Beeswax is the basic material to form honeycombs. It originates in special organs in the abdomen of honeybees and was previously practically irreplaceable for humans. Today it is used as an ingredient in natural cosmetics, in gingerbread, but also in gastronomy and in production of effective herbal ointments and creams.
Beeswax is the basic material to form honeycombs. It originates in special organs in the abdomen of honeybees and was previously practically irreplaceable for humans. They used to make candles out of it - their only source of light at night, used it for sealing, waxed various objects with it and wax protected them from damp. Today, beeswax no longer performs such functions – it is used as an ingredient in natural cosmetics, in gingerbread, but also in gastronomy. It is used in production of effective herbal ointments and creams, serves to prevent diseases of the oral cavity, or you can use it as a dietetic alternative of fat and prepare pancakes or eggs on it.
Beeswax is a metabolic product of bees
Beeswax is secreted by younger worker bees. In freshly hatched bees, the wax-producing gland is not fully developed; wax is formed by bees aged 12-18 days. The wax-producing glands are in the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth abdominal segment and they are two on each segment, so a worker bee has a total of eight of them. Queens and drones do not have wax-producing glands at all.
After exudation, the glandular secretion solidifies and very quickly turns into white wax scales. Bees hanging in a bunch collect it from each other´s abdomens and process it with their jaws. They add a secretion to it, thanks to which wax has its supple and plastic consistency. After this treatment, they begin to form a honeycomb. Beeswax is formed by metabolic transformation - conversion of sugars and pollen in the digestive and wax-producing tract of bees.
Colour of beeswax corresponds to the food of bees
Beeswax is a yellowish substance with characteristic scent associated with honey. Virgin beeswax is white or yellowish white. However, other colourants are added to the wax through the pollen grains that make up the bee´s food. The colour of beeswax thus very much depends on the area where the bee colony lives.
Pollen from sunflowers, poppies, and dandelions colours beeswax strongly - waxes from areas with abundant occurrence of these plants tend to be bright yellow. There are also plants that do not colour wax at all, such as flax and alfalfa. In Cuba or in the Caribbean region, beeswax has very specific dark colour, which is due to tobacco pollen. Beeswax from South America and Equatorial Africa is usually also very dark. Perhaps the most varied colours have European and North American waxes - thanks to their diverse flora, they tend to range in colour from pale yellow to dark brown.
Composition of beeswax
Beeswax is a relatively complex mixture of hydrocarbons, esters of higher fatty acids with higher alcohols, free fatty acids, sterols, dyes, and aromatics. It contains more than 15 complex compounds and has different compositions in different bee colonies – another is the composition of stingless bee wax, bumblebee wax, wild bee wax, wax from natural cavities, and wax formed in the beehive on foundations.
Beekeeping or apiculture has been known since 3,600 BC. In Egypt, beekeeping used to be performed in clay pipes, from which they obtained wax and honey after the bees had been fumigated. Almost all bee colonies belonged to the ruler, and professional beekeepers paid exorbitant taxes.
A legend of the mystical use of beeswax dates to the earliest Egyptian times. It is contained in the so-called Westcar´s papyrus and narrates about the difficulties of the court scholar named Vabaoné. He had problems with his unfaithful wife, who sent expensive gifts to some burgher. Vabaoné created a small wax sculpture of a crocodile, threw it into a garden pool and the crocodile came to life. It grew up in four-meter size and gobbled up his unfaithful wife like a raspberry. After such a snack, it became a small and harmless sculpture again.
Beeswax as a basic building material
Beeswax is the basic building material for the formation of honeycombs (crude wax). Bees produce it through wax-producing glands in the form of tiny wax scales. Worker bees conglutinate them together one by one and build honeycombs of them. 1.25 million small wax scales are needed per 1 kg of wax. These flat ovals are 1 mm in size and weigh about 0.8 mg.
Honeycombs have completely unique physical properties that cannot be artificially imitated. In bee colonies, they are important even for bee communication, thanks to their thermal insulation and the thermal expansivity of wax.
Perfect bee geometry
The geometric perfection of bees has amazed man since ancient times – regular hexagons are unique in terms of space utilization solutions, they have a huge storage volume, strength, and at the same time relatively low material consumption. Mathematicians would probably agree that there is no better solution.
Honeycombs are built in such a way that the smallest possible amount of material creates the largest and most durable construction. The bees came up with a solution which hardly anyone could think of – a regular hexagon forms a solid and strong structure, even though its walls are very thin. The big advantage is that the walls fit together perfectly so that there are no gaps or cracks between them.
Watch an amazing video to learn why bees like hexagons:
People were inspired by bees in this regard and began to use a similar structure – we come across them wherever a light and resilient construction is needed. The design of bee nests inspires components of aircrafts, helicopters, cars, or ships. Load-bearing walls of houses, shelves, doors, snowboards, or surfboards are copied from it. Honeycomb is simply a nature-proven solution that is used by many engineers and constructors.
While it is a pleasure to look at new white honeycombs, older dark to black honeycombs are no longer fit to use. Therefore, beekeepers melt them out, press them, and from the wax pressed out they cast cubes in water for further use; for example, foundations (midribs of combs) are pressed from beeswax, which are then inserted into hives and form the base of honeycombs; bees just build up cells on them.
Foundations are a big topic for discussion for many beekeepers – this is because part of beeswax is often fraudulently replaced by synthetic materials, such as paraffin, but for bees it is not a big win. Paraffin is added to wax to fake it in order to make more money in the sale.
But bees often do not want to build on it and often chew it out and replace it with their wax. If bees build on paraffin, honeycombs collapse in intense heat, because they cannot hold the weight of honey. Therefore, bees are much more comfortable having their own closed wax cycle and it is beneficial for them when their beekeeper remelts old combs into new foundations.
Asian giant bee honeycombs
In South Asia, there lives a special species of bee called giant honeybee – their name is somewhat funny, because the length of those bees often does not exceed 2 centimetres. However, their work is giant. Their large nests are built in a form of one large honeycomb. It can be more than 2 meters long and contain several tens of kilograms of honey. Bees build such honeycomb nests outdoors and attach them to tree branches or rock cliffs.
However, the open nest they must protect not only from the cold, but also from honey lovers - that is why worker bees literally protects it with her own bodies. So, you would not find giant bees in the nest, but on the contrary, the nest is being hidden right in them. The bees cover the honeycomb with their bodies, but they do not touch it and maintain a constant temperature in it.
Their honeycombs – nests are being targeted by honey hunters. They climb tall trees or hang on ropes above the abysses to capture the entire honeycomb. They drive out bees by smoke, cut off the honeycomb and take it away whole.
Giant bees have not yet been domesticated - they are migratory like some birds. Because they build their honeycombs – nests outdoors, they pay attention to the weather. As the rainy season approaches, they will leave their current homes and move to areas with more flowers. On such a trip, they cover a good 200 km and take only short breaks to collect food. When the cold or rains pass, they return to their homeland.
Harvesting of beeswax
Beeswax harvesting itself is a relatively laborious matter – beekeepers are occupied with it during off-peak periods. Beeswax is obtained in three ways:
In dry melting, honeycombs are placed into solar wax extractor. This is a flat cabinet with a mirror or sheet metal on the inside of the lid. When the sun shines on it, wax heats up and drains into a tray. In this way, high-quality wax is obtained, but the yield varies – beekeepers agree that it is lower than for the other two variants. It is logically important for the success of the method that the sun shines nicely.
In the processing of beeswax with hot water, wax is thawed in a stainless-steel vessel with soft water, clean rainwater, or distilled water. If hard water is used, wax may easily be degraded, because hard water contains magnesium and calcium salts that react with waxy acids. Honeycombs are gradually simmered in water, and thin mash is formed. This is collected from the surface of the bath into a bag or other fabric and then pressed to extract it or centrifuged. The slower the wax mass cools down, the cleaner the resulting wax.
