.


About Me

I backed my love of bee science with a bachelor’s degree in Agronomic Crops and a master’s in Environmental Studies. I write extensively about bees, including a current column in American Bee Journal and past columns in Two Million Blossoms and Bee Craft. I’ve endured multiple courses in melittology and made extensive identifications of North American bees for iNaturalist and other organizations. My master beekeeper certificate issued from U Montana. I’m also an English nerd. More here.

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    • Damn, Phillip, why didn’t I think to write this? This is my tried and true method as well. When I run out of “known” words, I make up more as I dance around like an idiot.

      • I, too, dance on occasion, special occasions like when I get a few bees inside my veil (which happened to me this past summer). Then I’m like Mikhail Baryshnikov on nitrous oxide, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson.

        I’ve also used witch hazel on stings. Distilled witch hazel can be found in most drug stores as well as in medicated wipes sold under the brand name “Tucks” (but also available generically). The witch hazel wipes are easy to carry around, easy to apply, are immediately soothing and help reduce the swelling in stings or any kind of insect bite. I inevitability forget to bring them on the days I get stung, but I used them many times when I had bees in my backyard.

    • Cathy, I too have found the product Apis Mellifica to be very good! Although I’m not allergic to bees I had a run-in with yellowjackets that had been sprayed. For quite a while after that when I’d get stung by my girls I would get major swelling. One sting made my hand swell like a boxing glove another on the lip made my face swell like Homer Simpson. It was at that time I found Apis and wow did it work fast for me. The only thing locally I could find with Apis was a product called Cold Calm which Apis M was the second ingredient on its list. Within 3hrs of looking like Homer swelling was gone and had just a little itching left which I used cortisone cream on. Now just before working with my girls, I stick a few under my tongue to be on the safe side and when I do get stung it just has an itch to it.

  • I know it is hard to believe but a penny on the sting location works the best for me. Just hold it on or a piece of tape to hold it. Ten minutes will do. The penny will develop a black spot where the stinger was located… my teenage daughter never leaves home without them.

  • I suggest 1/2 a bottle of cognac or scotch. Scotch can be drunk neat, with a small cube of ice with each 2 oz, or a splash of water. The benefit of this cure is that if it still hurts, you don’t give a damn!

    • Andrew,

      Thank heavens! There for a second I thought you were going to clean the wound with it . . . that would be a waste.

  • Well, I got sting once a year for the last 4 years and this year, after the sting, my bottom, underarm, and top of my head started itching after 10 minutes… ended up in er looking like a red lobster for a couple hours… Do you think I can still keep bees?

    • Rosy, a reaction anywhere other than the sting site itself is indicative of a systemic reaction. If you got stung on your arm, say, but the top of your head became itchy, it’s time to make an appointment with an allergist. Itching at an old sting site is how it started for me, before I became fully allergic. Please play it safe and get yourself some Epi-Pens or Auvi-Q.

    • Rosy, I got one sting a year for my first four years keeping bees, too! It was the 5th sting in my 5th year that sent me to the ER. Talk about looking like a red lobster! OMG, the paramedic even made a comment (that he immediately apologized for). Anyway, I recommend you take an antihistamine about 30-minutes before working with your bees, so if you get stung and are indeed sensitive now, any reaction MAY be reduced. No guarantees when it comes to anaphylaxis, but premedicating CAN help. Good luck!

    • I’m not a beekeeper, so I shouldn’t even be here. I was an EMT for a long time, now I just teach chemistry….. Anyhow, it sounds, judging by your signs and symptoms, like you had best consult an MD who has experience with immunology/anaphylaxis issues, before pushing your luck any further.

  • When I was a kid my father would chew up a little Red Man and put it on the sting for a few minutes. Kind of nasty, but it really took the sting out.

    • Umm . . . okay . . . I think I’ll pass on this one. Sounds like an Appalachian-ism . . . something my forebears would do!

  • Don’t know about 20 stings in one spot, but if you tape a old copper penny on the sting site it will pull out the soreness usually in 30 min. Works for wasp stings as well.

