Buzzed on Beeswax
How my obsession with beeswax led me to the discovery of MRU’s beekeeper, historian and instructor Will Pratt
Kitty Dang, Contributor
My obsession with skin care ingredients started with my own sensitive skin and my background in chemistry. Armed with a degree in chemistry and prone to eczema, rosacea and other skin ailments, I was determined to find a solution.
I’m a fan of Burt’s Bees iconic, beeswax lip balm – and other beeswax products. Burt’s Bees can be found in many stores across Canada. When I stumbled upon Burt’s Bees in the early 2000s, I was attracted to its bright yellow colour and simple packaging but because of Burt’s Bees’ popularity, I often found stores do not always have the product in stock. My solution – make my own.
Candles, lip balm, lotion and salve are just some uses for beeswax. As a science nerd, I wondered what the pharmacological and biological properties of beeswax were that made it so versatile.
A search in Leung’s Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics states; “In animal studies, a mixture of high molecular weight primary alcohols isolated from beeswax with triacontanol as the main constituent, antioxidant, antiperoxidative, anti-inflammatory, antiulcerogenic, gastroprotective, and anticolitis activites were shown.”
What does this paragraph with so many big words mean?
It’s quite simple. Beeswax is good for you. It helps with ulcers, stomach aches and swelling in general.
As an antioxidant and antiperoxidative, beeswax can also act as a preservative in skin care products that are not water-based. Water helps things grow (bacteria and all sorts of microbes), so water-based products need potent, manufactured, antimicrobial additives – typically the culprit for skin sensitivities and skin allergies.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica says that beeswax is an “animal wax secreted by the worker bee to make the cell walls of the honeycomb” and that it comes in different natural colours – yellow to almost black.
In my near-obsessive search for natural skin care ingredients, I often search for raw material sources that are close by. In one of my recent searches, I came across Mount Royal University’s own humble beekeeper and history instructor Will Pratt. Will and his wife, Governor General nominated Calgary playwright Meg Braem, operate an agri-business known as Ol’ Grumps’ Honey. The name pays homage to Pratt’s dad – a self-confessed closet-curmudgeon who lives near Cochrane where the beehives are housed.
Pratt said they started beekeeping on a whim when they attended a garden show and a beekeeping booth piqued their interest. Pratt says since then “everything has been learning by disaster – from the first moment, you will be doing things wrong because no one agrees on anything.”
They started with one beehive, and after learning helicopter-parented bees are not good for honey production; they’ve now taken a more relaxed approach to parenting bees. Pratt, the lead drone and “swarm-catcher” – self-attributed titles – now cares for over a dozen beehives.
Braem said that swarming occurs when, “there are too many bees for a beehive and the bee colony creates a new queen. The old queen leaves with half the bees – it’s how hives reproduce.”
Swarming happens every spring. Pratt is on a swarm-catching list. As a swarm-catcher, he helps swarming bees relocate to empty beehives.
In addition to making honey, Pratt and Braem also use the beeswax to make candles and other beeswax products. If you are interested in locally produced honey, beeswax and beeswax-products – or just interested in the daily activities of MRU’s local beekeeper – check out olgrumpshoney on Facebook and Twitter.
As a lecturer at MRU, Pratt’s passion for history shows through his beekeeping. You’ll find interesting historical beekeeping facts and tidbits posted on his social media sites.
My journey to discover the secrets of beeswax led me back to my own doorstep, the discovery of MRU’s very own beekeeper, lead drone and swarm-catcher. You never know what those professors get up to in their spare time!