Midnite Bee-Beekeeper's: Article
Products of the Hive
Products of the Hive
Although the major honey bee product, both in terms of familiarity and profit,
is honey, beeswax has long been considered an important hive product and a
secondary source of materials and income. Other products of the hive-pollen,
propolis, royal jelly, venom and bee brood-have been gained importance. Each
of these has its own market and potential value that can be a source of income
for beekeepers and related industries.
Beeswax has been historically used in candles, to sculpt figurines, beeswax
paintings (batiking) and in casting metal even before the Bronze age. Beeswax
figurines have survived from royal Egyptian tombs dating to 3400 BC In the
tropics of northern Australia aborigines have used beeswax 30,000 to 50,000
years ago to sculpt waxen figurines. Manufacture Beeswax is manufactured
by honey bees themselves. Originally believed to have been collected from
flowers or made from pollen, beeswax was discovered in 1744 to be synthesized
by four pairs of wax-secreting epidermal glands on the ventral side of worker
Beeswax is produced by quiescent bees about 14 days old and worked into
intricate complex double-sided hexagonal comb nest architectures. Among
the >22,000 described bee species worldwide, wax is synthesized and used
as a building material by only a few groups of mostly highly social colonial
species. These include the worldwide genus of bumblebees (Bombus spp.) and
their neotropical relatives the orchid bees and the extremely diverse and
successful pantropical stingless bees (e.g. Melipona and Trigona).
Beeswax when first secreted by the wax glands appears as a translucent
white ellipsoidal flake. Freshly constructed beeswax combs, prior to their
use for food storage or larval growth, are similarly bright white. With
storage or the first brood cycle, they become yellow to tan, and if several
years old, can be almost brown-black in color. Fresh beeswax is soft to
brittle with a slight balsamic taste. Its density is 0.95-0.96 with a melting
range of 62-65oC. It is insoluble in water, but quite soluble in organic
solvents such as chloroform, benzene or ether.
Beeswax is a complex mixture of lipids and hydrocarbons. Over 300 individual
chemical components have thus far been identified from pure beeswax. One
gram of beeswax can be worked into about 20 cm2 two-sided comb surface area.
It requires about 55 grams of beeswax built into combs to store every kg
of ripened and capped honey. Honey:wax ratios in standard equipment vary
from about 17.8-19.8:1. In the U.S. one kg of beeswax is marketed for each
50 kg of honey.
Prior to invention of the centrifugal honey extractor, the wax was separated
from the honey by squeezing/straining and washing with water. Today, beekeepers
obtain their wax from three primary sources: wax cappings, bits of burr
comb scrapings from hive bodies, and frames and old combs which are to be
recycled. The best grades of commercial beeswax are light yellow and come
from fresh honey cappings. For each metric ton extracted honey, only about
45-55 kg of beeswax results.
Various methods have been used to separate wax from honey, wax cocoons
or brood: straining method, submerged brood chamber method, submerged sac
method, solar wax melter, heated wax press and heated centrifugal method.
The simplest method with limited equipment or funds is to melt the combs
in hot water and let the wax rise to the surface and harden. This material
can then be strained and remelted/reformed into rectangular molds for shipment
Uses and Functions
The single largest consumer of beeswax is the cosmetics and related industries.
It is used in various products including facial beauty creams, ointments,
lotions, lipsticks, rouge and cold creams. The largest industry using beeswax
as a raw material is the candle industry. Pure or mostly pure beeswax candles
are demanded by the Roman Catholic church for use during religious services.
The third largest user is the beekeeping industry itself for making into
milled hexagonal-stamped beeswax foundation. Minor users are the pharmaceutical
and dental industries where beeswax is used in salves, ointments, pill coatings,
adhesive waxes and for impression and base plate wax.
Other minor uses of beeswax include uses in waterproofing materials, for
floor and furniture polishes, for grinding/polishing optical lenses and
as a minor ingredient in certain adhesives, children's crayons, candy and
chewing gum, inks, nursery grafting, musical instruments, ski and ironing
wax and wax for bow strings used in archery.
