Sunday, June 26, 2011

Beeswax Salve ....

I found the most interesting part of this process to be the one part that we have nothing to do with. Of course I am talking about the manufacture of wax by honey bees! Believe it or not these beautiful little insects have 8 wax glands on their abdomen where they produce scales of wax. Yes scales! When they are first made they are almost translucent, which is a far cry from the end product or yellow to brown. The bee synthesizes chemicals from her food (pollen and nectar) to produce this magical substance in an alchemical manner that I doubt I will ever fully comprehend. She then takes the scales and one by one chews them up in her mandibles creating a paste like white substance. She then uses this to build geometrically perfect combs in which to rear brood, store pollen and make honey. The highest grade wax is the wax used to cap full honey cells. This is the newest wax and is pure white. Obtaining this wax is actually a bi-product of the honey harvesting process. The harvester will use an uncapping knife to remove the white wax capping from the comb before placing it in an extractor. The wax is then washed any number of times to remove the residual honey and contaminants (bee parts, pollen, propolis). Once washed and no longer sticky (all beeswax is a little sticky, there's no way around it) the wax is melted down to further purify it. And debris in the wax can easily be filtered out. This is the highest quality wax and is very expensive. The wax used in class is mid grade wax, most likely made from comb as well as cappings. Wax darkens with age and use, the darker the wax, the older more used it is. This wax was golden brown in color and very fragrant as most beeswax is. It had few visible impurities and worked very well for our purpose. I was glad to be using one of my favorite natural substances in crafting something useful and highly marketable!

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