Products from the Hive – Part V: BEESWAX (& Glyphosate in the Hive)

On the playground one is likely to hear almost anything.  These days it is not entirely uncommon for one child to retort to another, “It’s none of your beeswax!” and the questioner immediately holds their tongue.  This riposte was always good enough to stop the badgering and to keep the playground dynamics friendly.  Beeswax, an amazing substance known to soften and soothe skin. It also serves to smoothly soften the verbal blow.

However, the playground was a long time ago and just as the phrase “It’s none of your beeswax!” is appropriate at a certain time, we should perhaps move on, or as another “bee-ism” used by lovers of honeybees so aptly states, “Make like a bee and buzz off!”

It has now imperative that the budding holistic health professional get “busy as a bee” as it has indeed become our business to understand natural remedies and their value to help people recover their health. Let us consider beeswax as another amazing healing product of the hive.

The Latin name(s) for beeswax Cera flava or Cera alba reflect both the substance and the color. Cera is translated ‘wax’, while flava means yellow. Therefore Cera flava can be interpreted “yellow wax”. Most commonly, however, beeswax is referred to as Cera alba.  Alba meaning ‘white’ would be translated, “white wax.”  Either white or yellow beeswax can be used to make wax-based products.

Beeswax ~ How The Bees Make It

Have you ever smelled a pure beeswax candle?  If you have you might notice that is has the light aroma of honey.  When field bees collect flower nectar and bring it back to the hive, that nectar is destined to become one of two things, either honey or beeswax.

Meanwhile back at the hive young worker bees learn how to produce beeswax from the older worker bees. “Wax glands are best developed and most productive in 12-18 day-old workers. After producing wax for a few days, the wax glands begin to degenerate and by the time the bee is ready to leave the hive to become a field bee, usually when it is about 21 days of age, the glands have completely degenerated.” [1]

“Beeswax is produced by metabolizing honey in fat cells associated with the wax glands and converting it to beeswax; workers cannot produce beeswax unless there are adequate honey stores in the colony. Workers also need to eat pollen during the first five to six days of their life in order to secrete wax later on, evidently because the protein in pollen is needed at that time for adequate fat cell development (Winston 1987). Wax is secreted primarily during warm weather when foraging is active. Workers actively engaged in secreting wax engorge themselves with honey and hang in festoons at or near the site of comb building. Drones and queens do not have abdominal wax glands.” [2]

As the worker bees consume the honey, eight wax-producing glands on their abdomens convert the sugars into a wax-like substance which appears on the surface as small transparent ‘scales.’  Initially, it is glass-clear and colorless, later as other bees begin to chew on this substance the enzymes in their salivary secretions help to soften the wax and change its appearance to a light whitish-cream color that then begins to darken with age.

Beeswax ~ The Seen & The Unseen

“Absorption of flavonoids from propolis and/or carotenoids in pollen lead to a bright to dark yellow color. The typical scent of wax is enriched with aromatic substances from honey, pollen and propolis.” [3]

“100% pure beeswax will develop a naturally occurring white film on its surface over time. Commonly known as “bloom”, this white film is an indicator of the purity of the beeswax. If you purchase a candle that is labeled as “pure beeswax”, and it doesn’t develop bloom over a period of time, it may not be 100% pure. Bloom can be removed by buffing the surface of the candle with a soft cloth or by running a hair dryer on warm/low over the surface of the candle. [4]

Beeswax ~ The Breakdown

“Beeswax is a complex substance made up of wax esters, fatty acids and hydrocarbons (Piek 1964; Tulloch 1970). Over 300 individual chemical components have been identified from pure beeswax (Tulloch 1980). Beeswax consists primarily of monoesters (35%), hydrocarbons (14%), diesters (14%), triesters (3%), hydroxymonoesters (4%), hydroxypolyesters (8%), free fatty acids (12%), acid esters (1%), acid polyesters (2%), free alcohol (1%) and unidentified (6%). It is this great diversity of composition that gives beeswax many unique properties (Goodman 2003) and keeps us from fully understanding the synthesis and secretion process.” [5]