A lot medicinal literature concerning the use of beeswax for its potential
health benefits for humans, has generally been disregarded by the medical
profession in Western societies. However, beeswax and products of the bee
hive have been used in local, traditional medicine for centuries. In the
UK doctors have had success in treating hay fever patients with beeswax.
hough U.S. exports of beeswax have increased somewhat, the source of the
demand remains elusive.
As mentioned earlier, cosmetics use is increasing, and this undoubtedly
explains some of the increase in demand. It must also be noted, that although
the U.S. domestic production doesn't satisfy the domestic demand, the U.S.
is among the top five exporters to the EU with a market share of 7.8% and
7.5% in 1992 and 1993 respectively. The import totals of beeswax to the
U.S. by both quantity and value can be seen in Table 4. The import totals
for unbleached beeswax also include a small amount of other insect waxes
and spermaceti, which a wax derived from the head of the sperm whale. However,
because beeswax is the main (insect) wax used, only a very small percentage
of the total imports are other than beeswax and the import totals of beeswax
is fairly accurate.
Propolis is a sticky plant-derived material used by bees as their available
caulking, sealing, lining, strengthening, preserving and probably repellent
material inside the hive and around the entrance. It is the material that
sticks frames and other hive parts together. It is also found in a layer
as a thin 'varnish' over all the inner surfaces of the hive including wax
combs. Small cracks and holes in the nest cavity are often filled with propolis,
damaged combs are repaired with propolis and objects that cannot be removed
from the nest are frequently sealed with propolis. Propolis is soft and
sticky at warm temperatures and can be molded to fill holes and gaps or
spread over surfaces. At cool temperatures and as it ages, propolis becomes
brittle and hard. It has antimicrobial properties and is an important part
of the chemical arsenal within the hive for combating contamination and
pathogen invasion. Propolis is a resinous material collected by foragers
from a variety of plants, especially the buds of trees. Since propolis is
a mixture of locally available plant exudates, it would be expected to differ
from one locality to another and from colony to colony. Surprisingly, the
composition of propolis samples from diverse sources is remarkably similar.
Generally, no correlation between the composition of tropical propolis and
the place of collection or bee species have been found. The chemical composition
of propolis, however, varies from sample to sample due to the variety of
plant resins, gums, exudates, etc., utilized by the bees and the collection
techniques used by beekeepers to obtain propolis from the hive. Propolis
consists of a mixture of resins, terpenes and volatile oils, and miscellaneous
materials. The pharmacologically active constituents of propolis are found
in fractions soluble in solvents such as alcohols. Propolis and some of
its constituents exhibit a variety of biological and pharmacological activities.
Propolis has had an ancient history as a curative agent in human health.
It was known in the time of Aristotle and discussed in detail by Pliny,
the Roman naturalist. Treatment of a variety of ailments including colds
and sore throats, skin problems, stomach ulcers, burns, hemorrhoids, gum
diseases and wounds have been reported. Clearly propolis has antibacterial
and antifungal properties. Propolis appears not to be toxic to humans and
mammals unless very large quantities are administered. Propolis can, however,
over time become extremely irritating to a beekeper's hands, causing painful
cracks in the skin. The shortage of rigorous research into both positive
and negative potentials of propolis indicate that common sense and caution
should be exercised in the use of propolis. Production and Commercial Uses
of Propolis Commercial production of propolis is usually a difficult and
time consuming operation. To obtain the highest grade and purity of propolis,
special 'inserts' are usually placed in hives. These inserts provide spaces
that mimic holes or cracks in the hive, thereby encouraging the bees to
fill them with propolis. The resultant propolis is then collected, sorted
and packaged. Hive scrapings, though an easier way to obtain propolis, are
often contaminated with wood chips, wax and paint and are of lower commercial
quality. In North America and Europe the main uses of propolis are as natural
supplements and herbal medicines. These take the form of tablets in which
propolis can be combined with a variety of other ingredients. Propolis is
also used as an additive to skin lotions, beauty creams, soaps, shampoos,
lipsticks, chewing gums, toothpaste, mouthwashes and even suncreens. Use
of propolis tinctures for treatment of sore throats, cuts and skin rashes
is also popular. In addition to uses for health, propolis is sometimes used
as a varnish. One problem with propolis as a varnish is that it requires
a very long time to dry beyond the sticky phase. The potential for propolis
as an animal growth stimulant has also received some attention. Propolis
is used more outside of the U.S. than inside the U.S.. The price of propolis
varies greatly from country to country. In the U.S. and Canada wholesale
prices are low, varying from US$4.50-US$13 per kg. In contrast, the price
in New Zealand, where propolis is more widely used, has been as high as
US$57 per kg. The potential supply of propolis in the U.S. is high, but
with a low demand production is not likely to increase. The future of propolis
might see some growth with the expanding health food awareness, especially
in the area of lozenges for sore throats.
