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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Your beeswax, my beeswax

It’s the age-old question: what do we do with all that beeswax?
All summer long the bees have collected nectar and stored it inside their honeycomb and fanned the nectar until it achieved the perfect consistency. All summer long they sealed the honeycomb with newly masticated wax, the purest wax of all, which we call capping wax.

Then we came along and sliced off the capping wax and inserted the honey frames into the extractor and spun it around until centrifugal force threw out the stored honey. We bottled the honey and used it to sweeten our tea, coffee, ice cream, pancakes, acorn squash, salad dressing, ham glaze, gingerbread and fish pudding.

And what about the wax?

If you were a monk – even if you are a monk – you made candles. Monks appreciated that the wax burning so splendidly in their splendid cathedrals and intimate chapels was made solely by virgins. No queens and no drones helped in creating that wax.

If you lived in the 19th century and had smallpox scars you used beeswax to fill in the pits, and then stayed away from fires that would melt away your face.

If you are Roxanne Quimby you take Burt’s leftover wax and start concocting every kind of personal care product from pregnant belly moisturizer to toothpastes, and then you sell Burt’s Bees to Clorox for huge sums of money* and buy up as much land as you can in the state of Maine in order to preserve it.

If you are Let it Bee Honey, that is me, you stand at the stove and discover the wonders of chemistry. Emulsification can be fun.
Following various recipes and then experimenting, I’ve been making creams and lotions and balms. It is not clear what differentiates a cream from a lotion from a balm; the truth is that I apply the labels somewhat arbitrarily.
Then, of course, I had to name the creams and lotions and balms. Early one morning in the semi-darkness before the Palisades turn pink - when I do my best thinking - I had an inspiration: I would name every batch for a different female saint.
I have been enamored with medieval names for a long time now, and having neglected to call either of my children Ethelreda or Fulgentius, I could now name creams to my hearts content. I could not wait to tell CSB of this stroke of marketing genius.
His enthusiasm was flatter than old ginger ale. Naming beauty products for long dead female saints, especially blind or headless ones, struck him as a very bad idea.
So we compromised: I didn’t put Saint in front of their names.

My first success (by which I mean, it emulsified properly, did not separate, smells delicious and soothes) was Walburga’s Face Cream. After a holy life, Saint Walburga died in 777 or 779. Her body was interred in a rocky niche in Eichstätt and after a while it began to ooze sweet smelling therapeutic oil. Let it Bee’s Walburga’s Face Cream is made with Vitamin E and essence of honeysuckle.

Mechtilde‘s Myrrh Balm is named for Mechtilde of Magdeburg a medieval mystic and the author of The Flowing Light of the Godhead. Her vivid images of Hell may have influenced Dante’s Inferno, but we can’t be sure. My dear friend Gill brought me the myrrh extract from Italy; I like to think this balm is especially suited to the Christmas season.

Cunnegunda was married to Henry II of Bavaria; when envious gossips falsely accused her of adultery, she proved her innocence by walking unscathed over burning coals. Crème de Cunnegonda had hints of smoky resin.

Ulphia (of Super Strong Hand Cream, version #1) lived in Amiens in the 8th century. She built herself a hermitage for prayer in the middle of a swamp, and then when the croaking of the frogs kept her awake at nights, she silenced them. To this day, the frogs of Amiens are very quiet.

Tecla is said to be the first female Christian martyr. She is also said to be entirely fictional. Her face cream is made with trace bits of propolis, a remarkable resinous mixture gathered by the bees and used to seal up the hive. When suspended in alcohol or mixed with honey it is effective against sore throats, burns, dental plaque and tumors.

Gwenfredi is Welsh for Winifred who was decapitated by a rejected suitor. Her Uncle Bueno (also a saint) reattached her head so that Gwenfredi could become a nun, and later, a patron saint of payroll clerks. For obvious reasons, her name graces the newest version of our Super Strong Hand Cream, made with lanolin and extolled by sculptors and welders.

Poor Odilia of Alsace was born blind and her disappointed parents gave her away to a peasant family. Then at the age of 12 she entered the convent and her sight was miraculously restored by the touch of Saint Erhard. I would never claim that Odilia of Alsace Eye Cream will restore your vision, but pure beeswax and essence of jasmine will soothe your tired eyelids.

*$925,000,000 which is so close to a billion we could just say: a billion.

**Cream photographs by Colin Cooke. (gratitude)

6 comments:

Anne said...

Oh, I want the complete and holy set. Bless you, Christine...

ewords said...

This takes your potions to a higher level. Let's re-connect!

colin said...

the names of the saints seem to come before the name 'classic'! i would be happy to let a bee land on my balm.

Mickey and Flea said...

We're with CSB on this one, hon!

Mickey and Flea said...

We're with CSB on this one, hon!

Pam said...

I like the sound of Tecla and Ulphia, not so sure about Cunnegunda. "Emulsification can be Fun" your next book!

Word verification: Ountina..how about that as a name