Harold’s Famous Bee Co. harvests the power of the honeybee
On a cold winter day, Harold Gallaher knocked 100 honeybees into a bucket with the sweep of his arm. He tossed on a lid and rushed toward his warm house, with the hope of keeping the cold and unhappy honeybees alive until they were all inside. Harold eased off the lid and coaxed out a bee. His goal: Get stung by a bee or two to relieve his intense nausea.
In 2010, Harold found out he had a cancerous tumor on his spine and was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. He went through chemotherapy and radiation treatments for the cancer and faced the common corresponding nausea and lethargy. While he was tending his hobby beehives, a bee stung Harold.
“I went back to the house and told my wife I was hungry. She said, ‘Who are you? You can’t be hungry, you had chemo today,’ ” Harold recalls.
That accidental sting pushed Harold to explore apitherapy, an ancient type of alternative medicine that uses honeybee products to relieve various ailments from arthritis to headaches to inflammation. Harold knew the bee sting brought him relief. He also knew his wife wouldn’t continue to support the bucket of bees in her kitchen. So, he reached out to a family friend, Amanda Hutchings.
Amanda has years of specialized education in compounding medications — custom medicines for a specific person — and transdermal medications — skin-applied medicines. Amanda understood the benefits of apitherapy and told Harold if his doctor would write a prescription, they could explore the benefits of bee venom.
“I called my oncologist, and I’m the first person in history to get a prescription for a bee sting,” Harold says. “So, Amanda made up my prescription with purchased venom. We didn’t know if it would work, so we had to test it. I took a book and parked outside the hospital. I applied a bit of the cream and texted her the time and that I’d started Chapter 1. By Chapter 12 we were confident I wasn’t going to have a reaction, and the cream worked as well as the bee sting.”
Motivated by the results, the pair wondered if they could harvest their own bee venom. There was one major snag — a honeybee has just one sting per lifetime. “The honeybee is the only stinging insect with a barbed stinger,” Harold says. “So, if one stings you, the bee has to pull itself apart to get away and that kills it.”
A student of his hives, Harold had the idea to combine a glass plate, fine wire mesh and two AA batteries. “When the queen lands on the wire mesh, she receives a mild jolt,” Harold says. “She doesn’t like that and starts stinging. But since it’s a glass plate, her stinger doesn’t get stuck and she can dump her entire load of venom,” Harold says.
The queen will alert her 20,000 best friends in the hive, Harold says, to come out and help. Shortly after the glass is covered in the fine white powder of bee venom.
Initially, Amanda says, their goal was to find a solution for Harold. It worked so well for him, Harold started sharing the all-natural topical cream with others and quickly learned, by happy accident, it helps soothe aches and stiffness. In 2015, they created a small batch of the cream for a test group to try. In the next year, the official Harold’s Famous Bee Cream was released. Since the unique product received such great reviews from customers, Amanda and Harold filed for and received a patent in 2019 and created Harold’s Famous Bee Co.
“We can’t say it’s a medical treatment,” Harold says. “I always tell people it is cosmetic because people look a lot better when they are not bent over in pain. I use a lot of bee cream. At my age everything hurts.”
Harold’s Famous Bee Cream is not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease, Amanda says. Yet, they have had thousands of reviews from customers who have been able to harness the healthy benefits of bee venom.
Even though the pair still harvests venom from their own bees, the bee cream is now made by a contract manufacturer, usually at quantities of 5,000 containers. To keep up with demand, they buy venom from other beekeepers around the world. The cream is sold on Amazon, in more than 100 retailers nationwide and in their store in downtown Ste. Genevieve, which opened in 2019 and is served by Citizens Electric Corp.
At Harold’s Famous Bee Co., customers are immersed in a honey haven. It features a unique honey bar where customers can do a honey sampling of four to eight different honeys. The flavors, such as clover, orange blossom and blackberry, are based on the plant nectar gathered by the bees. Customers also find a smorgasbord of other honey-themed gifts, food and drinks.
“The storefront is definitely a byproduct of the success of Harold’s Famous Bee Cream,” Amanda says. “We wanted a different concept; we didn’t want just shopping. We want to make connections with people and just chitchat about bees and nature. My love of beekeeping started in the last several years after researching the venom. Nature has this beautiful symphony going on every day around us and we so often miss it.”
Amanda says even online customers from other states will pop in the store. “They’ve had these great reactions to the product, and they stop in to just see our little storefront here in the middle of a small town America,” she says. “That’s pretty amazing.”
A FESTIVAL FOR THE BEES
Mark your calendar for June 29, 2024, so you can attend the fourth annual Honey Festival and Market hosted by Harold’s Famous Bee Co. Located in historic downtown Ste. Genevieve, the event features a full day of music, food trucks, farmers-market-style vendors and fun. Beekeepers lead demonstrations and discussions. Be ready to take a photo with the festival’s queen bee (you’ll recognize her regal beehive hairdo). “It’s just a fun and educational event for the whole family,” says Amanda Hutchings, co-owner of Harold’s Famous Bee Co.
For more information, visit www.haroldsfamous.com or visit the Harold’s Famous Bee Co. storefront at 234 Market St. in Ste. Genevieve. It is one of 500 Missouri companies that are part of the Buy Missouri initiative overseen by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe. To find Missouri-made products or to enroll your business visit www.BuyMissouri.net.