  • I’ve done the plantain poultice! Found some and chewed it up immediately after getting stung and plastered it on. Maybe it was because of the location of the sting, but it didn’t swell or itch nearly as much as the previous sting I got (which I iced and put baking soda and toothpaste and I don’t remember what else on). I think it healed faster, too.

    One bonus is plantain’s a weed that grows just about everywhere and you can find it and put it on immediately (instead of having to go home and dig through the cabinet or….).

  • I think we need a comparison study. Next time you get stung 22 times, you should treat each location with a different “remedy” and post the results 🙂

  • I was actually surprised to learn what a molecular cocktail apitoxin is. It is kind of interesting that I don’t remember ever having itching reaction to bee stings. I used to get stung quite a bit growing up and helping my dad with his bees. But that was in a different part of the world with somewhat different bees. Maybe they mixed their cocktail slightly differently. Now every sting itches the next day like crazy. A good remedy for itching is a hair dryer. No seriously! You get the itching spot as hot as you possibly can tolerate with a hair drier for as long as you can tolerate it (20 second usually is enough for me). While you are doing it the itch will pass any reasonable level and reach the nights that you have never experienced before. Once you are done, the itch is mostly gone and the effect lasts for several hours. I think it shorts something out in your brain and it cannot process any signals from those receptors for a while 🙂 Works on any itch, not only on bee stings.

    • Art,

      That’s funny because my husband uses a hair dryer for all types of physical ailments. The rest of us think he’s crazy, but it seems to work for him. No idea if he ever used it on a bee sting.

  • Perhaps Mark Twain was reflecting upon a similar source of distress when in his autobiography he wrote the following:

    “Under certain circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.”
    Mark Twain

  • I know I’m bordering on trolling here but there is something else I thought about. Now I haven’t tried this but maybe somebody would volunteer to use themselves as a lab experiment. I was thinking, since apitoxin is just a mixture of proteins you would need something that breaks those down or at least denatures them. So, I suggest meat tenderizer or if you are all pro natural – bromelain (pineapple extract) Theoretically, it should break peptide bonds in the amino acid making up those proteins. I guess the question would be how effective it is going to be in penetrating the skin or the site of the sting. Another consideration, since both of them work great on your steak, they will also start tenderizing you as well. Sooo… if you try it – it’s on you. You’ve been warned!

    One more suggestion, if I may… we, the people, need ability to edit, or at the very least delete the post that you made. Right now, once you hit send you are left with an option to stare forever at the misspelled and unintelligible piece of work. Although it would probably require log in and the whole mess of other background stuff.

    • Art,

      I usually do some minor editing. For example, you wrote “brake” twice, when you meant “break.” I changed them.

      • Thanks! English, I tell ya. All those words that sound the same and mean different things. Lack of imagination, if you ask me, on the part of those who were in charge of inventing those words.

  • On Sunday the 2nd of February, after two days with temps close to 80 degrees, my hives were getting restless and appeared to be getting ready to swarm. I decided a split was going to have to be done if they had swarm cells below the top super, so got ready, tools, boxes and frames, fired up the smoker and headed for the bee yard.

    Smoked the hive, lifted the top super to explore and found four frames with started queen cells with royal jelly so the split was on. I pulled the top super and set it aside, but so many bees that a clump about the size of a quart jar fell to the ground below the hive. The next thing I felt was stinging thru my socks and crawling up my pants legs. I looked down and panicked as about 200 bees were all over my feet.

    I proceeded to brush them off but they were pissed and there was no stopping them. I ran away from the hives and tried still to get them off. Finally, I ran into the back woods where I killed most all the others, but my legs acquired about 25 or more stings to each ankle.

    I used many ideas for stings but none worked well because I had multiple stings in the same place. I was dressed well, 1 pair of pants, covered by my bee suit, sweat shirt, white socks, black shoes, bee veil, and long gloves. I am old at 71, and have spinal synosis, so running is near impossible.

