BUFORD - The buzzing sound of bees pervades the air in the backyard of Buford resident Sergey Volzhskiy's home. But that's to be expected at the home of the biggest beekeeper and maker of local honey in Gwinnett County.
Volzhskiy has beekeeping in his native Russian blood - there have been beekeepers in the family for four generations now.
What's different about Volzhskiy from his ancestors is that he brought his Russian heritage to America in 1995. With that move came the beekeeping skills that Volzhskiy has turned into a small business called Bort. It's a Russian word that Volzhskiy said means "a dwelling in the trees with the bees in it."
Bort is one of many small business ventures Volzhskiy operates out of his store at 1980 Buford Highway. He also has mobile bee hives and colonies placed at various locations across North Georgia - from Buford to Helen - and each July he begins harvesting a new crop of bee related products.
In the harvesting of these bee products the goal of Bort emerges - to educate people about the health benefits that can be realized by integrating bee products into their daily lives. Volzhskiy educates local folks by giving presentations to businesses and school children about the benefits of bees, and by offering them his locally produced, Russian-infused, bee products. Or as Volzhskiy said in his strong Russian accent, "giving people access to the natural way of living."
"Honeybees provide much, much more than just honey. A couple beehives in your backyard can provide access to the real medicine," Volzhskiy says while showcasing the 50-plus colonies in his backyard. This particular colony had 80 to 90,000 honeybees in it along with a queen, which can sell for as much as $700.
"You don't need to go to the pharmacy or buy some pills because you'll have the stuff provided by Mother Nature and made by honeybees," he said, pointing at the honeycomb and tasting a piece. "It's a very spiritual way of living."
Volzhskiy promotes and offers apitherapy, or bee therapy, which is the medicinal use of products made by honeybees. Products include: honey, pollen, royal jelly, beeswax, bee venom and propolis, all of which Bort manufactures and sells. Volzhskiy said some of the medical conditions treated include multiple sclerosis, arthritis, wounds, burns, infections and even allergies, which are a hot topic in the Southeast, he said.
"Local bees use local pollen and by using these bees' products it helps build up your immune system and fight local allergies, which is caused by the local pollens," Volzhskiy said. "This knowledge makes local honey popular and that's a good sign. People are realizing that the natural way of living and treating themselves natural is the way they're supposed to go."
Buford resident Jennifer Twite takes her daughter to Volzhskiy's music business for piano lessons. She moved from California a few years prior and in the past suffered from seasonal allergies. That trend continued in Georgia.
In September, on the advice of her husband and Volzhskiy, she began taking daily tablespoons of Volzhskiy's sourwood honey in the tea she regularly drinks. She's now a regular user of that honey and a converted believer in its power.
"I was a skeptic because I never had any success before with any homeopathic type of products," Twite said. "But my allergies for the most part have been alleviated and I've had very few reactions. The respiratory aspect has definitely been alleviated. I'll continue to take it."
Tim Koenning, president of the Buford Business Alliance, met Volzhskiy at a Kiwanis Club meeting when Volzhskiy spoke to the group about the many benefits of bees. As someone who'd always believed in the healing properties of honey and been aware of the natural properties of bee products, Koenning accepted some honey and bee pollen from Volzhskiy.
He now takes a daily "scoop" of each and said this past spring he was unbothered by his typically seasonal allergies.
"It was totally surprising," he said.
He also now gets the propolis Volzhskiy sells.
"I swear by it (the propolis)," Koenning said. "Every time I feel a cold coming on, I use it or spray it."
Propolis is the substance created by bees for the construction, repair and maintenance of the hive. In the hive, bees use propolis to line the entire structure, as well as the cells that the queen bee lays her eggs in. From a nutritional standpoint, propolis has built-in antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral qualities and is extremely high in nutrients required by the human body.
Volzhskiy sells the propolis, which is a brownish color and comes in a small bottle that resembles something from a juvenile chemistry set. It's sticky to the touch and bitter to the taste, and Volzhskiy said there are more than 150 different substances in it, some of which have yet to be identified.
Volzhskiy advises people to carry the small bottle of propolis with them or to keep it readily accessible, in case of emergency. He also advises using it to treat a plethora of conditions, from infections or abrasions on the skin to spraying it on your throat if you feel a cold or sore throat coming on.
For those who suffer from arthritis or are just looking for a little pain in their diet, there is always bee venom therapy, which is administered by apitherapists in the form of a direct bee sting or a variant of it.
Bee venom therapy might explain why when Volzhskiy was stung on the finger, which happens regularly, he called it "getting a shot of free medicine."
"I was once stung 400 times in a day, and my hand, instead of the hair on it you just saw the venom stucks all over. I took a knife and took them all out and then I slept for 16 hours," he says. "All my family was worried, but I felt great when I woke up."
Maybe he's lucky he woke up at all.
"It's (bee venom) a very powerful tool if you know how to use it," he says. "It can kill you or it can heal you."
SideBar: Bee facts
· Therapies involving the honeybee have existed for thousands of years and some may be as old as human medicine itself.
· The ancient rock art of early hunter-gatherers depicts the honeybee as a source of natural medicine.
· Bee venom therapy was practiced in ancient Egypt, Greece and China - three civilizations known for their highly developed medical systems.
· Hippocrates, the Greek physician, recognized the healing virtues of bee venom for treating arthritis and other joint problems.
· Today, growing scientific evidence suggests that various bee products promote healing by improving circulation, decreasing inflammation and stimulating a healthy immune response.
SOURCE: American Apitherapy Society