An occupational hazard of working on a vineyard is that you're highly likely to get stung by bees, wasps, and hornets. You are, after all, in their house surrounded by their buffet.
While in Tuscany, I had my hands in piles of grapes that inevitably had bees mixed in (story at the end!) After being stung, I learned about using the herb sage on stings. I had never heard of or tried sage for this purpose before, but it immediately relieved my pain, lowered the swelling quickly, and I had no soreness the next day.
There are 3 steps in the full bee sting relief treatment (Italian Nonna Style):
- Remove the stinger - Pull the stinger (or any leftover insect parts) out with clean, sterile tweezers.
- Ice it - Get an ice cube and move it around the sting area and directly overtop for a few minutes. The cold helps numb the throbbing and reduce initial swelling.
- Apply the sage with pressure - Make a sage paste and put it directly on the sting. Then tie/tape it down with an uncomfortable amount of pressure.
Keep the paste on for at least an hour, ideally as long as it takes to no longer be able to feel the sting (try not to confuse lack of circulation feeling with lack of sting pain feeling.)
Step 3 Sage Paste Instructions
What you need
- Fresh sage - approximately 6 sprigs with whole leaves.
- 1/4 cup of water
- A mortar and pestle
- Something to tie (or tape) a mushy blob onto the area of the sting.
- Put the fresh sage in the mortar.
- Add a splash of water to moisten the leaves.
- Grind the sage with the water, adding small amounts of water as needed.
- Continue to grind until the sage and water create a mushy paste. You should be able to form what looks like a soggy green cookie to put on top of the sting. It doesn't have to stay perfectly together and slightly watery is okay.
Important: Don't squeeze out any excess water when making your soggy sage cookie. You want this juice eventually dripping all over the place, leaving a trail of green wherever you go :)
Grape Sorting Hands
My hands always end up looking rather other-worldly during harvest season.
The pigment in red grape skins is causing them to have that red-purple tone. It's an okay colour... but within a few hours it turns to black and I end up looking extra grimy.
On my pinky finger are two black dots/holes. No, a mini-vampire didn't get confused and bite me. Those are the leftover holes from two separate bee stings.
After each bee-butt stabbed me, I was instructed to pull out the stinger, apply ice, then put the sage paste on the stinger. To keep it in place, I used several go-arounds of masking tape.
Considering the stings happened within a 15 minute period of each other, and this photo was taken about two hours after being stung, my hand is in great shape!
Photo taken: September 2016 in Tuscany, Italy.
At the winery where the photo was taken, my job that day was to sort grapes. The job requirement is pretty much exactly what it sounds like!
Hand-picked grape bunches come in from the vineyard (ideally already sorted by varietal) and are put on a conveyor belt. The conveyor belt carries the bunches through a de-stemmer, slightly damaging some grapes but not crushing them. After the grapes are de-stemmed, they are dropped onto another conveyor belt, soaked in fresh grape juice from the damaged grapes. This juice is like liquid crack for all stinging insects.
Now the sorting team comes in. As freshly de-stemmed crack-juiced grapes go by on the conveyor belt, we are responsible for ensuring that only undamaged, ripe grapes continue on the conveyor belt to the fermentation tanks. This means picking out anything that could deteriorate the quality of the wine or affect the flavour. For example, damaged or molded grapes (sub-standard berries a.k.a SSB) and other nature leftovers like twigs, rocks, dead hornets, and leaves (materials other than grape a.k.a MOG) that can deteriorate the quality of the wine.
The conveyor belt isn't slow. As grapes and wigs fly by, you end up in an auto-pilot mental zone where your hands becomes separate from your brain. I'd imagine it's quite similar to kids zoned into a video game. A game where you have to tap to get rid of garbage, but if you hit a bee, wasp, or hornet you get a penalty sting and sent to the kitchen for a time-out.
Except it's not a video game. The bees aren't programmed to stay in one spot but are in their own world, moving around, intently focused on getting their crack juice. I'm sure you can now piece together that rapid, unconscious hand movement combined with cracked-out unpredictable bees results in getting stung.
And yes, just like the video game example, I was sent to the kitchen for a time-out and to get my sting sorted out with sage.