Beeswax in the Herbal Pharmacy

The herbalist uses beeswax when making ointments, creams, cerates, plasters, and suppositories to give a proper consistency and tenacity. Not only is beeswax used to thicken salves, it “is so non-polar that it’s essentially waterproof.  It won’t even mix with olive oil unless it is heated until it melts.” [6] As an emollient, beeswax is softening and soothing to the skin. It is also anti-desiccant as it works to help the skin retain moisture. Additionally, “The few studies [of beeswax] showed an antimicrobic effectiveness of beeswax against overall Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella enterica, Candida albicans and Aspergillus niger; these inhibitory effects are enhanced synergistically with other natural products such as honey or olive oil.” [7]

Beeswax ‘Miracles’ ~ True Stories

An elderly woman with aging feet, whose skin was so thin it was translucent, had continual skin ulcers between the toes on her right foot. Previously MRSA had entered through one of the ulcerated spots on the foot. It settled in the bone requiring surgery to remove the diseased toe.

After this event, the woman’s podiatrist prescribed every manner of pharmaceutical creams, salves, and mechanical contrivances to encourage the ulcerated foot to heal over the previous year. While the surgery spot healed up another ulcerated area between the toes where they rubbed together became ulcerated, quickly becoming a very serious problem.

One day the elderly woman’s daughter traveled to visit her. (The daughter happens to be a Master Herbalist and a graduate from Genesis School of Natural Health.) She gave her mother a gift of a hand salve she had hand-crafted with beeswax, almond oil, vitamin E, and essential oils.

The next time the daughter visited she was told that at the ulcer had completely healed! The elderly woman went on to explain that she had used the “hand salve” given by her daughter on her foot each morning and again in the evening every time she cleaned and re-bandaged her foot.

At her next podiatrist appointment the doctor stared in shock at the healed foot ulcer and said, “How did you do that? I never thought we’d get that to heal up.” The woman replied, “My daughter made me a salve.” “What’s in it?”, the doctor asked. The woman recounted the list of ingredients to which the doctor replied, “Oh yes, of course. It was the beeswax.” And dropped the topic.

What was it about the beeswax that worked so magnificently for the elderly woman? There are a number of actions that came into play. First, the anti-desiccant property of the beeswax helped the skin to retain moisture, especially the moisture from the almond oil which carried the essential oils deep into the skin. Additionally, its antibacterial properties (along with those of the essential oils) helped keep bacteria on and in the ulcerated area at bay which allowed the wound to begin healing. Another very important aspect was the reduction in friction between the toes as the beeswax provided a very thin protective layer to the skin.

The following is an eye-catching example of the beneficial results of using a beeswax product on a woman diagnosed with Scleroderma, a disease that causes hardening of the skin which can be painful.

Reyah Carlson, Apitherapist at Reyah’s Bees says, this “Woman’s hand was affected by Scleroderma (an auto immune disorder.) Notice the difference in her hand before using my Bee-Lightful skin cream, and then again less than 10 days after using my skin cream!”

The Savvy Herbalist

Modern agriculture’s insistence on the use of pesticides harms more than just the food they produce. Honeybees as pollinators, are doing what they are naturally designed to do. Invariably, they will bring these chemicals back to the hive from their collection of plant pollen and nectar.

“Studies demonstrate that a cocktail of pesticides is present in bee hives. Meanwhile, there is growing evidence that some of the chemicals identified might interact in a synergistic manner. In particular, some fungicides which have generally been considered as relatively safe for bees have proven to be harmful in the presence of other pesticides. These recent findings demonstrate that current standards and limits for pesticides may not actually be safe for bees. Current risk assessment schemes take only single chemical exposures into consideration.” [8]

“Residues of pesticides and varroacides accrue in wax. These residues are especially concentrated in recycled wax, preventing the absorption of additional substances and possibly transferring into honey. Not only is the honey contaminated, but also the bees’ food. Sub-lethal doses in wax show an influence on reared brood and can cause insidious but also acute damage. Therefore, combs from the brood chamber should not be used for the production of foundation. Combs in the honey chamber can be contaminated by pesticides from the environment, especially after honey flow near or in intensive agriculture.” [9]

What a conundrum we find ourselves in. Even beekeepers who practice natural beekeeping and do not contribute microbiome disrupting chemicals or essential oils to the hive, helplessly stand by and watch these bee colonies struggle and collapse under the toxic load year after year.