Royal jelly is a glandular secretion of young workers that is placed in
queen cells as a food for larval queens. It is called royal jelly because
it is the sole food of queen larvae. It appears that the composition of
royal jelly remains relatively constant over different colonies, bee strains
and time. Some variations can occur as a result of nutritional and age conditions
of the secreting worker bees, and care of collection/care of storage of
the royal jelly. The components with greatest variations in gross composition
are probably the sugars, mainly because workers add different amounts of
sugar to royal jelly depending upon the age of the queen larva. Vitamins
are present in royal jelly in varying amounts. Levels of the B vitamins
in royal jelly are generally high. Otherwise vitamins are in low to very
A wide variety of health and cosmetic properties have been attributed to
royal jelly over the years. Nevertheless, no well designed controlled medical
studies have demonstrated therapeutic effects for royal jelly. The most
promising antibacterial and textural potential for royal jelly are as a
topical cream with both cosmetic and antimicrobial action.
Royal jelly also has potential as a dietary ingredient in both human foods
and for animals. Royal jelly is usually produced in colonies maintained
for that purpose. The queen is removed and a frame containing artificial
queen cells, each with a 12-36 hour old worker larva is inserted. Three
days later the frame is removed, the larvae discarded and the royal jelly
collected either with a wooden spoon or a soft suction tube. A good queen
cup will yield about 200-300 mg of royal jelly. Once collected the royal
jelly can be stored in a tight container in the refrigerator for several
months, frozen or freeze dried until used. The main markets in the U.S.
and Europe for royal jelly are the cosmetic industry which uses royal jelly
in moisturizing and skin cream as well as a variety of other products, and
the health food market. The antibacterial, cleansing and textural properties
of royal jelly likely account for its popularity in cosmetics. In the health
food market royal jelly is often added as a supplement to other ingredients
and vitamins which can be taken either as capsules, as parts of beverages,
in confectionaries or mixed with honey as a spread. The largest producers
of royal jelly are China, Japan and Korea. Annual production levels in China
have been 220-360 metric tonnes. However, it can expected that the production
levels in China have increased as a result of a huge increase in the production
of honey and other products of the hive. Japan is both a large producer
and importer of royal jelly.
Pollen is the male reproductive cells. Pollen is usually transmitted from
one flower to another by pollinators such as bees or by the wind. From the
bee's point of view pollen is the most important product of the hive. Pollen
supplies all the bee's nutrients. Without adequate pollen supplies which
are obtained either through foraging or from stores in the form of 'bee
bread', a colony could not exist. Historically, pollen was of little commercial
or economic consequence to European or U.S. beekeepers. In the last several
decades interest in pollen, however, has dramatically increased, first in
Eastern Europe, later in Western Europe and in North America. One of the
main reasons for growing interest in the U.S., has been the popularity of
health foods and natural supplements. Bee collected pollen is not a uniform,
distinct and easily characterized product. It consists of a blend of pollen
grains derived from many plant species in a given locality. The problem
of chemical analysis of pollen becomes even more difficult because plant
pollen sources not only vary by locations throughout the world, but also
by season and year in a given locality. Protein is a major component of
pollen with an average value of almost 24%. Carbohydrates constitute about
27% of bee collected pollen and consist mostly of the simple sugars fructose
and glucose. Some pollen also contains starch as high as 18% by weight.
