Clutching a block of beeswax my grandfather collected from his hives 30 years ago, I entered Velvet and Sweet Pea’s Purrfumery in El Cerrito.
Modern-day alchemist Laurie Stern brought me to her verdant backyard flower garden, where she melted Grandpa’s wax with jasmine-infused jojoba oil and poured the mixture into a delicate French jar.
“Oh, isn’t that yummy?” she said.
One inhale and I was back inside Grandpa’s honey bus – the World War II Army bus with ripped-out seats where we spun honey in an extractor he built from plumbing pipes.
It was a magical time from my childhood, and now I could scent my skin with the memory.
Since installing two beehives in The Chronicle’s rooftop garden in April, we’ve learned bees can do so much more than just feed us.
Besides honey, the hive has other gifts. Moisturizers, soaps, candles and lip balm can all made from the wax. there are health and beauty benefits from royal jelly and the sticky “bee glue” called propolis that worker bees use to seal gaps and stick everything together inside the hive.
The ancients knew this – Egyptian cosmetologists added wax to facial creams and used it to sheen their curls. while Persians and Assyrians used beeswax to embalm their dead, Greek doctors prescribed melted wax diluted with water for dysentery.
Honey has been used for millennia to promote wound healing, for skin conditions, allergies, sore throats and stomach ulcers. It’s antibacterial – honey kept in clay pots and unearthed from Egyptian tombs was still edible. Clinical trials in England, Australia and New Zealand have found honey helpful for bedsores and gangrene.
“You can put honey directly on your face as a mask,” said Debra Tomaszewski of Marin Bee Co., who is developing a line of organic skin scrubs, creams, masks and lip balms with Libby Laboratories in Berkeley using products from her hives. The first formula she mixed was a clay and honey mask for her teenage daughter, who was unable to control her acne with commercial cleansers.
The sticky brown, green or yellow propolis bees produce from scraping resins, saps and gums from flowering plants is also thought to combat bacteria and possibly inhibit melanoma and carcinoma tumor cells. Stern uses it in her Honey Perfume, blending it with wax, honey, Moroccan and Bulgarian roses, French orange blossom and Madagascar vanilla.
It’s also used in soap sold by Melvita, a French company started by a beekeeper that uses hive ingredients in 60 percent of its organic beauty products. Growing interest in apitherapy prompted Melvita to expand to the United States last year, opening its first store in San Francisco.
Its best-seller, said Melvita Marketing Vice President Julie-France Airenti, is a thick body balm made with honey, thyme and apricot oil that some doctors in France use to treat burn victims.
Royal jelly, secreted by glands in the heads of young worker bees and fed to larvae, is rich in vitamin B5, and has been touted, especially in Asia, as an antiaging miracle substance, yet no clinical studies back that up. All bees are fed royal jelly for their first three days of life, before being switched to honey and nectar. The queen, however, is fed the milky rich jelly her entire life to ensure she develops into the larger matriarch.
Although it costs $6 or more an ounce, the regal mystique generates moisture cream sales nonetheless.
Pollen grains, which bees collect from the anthers of flowering plants and store in their honeycomb as a protein source, are also sold at Melvita and farmers’ markets in San Francisco as an edible antioxidant remedy for allergies, wrinkles and skin spots, a method for weight control, a red blood cell booster and even an aphrodisiac. there is no scientific proof, and because pollen balls are collected by forcing bees through a small wire mesh that scrapes the grains from their legs, some beekeepers look down on the product as harmful to bees.
“You can get your antioxidants much easier in fruits and other foods,” said San Francisco beekeeper Philip Gerrie.
For a product that’s absolutely cruelty-free, try Velvet and Sweet Pea’s recipe for Beeswax Moisturizer:
1. Place a glass bowl of organic jojoba oil and fresh blossoms (jasmine, rose, gardenia) in the sun for a few hours. Remove the flowers and repeat the process twice to enhance the scent.
2. Warm 2 tablespoons grated beeswax in a double boiler. Do not overheat.
3. Add 1/2 cup of the infused jojoba oil and mix together until just melted.
4. If you like, add 10 to 60 drops of essential oils.
5. Mix with a chopstick and pour into a sterilized jar.
This article appeared on page M – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle