Healthful Products from the Hive

Backyard bees can keep your home stocked with fresh, natural honey. But beehives can supply even more useful and nutritious products that we often overlook, including beeswax and beebread.

  • There's more than honey to be gathered from naturally kept beehives; pollen, beeswax, and beebread are all useful products that can benefit your health and home.
    Photo by Getty Images/white_caty
  • With all the benefits bees and their hives offer for day-to-day health, why is "natural beekeeping" not more popular?
    Photo by Getty Images/HHelene;
  • Did you know you can cover a horizontal bee hive and sleep above it?
    Photo by Leo Sharashkin
  • The practice of natural beekeeping results in thriving bees and healthful hive products.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/marcin jucha
  • The bee pollen you can buy in stores is collected when bees squeeze through wire mesh and the pollen gathered on their hind legs detaches.
    Adobe Stock/photografiero
  • Pollen demonstrates antifungal, antimicrobial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory actions.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/photografiero
  • Bees ferment pollen inside the hive, store it in comb cells, and seal the cell with wax and honey. This food for the bees is called "beebread."
    Photo by Stocksy/Sara Remington
  • A teaspoon of beebread contains the multi-colored pollen from about 20,000 flowers.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/marysckin;

As with all aspects of food and homes, the more you can do yourself, the healthier your life will be. Growing produce in your own garden means you’ll avoid pesticide-laden commercial crops. Making your own skin care products or simple cleaners will keep harsh chemicals out of your home. So, with all the benefits bees and their hives offer our day-to-day lives, why is the practice of “natural beekeeping” not more popular?

While other methods of keeping hives may result in high costs, modest returns, and climbing bee mortality rates, the principles of natural beekeeping have not changed in a thousand years: Observe how bees live in the wild, and mimic the same conditions in your apiary. This style of beekeeping results in not only healthy and thriving bees, but safe and natural hive products that you can harvest and use at home — pesticide-free honey from your backyard is, of course, preferable to chemical-laced alternatives. But there’s more than honey to be had: Bees collect healthful pollen, produce useful beeswax, and ferment their own food source that’s as nutritious for humans as it is for the hive. When you keep bees naturally, you can gather and use these products to reap their nourishing rewards.

To learn tips and techniques for sustaining natural backyard bees, visit Beekeeping with Horizontal Hives for Less Stress. But if you’re a beekeeper ready to make the most of your thriving hives, or a consumer who wants to purchase the best products, let’s take a look at what sustainably-kept beehives can offer your home and your health.

How to Harvest Beeswax

For us, bees are, above all, honey-makers. But other hive products, including wax, can be even more valuable. Most of us are familiar with the applications of beeswax around the home, or have experienced its rich hydrophobic properties in personal care products. Fewer of us know that beeswax is antimicrobial, effective against several strains of bacteria and fungi, including Candida albicans. Crude beeswax has been used since ancient Egypt to help treat burns, wounds, and joint pain.

To harvest beeswax at home, cut honeycomb out of its frame, crush it thoroughly (a potato masher is helpful), and then strain the honey through a nylon sock or muslin. The wax that’s left in the muslin will be ready for processing.

If you have a small quantity of wax to render, stuff it into a gallon glass jar, and cover the opening with plain cotton fabric (for example, a clean old T-shirt) held in place by a rubber band. Invert the jar, and insert its neck into a small pot or similar container that will catch the dripping wax. Cover everything with a clear plastic bag, and set it in the sun on a hot day. The wax will melt, filter through the cloth, and collect in the receptacle under the jar.

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