Aren’t honeybees just fabulous creatures? I may be slightly (ok, hugely) biased because I’m a beekeeper. But whatever way you look at it, they are hard working little brain boxes. Not only do they kindly share with us the golden goodness that is raw honey, they also make something arguably even more precious than that.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me present to you beeswax! Most of us have heard of beeswax at some point in our lives, but many of us may not know exactly where it is from, despite how obviously named it is. Yes, it is from bees, but let’s not wrap up this article just yet.
Let’s discuss where beeswax comes from. Hopefully I can explain why, where and how it’s made by the bees, which are in my opinion nature’s little architects. So, let’s begin.
Firstly what is beeswax?
A female worker honeybee once reaching a certain age will have 8 special glands in her abdomen that are able to secrete waxy scales from. These waxy scales are 100% pure natural beeswax. It is composed of 284 different compounds mainly consisting of fatty acid esters and long chain alcohols. This freshly made beeswax will only take on its characteristic golden colour after a little chewing and processing from the bee, subtly mixing with pollen and propolis along the way.
The older the bee gets the smaller these glands get, until eventually she is hardly able to produce any more wax. This is the moment she is assigned another job to do in the hive, before finally embarking of her last job placement of all….. Nectar gathering.
Each single beeswax scale that is produced by a honeybee is about 3mm long and it will take over a whopping 1000 of these scales to produce just a gram of beeswax.
What do bees use the beeswax for?
It is said that in the beehive, the bees have to eat about 8lbs of their honey to be able to make just 1lbs of beeswax. That is quite some disparity! So why do they need to make it if it is so energy consuming? Well, the bees use their beeswax to make their own little storage facility thats is more commonly known as honeycomb. This honeycomb is made up of hundreds and hundreds of little hexagonal cells that bees use to store their honey and collected pollen. In another part of the honeycomb, seperate from the honey and pollen, the queen will also lay eggs in these cells, which will soon hatch and grow into worker bees. This makes beeswax a vital ingredient in a beehive. Without it, there will be no bees.
How do beekeepers get this wax if it’s so important to the bees?
The craft of beekeeping is all about taking what the bees produce as a surplus. No good beekeeper will ever take anything from the hive that will leave the bees short of anything that they will need to survive. Us beekeepers help provide the care and environment to help bees thrive. Usually each year there will be an excess of honey and beeswax for us to take. The relationship between a beekeeper and their bees is a special and caring one, so there is always a little give and take from both sides. Fairs fair right?
Time to harvest that beeswax!
Now, back to the question. As we heard, bees will store their honey in the honeycomb. When the bees think the honey is just about right and how they like it, they will cover each cell in a thin layer of wax and it is then deemed ‘capped’. During honey harvest time, the beekeeper will scrape off these wax ‘cappings’ with a knife and place the frame of honeycomb into a honey extractor. The extractor is like a big round drum, that will spin the honey out of the honeycomb frames using a centrifugal force.
Scraping off only the top of the wax cell will allow the honey to flow out of the honey cells without damaging the whole cell. Once the frame has been emptied of the honey, it can be put back onto the hive to be re-used time and time again by the bees to store their honey. These wax cappings that have been cut off during the honey extraction process are the purest form of beeswax from the beehive and are the most sought after by the cosmetics industry.
I usually tend to drain off the wax cappings for a day or so to let any remaining honey drain off before gently melting down the wax and filtering it. The liquid wax is then poured into a container and left to settle. Once it has cooled, I am left with a beautiful looking and equally delicious smelling light golden block of wax.
Beauty and the beeswax
We now know what the bees use beeswax for, but is it of any use to us? Of course it is! Beeswax has been used by humans for literally thousands of years. It is still valued and used today for its unique properties. It is very highly valued in the cosmetics industry as nothing can quite replicate the benefit it can have on your skin. In fact, a recent German study found that beeswax cream is superior to an oil based barrier cream.
Ancient Egyptians, the early cosmetic pioneers
The ancient Egyptians are famed for their early use of make up. Not only did they use these facial cosmetics to enhance their appearance, they used it as an early form of sunscreen to protect their faces from the suns glaring UV rays. Research is now being carried out to the benefits of using both beeswax and honey as a natural alternative to the chemical laden sunscreens on the market.
After being inspired by the ancient Egyptians wisdom of health and beauty, us here at Fresh from the hive have developed a skin cream based on an ancient Egyptian recipe. It contains only 6 natural skin enhancing ingredients that will not only moisturise the skin, it will also help to protect it from the damaging environment. You can buy it by clicking here.
Beeswax candles are better than paraffin ones!
We all love the warm glow of having a candle burning in the room when the main lights are off don’t we? Not only does it create a sense of cosiness in the room, but a beeswax candle flame will produce negative ions in the air which will help to neutralise pollutants. This is the exact opposite of a paraffin wax candle that will produce a nasty black soot that could become an irritant when breathed in, especially if there are any asthma sufferers in the household. Beeswax candles burn cleaner and longer, so if you use candles regularly to create an ambience in your home, do yourself a favour and dump the cheap scented paraffin ones and convert over to beeswax ones. I am certain you will not regret it, and even more certain you will love it.
Beeswax, king of polishes
A major component of shoe polish and furniture polish is beeswax, often mixed with turpentine and sometimes a dye, to match most colour of shoe or wood finish.
How a beeswax polish works
Raw untreated wood and beeswax is a match made in heaven. When the beeswax is used in a polish, it will feed and enhance the wood. Although the wood in furniture is dead, it is made up of millions of tiny microscopic fibres.
When the beeswax polish is applied it will lay these fibres down and fill the miniscule holes and crevices not seen with the naked eye. This effectively seals the wood, preventing it from drying out and potentially cracking. It will also form a protective barrier on the wooden surface, helping to prevent the wood from absorbing moisture and reducing stain damage if and when a coffee (or dare i say wine?) spill happens. It is the beeswax on the surface of the wood that holds the beautiful sheen after buffing with a soft cloth.
For the stylists
Even hipsters find beeswax useful! If you are the proud owner of a bristly beard or moustache, beeswax is a vital ingredient used in beard wax to help maintain a bit of control and order to the frizz.
For creative folk
Beeswax has had its place in the art world for centuries, where it is still used in encaustic painting methods, as well as the lost wax casting process used in model making.
Anyone for a wax filling?
Did you know that just like raw honey, beeswax will never go bad. It has been found inside ancient Egyptian tombs, almost fresh from the hive. They had many uses for it ranging from cosmetic recipes to helping to preserve their dead. Beeswax has also been salvaged from Roman ruins and sunken viking ships. In historical times it would have been used as makeshift dental fillings. Not very practical in modern times; I do like a hot cuppa and I guess that would be a big no no with a beeswax filling. But it just goes to show how versatile it is. The properties and its uses are almost timeless which I think make it an absolute natural treasure.
And to conclude
Hopefully by reading this article it has given you a few snippets of useful information to store in your memory banks and if anybody is to ever ask you ‘Where does beeswax come from?’ you can smile widely, take a deep breath and tell them with smug confidence.