Lavender Abbeys’ 2018 harvest started early in a couple of ways. Firstly, we harvested three weeks early due to the amazing summer many areas of New Zealand had. Secondly, we were able to commence the harvest at 8am, as there was no dew. With the early start, we commented that we should be able to make it home after distillation, by around 9pm. We beavered away and after four hours harvesting and loading it all on the trailer we were on the road to the distiller at Te Horo. We had thirteen woolsacks in total.

We started loading the lavender into the two available distilling pots, filling them to approximately 38kg each. One pot is distilled at a time and once processed, Stu empties the lavender straw into the trailer to take home for mulch on our trees.

We had a couple of sacks left and Stu loaded the pot, I merrily pushed the lavender into the pot, as I had been doing all afternoon. All of a sudden, I got stung; silly me I had not put my gloves on. I had worn my gloves all morning doing the harvest and I had them in the car, I just forgot to put them on. Stu took the sting out of my right hand middle finger.

I shook my hand for a while as it was so sore. Stu carried on finishing the distillation; we were still running well for time to be home early.

Fifteen minutes or so later, my right hand was red and very itchy all over. I started to feel faint and nauseas, so I went and had a lie down on the bed. By that time, my left hand was red and itchy; both wrists were red and swollen and I had taken my rings off in case my fingers swelled more. I could not stay lying down as the itch was driving me nuts and by this stage, my feet were hot and red with blotches. I got a tub of water to put my feet in. I felt weak and dizzy again, so lay down on the grass. I was feeling anxious and nervy.

I went to the house and had a cup of tea. Stu finished the distilling and had packed the trailer, then came up the house. I showed Stu my stomach, back, arms and he freaked out a bit as I was covered in welts. I knew I could not endure the two-hour drive home so we went to Kapiti Medical Centre and the nurse rushed me in straight away. The doctor arrived immediately and looked at the rash. The nurse gave me eight prednisone tablets and an adrenaline shot in the butt. I was also given an anti-histamine, which was another shot in the butt. Within 15 minutes, I felt calmer and you could literally watch the rash disappearing from my legs, torso, arms and hands.

I have previously been stung a couple of times over the years, but never a reaction like this. In 2016, I had my worst sting, which was on my inner arm, it spread, swelled up and the swelling lasted a couple of weeks before my arm looked normal again. I didn’t think anything more of it, just part of the lavender love.

Neither Stu nor I knew what the symptoms of a severe reaction to a bee sting were – we do now!

What everyone needs to know

A severe reaction is called anaphylaxis. More severe symptoms are – swelling of the tongue and airways causing difficulty breathing, low blood pressure and in the most serious of cases, the heart can stop pumping altogether.

The rash is called Acute Urticaria (Hives). Hives are itchy red or white bumps on the skin, caused by tiny amounts of fluid that leak from the blood vessels just under the skin surface. Small raised areas called weals develop on the skin. They look like mild blisters and are itchy. Each weal is white or red and usually surrounded by a small red area of skin, which is called a flare. Weals are 1-2cm across but can vary in size; they may develop over various parts of the body.

People, who have a severe allergic reaction to insect bites, often have an urticarial rash as one of the symptoms. This is in addition to other symptoms such a severe angio-oedema.

Angio-oedema can develop at the same time as hives. In this condition, some fluid leaks into deeper tissues under the skin, which causes tissues to swell. This mostly affects lips, eyelids and genitals – this happened to me, except my lips.

I hope our 2019 harvest is not so “eventful”.

By the way, we got home at midnight after having to wait three hours at the medical centre to make sure there were no further reactions. A late night in the end – all for the love of lavender!

P.S. I now have an Epi-pen in case I get another bee-sting.