Honeybees have kept humans
company for nearly as long as dogs, cats, and other domestic
animals. Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Mayan, and Chinese
civilizations, among others, are known to have harvested honey and
wax from beehives. It is unsurprising, then, that a
multitude of uses for these products has been found over such a
long period of time.
While many of the folk-uses of honey and beeswax are
still of questionable basis, science has recently taken more of an
interest in honeybees and is beginning to discover that many of
the myths may not be unfounded.
Honey is the best-known product of honeybees; it tastes
so good that its position of first among known products is
well-earned. Honey is created by bees who harvest nectar
from local flowers (estimated 2 million flowers per pound of
honey!). During this process, the bees are also fulfilling
their very necessary function as crop pollinators; if honeybees
were to suddenly become extinct, the world’s crop production would
The nectar is collected in the hive and digested by the
bees, then allowed to ‘brew’ (moisture is evaporated) before being
placed in wax compartments which are sealed for storage. In
general, honey contains mostly sugars, but also Vitamin A,
beta-carotene, and B-vitamins, as well as magnesium, sulfur,
phosphorus, iron, calcium, chlorine, potassium, iodine, sodium,
copper, and manganese…quantities of these and other ingredients,
however, will vary considerably with the plant source from which
the honey was made. It is believed that to some extent,
richness of antioxidants correlates with richness of color, so
darker honeys may be preferable in terms of vitamin content.
Honey has shown initial demonstrations of improving performance in
athletes (over other sugars), and has a lower glycemic index than
most sweeteners. A word of warning, though, that honey
contains bacteria that can be harmful to children under the age of
1 year, so it should not be ingested by babies!
The same vitamins and minerals that make honey great
for eating also lend it usefulness as a cosmetic ingredient.
Honey is an emollient and a humectant, which means it draws in
moisture. This makes it excellent for moisturizing soaps and
masks for your body and hair, and even better for lip balms
(because it tastes so good!). Honey can be enjoyed by simply
pouring a bit into your bath, using a little in your hair after a
shampoo, or massaging it into your face an body.
Another folk-use of honey, which is finding some
support in recent research, is for treating infections. High
(very high!) concentrations of sugar alone will kill bacteria, but
honey contains an added benefit: an enzyme (glucose oxidase) used
by the bees in production creates hydrogen peroxide. While
this enzyme is destroyed in honey that has been heat-sterilized,
those worried about using unpasturized honey can find honey
pasteurized by gamma-radiation. It is speculated that some
honeys contain added benefits of antibacterial agents from the
plants sources, but this can vary so widely from one type of honey
to another that the effects are not well understood. Because
the antibacterial effects of honey can vary (up to 100-fold)
depending on type, please be sure to research which kind you’re
getting before use!!!!
While little research has been done on the uses of bee
pollen, it is widely celebrated as a high-protein, nutrient-dense
energy source, and may be worth trying next time you visit your
local health-food store. Propolis (bee-glue) is in a similar
position of interest; while it appears to have similar
anti-bacterial properties to honey, as well as cosmetic uses for
beauty creams and conditioners, little definitive research exists.
Royal jelly (the food given to young queens) has been said to
increase health when taken internally, and improve skin,
particularly wrinkles and dryness, when applied externally, but
again science has not yet caught up with the folk lore.
Beeswax is most famous for its use in candles, followed
closely by use in art (paintings and casts). Beeswax is
produced by young worker bees from glands in the abdomen. After
gorging themselves on honey, the wax is secreted from the glands,
then ‘chewed’ by the honeybees until it softens and can be used
for building. Only about 1 pound of beeswax is produced per
60 pounds of honey. Beeswax is the only wax available in
some places, and is still used for purposes such as grafting (of
plants), surgical waxes, and adhesives. Beeswax candles are
famous for their slow-burning, non-smoking properties. The
temperature at which beeswax melts is around 60-65C.
Although more expensive than many types of wax, beeswax burns
relatively slowly, is relatively dripless (unless there is a
draft), and emit very little smoke. Beeswax that has
undergone less processing will also emit a sweet, honey-like odor
that many people enjoy.
As a cosmetic ingredient, beeswax is soothing and
protective to the skin. It used to be used in cold creams,
to help protect skin and replace lost fats and moistures, until
cheaper synthetic products became available. You can still
find it in health food stores, and probably in many of the
products on this website…it makes a great base for lip balms and
Molan, P. C. "A brief review of the use of honey as
a clinical dressing." Primary Intention (The Australian Journal of
Wound Management) 6 (4) 148-158 (1998)
The U.S. Personal Care Market and Honey,"
National Honey Board, Product Research/Food Technology Program,
This article nor
any portions of it may be reproduced or used without written
consent from the author.