Pollen contains on average only 5% fat. Pollen contains substantial quantities
of potassium, calcium and magnesium as well as high levels of iron, zinc,
manganese and copper. It contains low levels of sodium, is rich in B vitamins
and contains highly variable levels of vitamin C. Because of its high content
of trace mineral elements and vitamins, pollen has potential as an excellent
human food source. There are, however, adverse reactions reported by people
who have consumed pollen including stomach and gastrointestinal upset. Another
concern is the potential for allergic reactions to orally ingested pollen.
Research indicates, however, that consumption of pollen entails only to
trivial risk. Pollen has been used in the treatment of chronic prostatis,
to help reduce the symptoms of hay fever, in treating a wide variety of
ailments including ulcers, colds and infections.
Another benefit of pollen is its ability to help protect against the adverse
effects of X-ray. The positive effects of dietary pollen in the medical
regimen of cancer patients undergoing radiation treatment has been reported
by Hernuss et al. A variety of animals are also known to feed on pollen
and its use in animal diets appears promising.
Pollen is collected in the form of corbicular pellets removed from the
legs of returning bees. A great variety of pollen traps have been developed
for this purpose. Most use two screens with 0.58 mm diameter wires with
5 per 2.5 cm that are separated by about 5mm. Other traps use perforated
metal plates with about 4.7 mm holes.
The design of a pollen trap is crucial both to the effectiveness of collecting
pollen and to the welfare of the colony. The collected pollen should be
free of contaminating insect parts, wax moths, debris, mold, etc. and must
be kept dry. The trap must not unduly stress the colony by taking too much
pollen. If too much pollen is removed from the foragers, severe stress including
reduced brood rearing and decrease in honey production can occur. Traps
that remove about 60% of the incoming pollen during heavy nectar flows appear
about optimal and can be left in place year round with little adverse effect.
Fryness and other factors of the pollen.
The market for pollen is mainly for human nutritional supplements, feeding
to bees and as an animal food. Pollen is formulated for human consumption
into a variety of appealing products including tablets, pollen granules,
oral liquids, candy bars, tonics, etc. The production of pollen products
for human consumption has been growing at a rapid rate. Prices of pollen
products vary but can often yield high profits for the producer.
Honey bee venom is a well-known pharmacologically active product of the
hive. It is synthesized by the venom glands of workers and queens, stored
in the venom reservoir and injected through the sting apparatus during the
stinging process. A mature defender or forager contains about 100 ęg-150
ęg of venom and a young queen about 700 ęg. Bee venom is a bitter, hydrolytic
blend of proteins with basic pH that is used by the bees for defense. The
potential production and use of bee venom has been hindered by a general
lack of medical research into its use for other than diagnosing and treating
venom hypersensitivity and the suspicion of the medical profession for its
use. Research has, however, indicated a possible use of bee venom for treatment
of arthritis. Bee venom also serves as a raw material source for enzymes
such as phospholipase A2 and highly active peptides. A technique involving
simultaneous electrical stimulation of a large portion of the entire population
of a bee colony is used in bee venom collection. The procedure works best
with large colonies but has the disadvantage of making the bees extremely
excitable and defensive, with bees stinging people who are within several
hundred meters of the affected colony. Also this method appears to be a
viable method mainly for honey bees. Virtually all commercial honey bee
venom is now collected by means of the electrical stimulation technique.
Exact production figures are unavailable, but probably small. For example
in the U.S., all the venom needed, is produced by essentially one beekeeper.
The price of bee venom on the U.S. open market varies greatly with a typical
1990 price of about US$100-200 per g and much higher for smaller quantities.
Many European and Asian producers are also in the market and their prices,
as well as those direct from beekeepers, can be considerably lower. Unless
bee venom finds accepted usage in treatment of arthritis, its market potential
is unlikely to increase.