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Tuesday 27 April 2021

Guest Post: Felicity Marshall on The Honey Bee

Do you ever consider how many everyday things that we do and use have a direct connection to humankind’s greatest friend – the honey bee?

This morning, I applied a moisturising cream that had beeswax in its list of ingredients. I dabbed on a tiny bit of perfume (thank you bees for pollinating all our flowers), and I had honey on my toast – grateful to the bees and humbled by the fact that one bee gathers a mere 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in her short life.

After breakfast I cleaned my teeth with toothpaste containing propolis, I polished my hiking boots with beeswax polish and I also applied lipstick containing beeswax. 

How many of us ever think about the labour of the tiny honeybee to produce the wax from her own body? 

I put a packet of honey and propolis throat pastilles in my pocket. It jostled with a packet of mints whose shiny coating was created by polishing with beeswax.

I made a sandwich and wrapped it in waxed food wrap. I gathered my paints and canvas and tramped off to paint a landscape. I live on the coast and passed a group of surfers waxing their boards. One of them had dreadlocks – beautifully created with the help of beeswax. My paints had plenty of beeswax in them and my waxed coat would resist any showers. I passed the local vet applying medicinal honey on bandages on the leg of an injured horse. The saddle was resting on the fence and was buffed to a sheen by wax-based leather dressing.

As I worked on my painting, I listened to happy buzzing as bees visited flowers nearby. They had found these flowers by their phenomenal sense of smell – 50 times better than dogs! Now scientists are training bees to detect drugs and explosives at airport security. A honey bee can be trained in a couple of hours to sticks out her tongue when she smells a drug or an explosive and she is rewarded with a drop of honey. How amazing is that!

Painting completed, I packed up and headed to a local café to meet up with friends. The waiter had a magnificent moustache. He proudly told me he waxed it daily to maintain its splendour. We ordered coffee, muffins and fruit salad.

One of my friends is a gardener. She commented that bees had pollinated the fruit trees to create the peaches, apricots, apples, berries and kiwifruit we were now enjoying, and she also told me how she dips plant cuttings in honey to help propagation and applies beeswax on to grafts on her fruit trees to protect them. My other friend, a sculptor showed us photos of her preliminary designs made in beeswax.

Meanwhile some buskers set up nearby and started to play. I wondered if the girl playing violin knew that the most famous violin maker of all time, Stradivarius made a varnish for his violins that contained propolis? This is a substance that bees make by gathering sap from buds and bark of trees and mixing it with beeswax. The other musicians, a piano accordion player and a didgeridoo player have beeswax in their instruments too (pages 36/37 and pages 46/47)

In my new book, The Very Clever Bee I aim to provide information about how bee products – honey, beeswax and propolis are used in everyday life. Often, we take these things for granted. Now, according to scientists bee populations are falling drastically worldwide. It is time for us to wake up and consider the unique value of honey bees. How different would life be without them?

Little honey bees produce honey, beeswax and propolis that we use in products to beautify, protect, enhance, heal, strengthen and entertain us. How can we show our appreciation of the industrious honey bees and protect them from disappearing? By planting their favourite flowers and trees, keeping some wilderness and using natural gardening practices – no pesticides or herbicides.

When you get out of bed tomorrow, count the ways that honey bees enhance your own life – starting with the fruits, vegetables and nuts that we eat, to the delicious honey dripping off our toast and all the other things that are less visible but equally important to our happy, healthy and safe lives.

Felicity Marshall is an Australian painter and author/illustrator of children’s books. Discover more about her fascinating life and art journeys at www.felicitymarshall.com