    Why after smoking this hive well, and taking care not to move fast, did they take on such an African stinging frenzy? Because the hive was open, I had to return to finish, I smoked them again and swapped frames without any problems, moved the original hive 4 foot away and put the new hive in its place, to collect the field bees.

    Question: What did I do wrong, I have been a beekeeper catching swarms and a member of our bee club, for over 4 years and never have I had bees attack my feet. It has been very painful, but from now on, I will wrap my feet in grocery plastic bags to be safe…… Charlie

    • Charlie,

      I wish I knew because about the only place I ever get stung is my ankles. Even if I don’t drop bees or put anything on the ground, I still get stung on the ankles. Even thinking about working the bees, my ankles start to burn. Seriously. Maybe it’s the only place where they found a weak link in your bee suit.

      • Thanks so much for your reply. Try my wife’s idea; put your foot in a small grocery plastic bag, then put your shoe on and tuck the bag handles into your sox. Wrap your jeans at the ankles with a rubber band. It seems to work as they don’t sting thru plastic. Thanks again, appreciate your site….Charlie

        • Thanks, Charlie, I will try that. Just a few days ago I was wondering what to do with all the plastic bags I’ve been saving.

      • I hadn’t realized that wearing my old firefighter bunker boots were saving me some grief? The fields are quite often muddy so wearing boots make sense. During summer I use velcro homemade straps around the jean cuffs, with thick socks. I don’t remember ever being stung in lower extremities, everywhere else but. :^)

  • Well, it isn’t high fashion, nor is it cool, but consider getting a pair of boots. Over the ankle boots.

    Blouse the pant legs, tuck them into the boot tops, or cut the tops out of some old socks to use as gaiters over the tops of the boots that you tuck the pant leg into. Using a section of some heavy nylons/stockings could work. I’ve even heard of some lass wearing leg warmers. 🙂

    It seems there are always some that either fall or are already crawling around in the grass. No sense giving them a handy chute to crawl up!

    FWIW, mine usually don’t stop to sting at the ankles. They crawl higher. Much higher. Makes me walk funny and sweat a bit too.

    I like boots.


  • I see Art posted above – meat tenderizer does indeed help relieve the discomfort. Make a poltice and let it sit on the site with occasional rubbing. I have used on hornet stings with relief. Wouldn’t you know that prior to getting honey bees, I threw out many of my old spices – as I sit here with 6 stings that are itching like crazy! It works similar to the ammonia remedy – you have to do fairly soon after being stung.

    Also, over the counter “Sting Relief” wipes or snaps are wonderful – use them for my elementary students.

  • I used to use cold water or OTC anti-itch creams, neither of which helped much but at least made me feel like I was doing something. I also use the “give in to the itch” method, which makes the irritated area much larger and redder, I presume by spreading out the venom. This method was particularly effective the time I got several stings overlapping a ring of chigger bites on my ankles (note to self, don’t wear black socks to the apiary). So I was dubious of the hot water method to increase blood flow and spread out the venom. However, denaturing the proteins sounded promising.

    Next sting event happened while tidying up a dead-out. I had taken one glove off for some reason, and a sharp-eyed scout from a nearby hive detected a threat from my (black) watchband. She sacrificed herself while other scouts flew home (10-12 yds) and brought back a larger posse. I could not put the glove back on, of course, I just concentrated on keeping my sleeve closed off and covering as much flesh as I could while I walked away from the buzzing swarm. I congratulated myself on limiting the damage to 3 solid strikes and a couple of love taps (brushed her off as the tingle started but before she could really set the stinger in place).

    Back at the house, I removed the 3 stingers and soaked my hand in hot water. I repeated the soak a couple of times over the rest of the day, and by golly, it worked. The burning sensation was mostly eliminated, and residual itching was significantly reduced. I also discovered that the toll was actually 8 visible puncture wounds, some of which were in close pairs, like tiny vampire bites, plus 2 or 3 suspiciously tender spots. On the next sting event, I spent an evening swapping a hot compress between a kneecap (why?), an armpit (seriously?), and my neck, which turned out to be another tiny vampire. That site needed a little attention the next day, too, but overall I am very happy with the hot method.

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