Dear God, What Have We Done?

“Increased mortality of honey bee colonies has been attributed to several factors but is not fully understood. The herbicide glyphosate is expected to be innocuous to animals, including bees, because it targets an enzyme only found in plants and microorganisms. However, bees rely on a specialized gut microbiota that benefits growth and provides defense against pathogens. … Exposing bees to glyphosate alters the bee gut community and increases susceptibility to infection by opportunistic pathogens. Understanding how glyphosate impacts bee gut symbionts and bee health will help elucidate a possible role of this chemical in colony decline.” [10]

Here is the conclusion of the study for your consideration. “As in many animals, honeybees rely on their gut microbial community for a variety of functions, including food processing, regulation of immune system, and defense against pathogens. Perturbations of this system have the potential to lead to negative consequences for host fitness. We found that glyphosate affects the bee gut microbiota composition and that bacterial species and strains within this community vary in susceptibility to glyphosate. Recent experimental and observational studies have provided evidence that dysbiosis affecting the bee gut can increase susceptibility to pathogen invasion. Our results also suggest that establishment of a normal microbial community is crucial for protection against opportunistic pathogens of honey bees.” [11]

Sounds a lot like the human microbiome and in some ways it is. Human gut microbes actually include a number of the same species as the honeybee. Additionally, the role of these gut microbes in humans also impacts ‘food processing, regulation of immune system, and defense against pathogens.’

How does glyphosate affect the digestive systems of insects? Well, in a similar way that antibiotics disrupt the gut of animal bodies. By attacking the good as well as the bad bacteria and disrupting the natural balance. Additionally, there are added surfactants to glyphosate that break down (ulcerate) the intestinal wall.

Donna Farmer, a Bayer/Monsanto scientist stated under oath that they could not use animal studies for glyphosate because the surfactants in it would irritate the intestines. (Transcript here.) Basically, their studies would never get far enough because the surfactants would irritate and subsequently break down the lining of the gut. The purpose of surfactants is to “enhance the uptake of the active ingredients across the waxy cuticle of plants which means that less herbicide can be applied.” [12]

The word anti means “against,” and “bio” means life. Antibiotic therefore means, “against life.” It works in a similar fashion no matter how it is used. Although patented as an antibiotic, the industry markets glyphosate as a xenobiotic. What is the difference?

The original definition of xenobiotic from the Miriam Webster Medical Dictionary online is: “a chemical compound (such as a drug, pesticide, or carcinogen) that is foreign to a living organism.” This means that xenobiotics are a “chemical compound foreign to a given biological system. It is not made from anything found naturally in an insect’s body (or a animal body for that matter). Let us delve a little deeper.

“With respect to animals and humans, xenobiotics include drugs, drug metabolites, and environmental compounds such as pollutants that are not produced by the body. In the environment, xenobiotics include synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and industrial pollutants that would not be found in nature.” [13] So unlike an antibiotic made from a natural substance like mold, xenobiotics are completely synthesized by toxic industrial pollutants and other chemicals.

A single honeybee that emerges from a cell is born with a sterile “gut.” Its interactions with the other bees, passing nectar and other products back and forth seed the little bee’s gut with the appropriate bacteria for proper digestion. A baby human likewise, has a sterile gut biome. During a vaginal birth, the baby’s gut is seeded with the bacteria of the mother. If a baby is born C-section, the child misses out on this health-promoting gift of the mother, assuming her gut bacteria is even balanced to begin with. A hive that is struggling with their microbiome due to antibiotics and xenobiotics does not easily survive stressors such as winters.

A honey bee colony is not simply a conglomeration of bees as many people think. It is an organism in its entirety. There is a microbiome of the hive of which there are fungi and bacteria that coexist with the bees. When chemicals like antibiotics, fungicides, and pesticides are added to the hive the microbiome is disrupted in a similar manner as the digestive system of a human when they take an antibiotic.