The classic is the steam processing of beeswax on steamers. A honeycomb is steamed through in a dense canvas bag placed in a perforated basket so that steam can penetrate everywhere. When heated, wax drains from the bottom.
Storage of beeswax
At room temperature, you can store beeswax for non-limited period. Only at temperatures around 0 °C, a grey powder coating forms on the surface of the wax, called wax bloom.
However, you can easily remove the grey wax coat by heating it in the sun, with a hair dryer or with warm water – a temperature of 38 °C will suffice. When stored below the freezing point, beeswax does not cover with grey coating.
If you are not beekeeping, you can buy beeswax directly from a beekeeper. Its price is approximately equal to the price of honey. You can also buy foundations from him - their wax is very clean, so it is about half as expensive as beeswax. However, beekeepers do not sell and offer foundations too often, but these are available in shops with beekeeping tools and equipment.
Melting and plasticity of beeswax
Beeswax melts at temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius. At room temperature it is pliant but does not melt. Its plasticity logically increases with temperature. A classic example in which melting of beeswax played a key role is the legend of Daedalus and Icarus. The father and son tried to escape from the island with wings glued together with beeswax. Icarus, the son, however, did not follow the recommended flight altitude, the wax melted, and his wings fell apart.
Medicinal usage of beeswax
Beeswax is most often used in the manufacture of various ointments – it has an excellent consistency as their base. Moreover, allergy to beeswax is not common, which is why it suits a number of people.
Beeswax increases the adhesion of cosmetic products to the skin and creates a protective layer on the skin. It is also used to produce lip balms, it is added to soaps and creams, which ensures the protection and elasticity of the skin.
It is used to produce various types of herbal ointments – agrimony, calendula, plantain, chamomile, comfrey, and others. And the procedure is simple:
- 15 g of beeswax
- 55 g of almond oil
- 29 g of distilled water
- 1 g of disodium tetraborate (borax)
Proceed as follows: Heat the wax and oil in a water bath at 70 degrees Celsius. In the other vessel, dissolve borax in water, heat it to the same temperature and pour it into the oil-wax phase while stirring vigorously to form an emulsion. Once this is achieved, stir only slowly, until the temperature of the cream drops to about 40 degrees Celsius. Pour it into an end package and close it well. Store in a cool place. Use it as a cooling day cream.1
- 1 kg of lard
- herb needed
- 50 až 100 g of genuine beeswax
Proceed as follows: First weigh 1 kg of raw lard and render it out slowly. During rendering gradually remove the lard and pour it still boiling on the chosen herbs. Make sure that the lard does not burn, because it would go bad quickly and would smell. From the stated amount of raw lard, it can be obtained at least 700 ml of pure material rendered out. The next day thaw the mixture so that it can be strained. Remove strained herbs. In still warm solution dissolve at least 50 to 100 g of genuine beeswax. If you add less wax, the ointment will be more tenacious.2
Even if you may not have thought of a similar use, beeswax can really be used internally, and this method is very successful.
„Beeswax has been declared safe for human consumption and its possible use as a food additive has been approved. (USA, 1978). It is not meant that wax (an indigestible substance as known) should be a direct part of human diet, but only as an additive. The best known is the form of section honey, although in this case, wax is only chewed and not swallowed. Beeswax is inert, i.e., there is no interaction between the human digestive system and wax. Wax thus passes through the digestive tract without its slightest damage.“3
And now to the specific examples of inner use (chewing and subsequent spitting out): „…chewing honeycombs with honey not only does not spoil the teeth, but has demonstrably healing properties, especially for diseases of the oral cavity. In this way, it is possible to affect favourably periodontitis, rampant aphthae, inflammation of the tongue, and other discomforts.“4
Josef A. Zentrich recommends chewing honeycombs alternating with cold-pressed olive oil rolling in the mouth. Subsequently, rinsing with strong calendula tea or tea enriched with tincture prepared from sage, myrtle, or liquorice seeds will help. „Beeswax (uncapped while being extracted) is recommended for chewing, as a folk remedy for upper respiratory tract catarrhs, but also associated diseases, such as inflammation of the facial sinuses, etc.… It is also ideal for cleaning teeth and oral structures that support the teeth (periodontium).“5 The recommended dose for chewing is half a teaspoon of uncapped wax with honey for about 15 minutes.
