Honey & Beeswax
How Honey and Beeswax is Produce
We all know bees collect nectar and pollen from flowers. The bees you see out and about on the flowers are actually the older bees and they work very hard collecting nectar which will be taken back to the hive.
Nectar will be sucked up by the bees and transported back to the hive in what is known as the “honey stomach”. Enzymes will be added to the honey and on arrival back at the hive the nectar load will be transferred to one of the younger house bees. The house bees will store the nectar in open honeycomb cells. Nectar contains a high percentage of water and if left like this the combination of sugars and moisture would ferment. The bees now reduce the water content to below 20 % by keeping the temperature of the hive at 35 degrees and by fanning. Once the water content has been reduced to less than 20% the honey is now ready to be stored and the bees cap the honey over with a thin layer of beautiful white wax. This keeps the honey in perfect condition for the bees to use later.
Beeswax is typically produced by the younger house bees between 12 and 20 days old, although swarms of bees will rapidly produce of wax comb, because they need to get going quickly with somewhere for the queen to lay eggs and somewhere to store food. Bees wax is produced in the glands of the bees after they have consumed pollen and large quantities of honey. The bees will hang in strings and as wax is extruded from the glands of the wax producing bees it will be passed along the chain between legs and mouths, being chewed and moulded to shape. The bees will then use this wax to build the hexagon shaped honey cells we are all familiar with.
Producing wax takes vast quantities of honey. It takes 10 kilos of honey to produce a kilo of beeswax.
Bees will fly 90,000 (3 orbits of the earth) miles to collect 1kg of honey so a 340g jar is the equivalent of 30,000 bee miles. Next time you have an empty honey jar, spare a moment. Is there a little drizzle of honey in there you can scrape out? A 10th of a teaspoon of honey is the amount collected by one bee in her entire life so every drop is precious.
What is Honey?
So now we have our jar of honey produced by so much effort, but what is honey?
Well it’s a blend of fructose, glucose and water and contains a whole array of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. It’s also antifungal, antiviral, antiseptic.
Honey is only food source to never to go off. It has even been found in the pyramids in Egypt. It will however ferment if the moisture contents is too high.
All natural honey will eventually granulate. The rate of granulation depends on what the bees have foraged on. Brassicas for example will speed up granulation. Ivy will granulate almost as quickly as the bees store it.
Honey will look and taste different depending on where the bees have foraged. Honey taken in the spring will be different to honey taken in the late summer. It will vary from year to year and even from 2 hives side by side.
All Honey is NOT Equal
Unfortunately not all honey is equal. A lot of the health giving properties of raw or natural honey are completely removed by the processing it goes through before it makes it on to the supermarket shelves. What is required by supermarkets is a honey which will remain runny and clear for a long shelf life and so often the honey is heat treated.
Firstly, the honey is heated to around 71 degrees C which keeps the honey liquid indefinitely. The honey is then blasted through a fine mesh removing all grains of pollen and along with them all their health giving benefits and turning the honey into a sugary syrup.
Natural local (or raw) honey can be found in plenty of places, local farm shops, farmers markets, butchers and greengrocers to name a few. The best way to find a source of natural local honey is to find your local beekeeping association.
What is Beeswax?
Beeswax is a sustainable source of wax.
For centuries the only source of light was candle and the best candles have always been made from beeswax. Beeswax candles were always used by the church and monasteries as well as the rich and privileged. Wax for candles was one of the reasons that monks kept bees.
Natural beeswax candles produce a beautiful bright light. It is also smokeless so it won’t leave behind the dirty sooty marks a paraffin based candle will. Nor does it contain the carcinogenic compounds of paraffin.
Beeswax candles are the only fuel to produce negative ions as they burn reducing the allergens in the air and are therefore said to help allergy sufferers.
Like honey beeswax is antifungal, antiviral, antiseptic and antibacterial. Primitive man used beeswax as an antiseptic and wound covering.
Although waterproof, beeswax locks water within its waxy structure so it makes a great moisturiser. For centuries beeswax has been used as a beauty aid. Some of the first lipsticks were a combination of red ochre, beeswax and fat.
Over the centuries beeswax has been used in many products including the well known hair dressing – Brylcreem.
Uses for Beeswax & Honey
So what can honey and beeswax be used for – the list is endless but here are some:
Cut comb and cappings are popular with hayfever sufferers as they tend to contain more pollen. If using honey for hayfever the advice is that you should take 1 teaspoon a day for a month before your symptoms usually start. Honey should be as local as possible. However, honey will not help hayfever sufferers if the allergies are grass pollen as bees do not forage on grass.
Honey and lemon for colds is a well known remedy. A recent study showed that children’s cough mixtures were ineffective, but that a spoonful of honey provided some relief from night time coughs.
Honey is a great source of energy. The glucose provides an immediate burst of energy, with the fructose providing sustained energy. Sir Edmund Hillary came from a beekeeping family and he put honey at the forefront of his daily training and endurance regime.
Honey boosts the immune system helping the body to heal itself. Hippocrates – the father of modern medicine – recommended honey as a wound dressing.
Honey and chamomile tea helps settle an upset tum, whilst honey in hot milk can help insomnia. In fact a spoonful of honey before bed is recommended to help you wake refreshed. This is because the fructose is stored in the liver as an energy reserve. Our brains don’t stop when we sleep and they require a constant supply of energy which is provided by the fructose.
Again an endless list of uses from furniture and leather polishes, a sewing aid to help the needle pass through material more easily, to stop a drawer from sticking and of course candles.
Honey makes a lovely moisturising but soft bar of soap. Beeswax makes a hard bar of soap with a good lather so a combination of beeswax & honey in soap makes for the perfect combination – mother nature knew what she was doing even if she didn’t know we were going to be using it to make soap.
A combination of honey and beeswax can also help make moisturising lip balms and hand salves to which essential oils can be added for their therapeutic benefits.