“There are over 8,000 microbes that have been identified (source USDA and Martha Gilliam’s research) that live with bees. Of these only a handful are pathogens. The rest either fill a niche in the ecology of the hive (and therefore crowd out pathogens) or they have an actual beneficial effect. Recent studies have shown some of the mechanisms by which these microbes protect the bees from Nosema, AFB, EFB and chalkbrood and that the preventative treatments for these diseases kill off the very thing that is protecting the bees from those diseases.” [14]

Who doesn’t love essential oils? Yet at the same time, we must respect their potency. Allopathic medicine is reductionistic and seeks to utilize chemicals in an isolated form. In similar fashion, essential oils can be (albeit unwittingly) used in a similarly allopathic manner when added to the hive. As Michael Bush writes in his book The Practical Beekeeper: Beekeeping Naturally, “Essential oils: Kill a broad spectrum of microbes including yeasts, fungus, bacteria and viruses. They are basically the immune system of the plants they are derived from. Essential oils includes thymol, wintergreen, menthol, lemongrass oil, spearmint, peppermint, neem, tea tree etc.” [15]

The addition of essential oils to the hive also disrupts the natural microbiome of the honeybee whether it be internal in their gut microbiome or external in the ecology of the hive, whether it affects a single bee or an entire colony.

A bee colony is not designed to be a filter for environmental toxins such as industrial pollutants, pesticides, antibiotics, xenobiotics, essential oils, other pharmaceuticals, EMFs, etc. All pollutants added to the hive whether by the beekeeper or by the bee as they go about their innate duties are stored within the hive. Anything added to the hive including the Glyphosate the bees collect in nectar and pollen are spread into the wax, into the biological system of each individual bee, and ultimately all throughout the hive.

One headline proclaims:

Weed Killer Residues Found in 98 Percent of Canadian Honey Samples

Then the article begins by saying that this “Study is the latest evidence that glyphosate herbicides are so pervasive that residues can be found in foods not produced by farmers using glyphosate.” [16]

A Word to the Wise

Commercially prepared beeswax pastilles are a modern contrivance. To obtain the perfect white color, the wax will have been bleached. While the appearance of the white pastilles may be nice for crafts it is certainly not the quality one would want to use for medicinal or cosmetic purposes. Unfortunately much, if not all of the medicinal benefit of the wax is destroyed by the processing necessary to remove the color.

The Good News!

It is imperative that those utilizing bee products for healing find the cleanest products available. Therefore, to ensure only the highest quality of honeybee products are used, lots of people who might have never considered it before are becoming beekeepers!

Bees can be kept in the city and the suburb, not only in the country. They will happily pollinate your organic flowers, garden, and even weeds indiscriminately. They pay you back in sweet dividends and awesome health-promoting products.

The next best thing to keeping your own bees would be to make friends with a beekeeper that uses natural beekeeping techniques and who does not contaminate their hives with pharmaceutical chemicals. Many beekeepers are looking for property to place some of their hives on. Additionally, most are willing to mentor a ‘new-bee’ and teach them the craft.

It is unfortunate that most community beekeeping classes promulgate conventional beekeeping methods without having so much as a clue to the damage they are causing the bees, the beekeepers, and the unwary folks that use their tainted products. What is exciting, however, is that a new breed of beekeepers is coming forth. Beeks who are excited to care for their bees with the same thoughtful diligence they care for their own bodies. There is hope for the journey ahead.

If you happen to be an herbalist or otherwise crafty sort of person, here are just a few of the many things that can be made with beeswax!

Other Beeswax Products

Cold Cream (& other cosmetics) ~ The first cold cream contained beeswax mixed with olive oil and rosewater. It is thought to have been invented by Galen, a Greek physician in the 2nd century A.D.

Chapstick ~ Nothing soothes and protects chapped lips like a chapstick made with beeswax!

Lubricant ~ Squeaky door hinge? Stuck zipper? Wooden drawer or window that sticks? Take out the beeswax and lube it up.

Got a rusted nut that won’t come off? lube the threads of the bolt with a little melted wax. Rub wax over the threads of screws and they will drive smoothly.