Beneficial effects of beeswax
„Beeswax is rich in vitamin A....Vitamin A (eye vitamin, retinol) supports the growth of the body and visual perceptions, its deficiency causes corneal and retinal disorders, and increases resistance to infectious diseases. Vitamin A is also needed for normal growth and development of the body, especially for healthy teeth and bones. It protects the mucous membranes from infections and is the basis for the formation of photosensitive pigment important for eyesight.“6
„It supports growth, development, and maturation of epithelial tissues, reproduction (sperm production, placenta and foetal development) and testosterone production.
Protects against damage to the lining of the digestive tract, respiratory organs, and salivary glands.
It is needed for the growth and renewal of cell membranes. Helps neutralize toxic substances.
When wax combs are applied to the body in the form of compresses/poultices, vitamin A can penetrate the body in a few minutes to a depth of 4 mm. It is a unique property of wax, which opens further possibilities of its usage in the treatment with bee products.
Chewing beeswax has more beneficial effects, such as activating the production of saliva and gastric juices, mechanically cleaning teeth of tartar and nicotine coating in smokers.“7
„Chewing honeycomb capping is very effective against colds. Excellent effects when chewing honeycomb capping have also been proven in the treatment of hay fever and periodontitis.“8
- „Warm compresses are often prepared from beeswax. Their main medicinal effect can be increased by the addition of essential oils. Wax compresses are a great helper for increasing local blood circulation. “Warm compress containing beeswax is recommended for chronic conditions of rheumatic origin, arthrosis, muscle contracture, joint and back pain, obesity, cellulite.“9
Candles have become a popular issue in alternative medicine. They are used as special ear or body candles but inhaling burnt wax of candles also has excellent effects for calming down. Ancient nations have found that if there is an obstacle in the flow of energy, such a blockage causes pain. A candle will help release, remove the blockage, and gain new energy.
Candles were once made from bark or medicinal plants that relieve pain, so they had twice the strength. It was later found that dip coating in beeswax slowed down burning of the candle, was more even and the effect was increased. In addition, burning of beeswax releases a pleasant honey aroma associated with essential aromas. “Beeswax candles scent the apartment and toxic fumes do not form or escape during burning, as with paraffin candles.“10
Candles rolled from foundations
Probably the most famous beeswax candles are the candles rolled from honeycomb foundations. The basis of beautiful candles are fresh honeycomb foundations; they should definitely not be grey by long storage. There are two basic types of candles - cylindrical (rolled from rectangles) and conical (rolled from triangles).
The great advantage of rolled candles is that when the candle burns, its wax leaks into its porous interior. Rolling candles is a pleasant pastime that is easy to learn for practically anyone. At the beginning of the Pleva family business, candles were rolled mainly by children.
Ear candles are used in alternative medicine to solve problems with sleep disorders, they help with overall regeneration of the body, headaches, feelings of pressure, irritability, or stress. They are often associated with essential oils that always support a specific function of the body.
In alternative medicine, they are used in inflammation and rheumatic pain. They help with back pain and headaches, colds, respiratory problems, and digestive and excretory problems. Their application must be entrusted to a specialist, just like the use of ear candles.
A lighted beeswax candle looks beautiful, makes the evening more pleasant and relaxes the eyes and mind, but it also has a number of other beneficial functions:
- Recharge energy positively.
- Help with concentration.
- It is an excellent natural air ionizer.
- Neutralize unpleasant and harmful tobacco smoke.
- Bring a person to mental balance and inner peace.
Light a beeswax candle ideally about 15 to 20 minutes before bedtime. It will help bring you deep, peaceful, and healthy sleep. In the morning you will wake up with a feeling of energy and inner health.11
Other usage of beeswax
Beeswax has been used to cast metals since the Bronze Age. This is a method of so-called lost wax, where the wax forms the positive (i.e., an object that looks like the final product), is wrapped with a material that forms the body of the mould and then the wax is thawed.
Wax is currently used in the food industry, under the designation E901; it is one of the permitted food supplements. It is used as varnish for chocolates and various candies.
You can use beeswax to grease baking sheets - first warm the sheet a little, the wax will spread better on it. In addition to use in the food industry, pharmacy, cosmetics, and candle production, beeswax serves as:
- furniture varnish,
- stone filler,
- grafting wax,
- polishing paste,
- liquid polish,
- impregnation for textiles, footwear, and leather,
- car care products,
- sealing wax,
- wax for skis,
- for decorating Easter eggs,
- anti-corrosive treatment of metals,
- in the restoration of paintings.
Tip - make a practical waxed napkin
With the help of beeswax, make a practical snack napkin that will serve as a replacement for plastic bags. Prepare a piece of cloth, beeswax, and a baking tray. Cut the fabric into the shape of a larger napkin, place it on a baking sheet and grate beeswax on it.
Place in an oven preheated to 85 °C and wait about 5 minutes for the wax to dissolve on the fabric. Do not leave the napkin in the oven unnecessarily long. If you feel that wax is not absorbed into the fabric evenly, spread it with a brush. Wait for the wax to solidify and it is finished.
You can wrap a snack as well as cheese in the fridge in such a napkin or cover with it a plate of food so that it does not dry out.
1 Czech publication: Josef A. Zentrich: Apiterapie, přírodní léčba včelími produkty; Eminent, 2003, recept str. 43 Back
2 Czech publication: Ing. Štefan Demeter, CSc.: Apiterapie: Léčení včelími produkty; Vydala Mgr. Andrea Lenochová, Olomouc, 2015, recept str. 156 Back
3 Czech publication: Trojan, Aleš: Včelí produkty ve výživě a v lékařství; Bakalářská práce, Masarykova univerzita v Brně, Fakulta sportovních studií, Katedra sportovní medicíny a zdravotní tělesné výchovy, Brno, 2005, str. 28 Back
4 Czech publication: Josef A. Zentrich: Apiterapie, přírodní léčba včelími produkty; Eminent, 2003, str. 42 Back
5 Czech publication: Ing. Štefan Demeter, CSc.: Apiterapie: Léčení včelími produkty; Vydala Mgr. Andrea Lenochová, Olomouc, 2015, str. 154 Back
6 Czech publication: Ing. Štefan Demeter, CSc.: Apiterapie: Léčení včelími produkty; Vydala Mgr. Andrea Lenochová, Olomouc, 2015, str. 155 Back
7 Czech publication: Ing. Štefan Demeter, CSc.: Apiterapie: Léčení včelími produkty; Vydala Mgr. Andrea Lenochová, Olomouc, 2015, str. 155 Back
8 Czech publication: Ing. Štefan Demeter, CSc.: Apiterapie: Léčení včelími produkty; Vydala Mgr. Andrea Lenochová, Olomouc, 2015, str. 163 Back
9 Czech publication: Ing. Štefan Demeter, CSc.: Apiterapie: Léčení včelími produkty; Vydala Mgr. Andrea Lenochová, Olomouc, 2015, str. 155 Back
10 Czech publication: Ing. Štefan Demeter, CSc.: Apiterapie: Léčení včelími produkty; Vydala Mgr. Andrea Lenochová, Olomouc, 2015, str. 163 Back
11 Czech publication: Ing. Štefan Demeter, CSc.: Apiterapie: Léčení včelími produkty; Vydala Mgr. Andrea Lenochová, Olomouc, 2015, str. 160 Back