Ancient Egyptians recognized the value of beeswax as a preservative, and early Romans fashioned coins from beeswax to pay their taxes. Invention of the candle dates back to about 400 B.C., but the idea to use beeswax to form candles didn't emerge until the Middle Ages.
The first candles were fashioned from tallow, or fat rendered from butchered animals. While these early candles served the purpose to provide a light source, they were dirty, offensive smelling, and filled the room with smoke.
Beeswax candles were an immediate success because they were virtually smoke-free, long-burning, emitted a pleasant honey odor, and did not drip. They were, however, more expensive than tallow candles. A master of the manor might reward faithful servants with the nubs of burned beeswax candles, but the common man couldn't afford them unless he happened to be a beekeeper.
The honeybee is the only species of bee that can make beeswax. It is produced as a by-product of ingesting flower nectar and pollen, and is used in the hive as food for the young.
The advantages that made beeswax candles so highly valued in the 14th century are what make them popular even today. Beeswax candles can be purchased from candlemakers, gift shops, and home furnishing stores, either online or at a nearby shopping center. They come in tapers, votives and even the newly popular aromatherapy types. While the traditional beeswax candles exhibit the characteristic six-sided honeycomb structure and have a coarse natural feel, modern candlemaking methods can also produce smooth molded beeswax candles.
Hobbyists have embraced the fun of creating beeswax candles at home. Beeswax is available in thin sheets that can easily be molded into candles. The easiest way to make a beeswax candle is to simply lay a wick down the edge of a sheet of beeswax, gently roll up the beeswax, and continue to add layers until you achieve the desired candle width. This is how many beeswax candles were produced until the 20th century, although the dipping technique was also employed. Since then, innovations such as the development of silicone used to release the beeswax from a mold, have created other ways to make beeswax candles.
Beeswax candles are a renewable resource that will grace any home or festive occasion. Because of their uniqueness, beauty, and cheery light, they will continue to be enjoyed for centuries to come.