Candles ~ Beeswax candles are truly delightful! The mild natural scent of honey is soothing and relaxing and a beeswax candle will last longer than a comparable candle made of soy or paraffin because it has a higher melting point.

Wax ~ for skis & toboggans, bow strings. Beard and mustache wax.

Reusable Food Wraps ~ For keeping your food fresh without using cellophane or plastic baggies.

Furniture Polish & Sealant for Wood ~ Wonderful for restoring wood furniture, utensils, and cutting boards.

Wood Furniture Polish & Sealant Recipe

Into a double-boiler or wide-mouth pint canning jar add:

  • 1 Part Beeswax (Hint: Use a cheese grater to shred. Melts faster.)
  • 4 to 6 parts Olive Oil (More oil makes for a creamier mixture)

NOTE: Collect old wide-mouth pint jars. You can use one as a double-boiler for your beeswax projects. Put all your ingredients in it and use it as the final container.

DIRECTIONS: Into a small pan or pot with an inch or so of water in it, place the canning jar with the beeswax and oil in it. Turn on the stove a to low-medium heat and allow the mixture to heat up slowly. Turn down if it gets too hot as the water should never boil. Once everything is melted, stir the mixture with a clean stick to combine the ingredients. Allow to cool until safe to handle, then add a lid or pour into a container. Be sure to add a label and date to your jar.

Make a small batch, especially the first time, because the olive oil has potential to go rancid over time. Also, be sure to test on a hidden spot on your wood furniture to make sure you get the effect you would like. Dip a clean rag into the your polish and rub into the wood.

Soap ~ Sometimes also made with honey for a delightful scent!


Waterproofing for Leather ~ Beeswax will darken leather slightly. It is an effective waterproofing agent to apply to leather shoes, boots, hats, and any leather items you would like to make water resistant. Be sure to apply extra wax to any seams. Test on a hidden area first to make sure you get the effect you like. DO NOT USE ON SUEDE! This recipe can also be used on wood

Leather Waterproofing & Conditioner Recipe

Into a double-boiler or wide-mouth pint canning jar add:

  • 2 Parts Castor Oil
  • 2 Parts Almond Oil
  • 1 Part Beeswax (Hint: Use a cheese grater to shred. Melts faster.)
  • 1 Part Cocoa Butter

NOTE: Collect old wide-mouth pint jars. You can use one as a double-boiler for your beeswax projects. Put all your ingredients in it and use it as the final container.

DIRECTIONS: Into a small pan or pot with an inch or so of water in it, place the canning jar with the oils, beeswax, and cocoa butter. Turn on the stove a to low-medium heat and allow the mixture to heat up slowly. Turn down if it gets too hot as the water should never boil. Once everything is melted, stir the mixture with a clean stick to combine the ingredients. Allow to cool until safe to handle, then add a lid or pour into a container. Be sure to add a label and date to your jar.

CAUTION: This is not a leather cleaner! Make sure your leather is clean before applying or any leather waterproofer/conditioner will seal the dirt into the leather.

Rust Preventer ~ Apply a thin coat to shovels, tools, anything metal to prevent rust and corrosion.

Wax Seals ~ In ancient times wax was used to seal documents closed and a signet ring pressed into the wax while it was still soft would identify its official sender.  The wax seal would make the document difficult to open without noticeably “breaking the seal.” This would verify the information within had not been revealed.

The uses for beeswax seem endless. You are likely. For those of us who know and love honeybees and all their wonderful gifts ~ There is nothing they cannot do!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

References

1,2,5 A Closer Look:  Beeswax, Wax Glands

3,9 Facts About Beeswax

4 Beeswax Pastilles

6 Herbal Constituents: Foundations of Phytochemistry by Lisa Ganora

7 Beeswax: A minireview of its antimicrobial activity and its application in medicine

Chemical Cocktail in the Hive – The Bees in Decline

10,11 Glyphosate perturbs the gut microbiota of honey bees

12  Glyphosate: What are Surfactants?

13 The Free Dictionary by Farlex: xenobiotic

14,15 The Practical Beekeeper: Beekeeping Naturally

16 Weed Killer Residues Found in 98 Percent of Canadian Honey Samples

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