How to Make Mead from Honeycomb

Use up every drop of honey by making mead from washed honeycomb.

  • Put the cleaned-off frames out for your bees to scavenge when you're done with them.
    Photo by Susan Verberg
  • Mead can be as sweet or dry as you like, and making it from washed comb is a frugal way to use up all the honey you can.
    Photo by Getty/Esperanza33
  • Squeeze the washed comb to get every last drop of liquid out of it.
    Photo by Susan Verberg
  • Break up large chunks of comb with your hands or tools; be sure to thoroughly sterilize everything that comes in contact with the comb.
    Photo by Susan Verberg
  • Sweet yellow honey wine meade in a beautiful mountain landscape. Ready to drink.
    Photo by Getty/RoNeDya
  • Stir the comb to get the honey out of every nook and cranny.
    Photo by Susan Verberg
  • "Make Mead Like A Viking" teaches tips from medieval times for better ways to create mead. From a beekeeping manual a tip for how to wash honeycomb in order to harvest every last drop of honey highlight the technique of washing the comb, so no honey is wasted.
    Cover courtesy Jereme Zimmerman

Mead has been a passion of mine ever since my husband and I started our homestead in the beautiful rolling hills of New York’s Finger Lakes region. Another of my passions is medieval history, and while these two might seem worlds apart, learning how mead was brewed historically can offer insights into natural brewing techniques. One of the tricks I learned from medieval beekeeping manuals is how to wash honeycomb to harvest every last drop of honey. While modern combs built on frames can typically be cleaned with an extractor, sometimes the honey has solidified because of cold temperatures or long storage. In such cases, many modern beekeepers will choose to melt down and salvage the wax, but this causes them to lose the honey. By washing the comb, you won’t waste any honey — and that frugality tickles my homesteading fancy.

Harvesting Honey Water

Historically, bees were kept in hives that lacked an internal frame system. This meant that the combs were free-hanging, and the waxy comb structure would have to be processed to harvest the honey. Modern extractors are especially useful because, by uncapping the comb cells and extracting the honey through centrifugal force, the empty, comb-filled frame can be given back to the bees to refill. Bees consume up to 8 pounds of honey to produce a single pound of wax, so giving back the empty comb is an excellent way to increase the honey yield for bees and beekeepers alike. But when an extractor can’t be used, either because you want to collect only sections of a frame, or because the honey has crystallized and won’t budge, then the ancient method of washing comb can be used to make a honey solution that’s perfect for fermenting into mead.

Last year, my bees didn’t use all of their winter stash of honey, and the cold caused most of the liquid to crystallize. In early spring, I packed up the two supers — boxes that hold frames of comb — of my ex-hive in heavy plastic. It was late spring before I unwrapped these supers and noticed bubbles on the surface of the liquid honey in open cells, indicating it was already starting to ferment on its own. These crystallized frames gave me the perfect excuse to make some mead!

When you uncap a comb (I cut off the lids of the cells with a large knife), it becomes clear where the honey is crystallized and where it’s still liquid. The liquid honey can be dripped out of the uncapped comb. In medieval times this gravity-harvested honey from removed but uncrushed comb was regarded as the best quality, and called “life” or “virgin” honey.

As the beekeeper uncaps each frame, the cappings are collected in a capping tub. The tub has a floor grate to hold the cappings while any extra honey stuck to them slowly drips off and collects at the bottom of the tub. When I washed my pile of cappings before melting them into clean wax, I was rewarded with nearly 4 gallons of fermentable honey water, called a “must” in brewing terms. Cappings are the highest quality wax in a hive, so while they’re an easy way to get honey water for washed comb mead, you might have to promise to return the wax to the beekeeper right away!

After extracting the liquid honey, only the cells with crystallized honey remain to be cleaned before the wax can be processed. Here’s how to extract the crystallized honey by washing the comb.



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