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Cera Alba (U. S. P.)—White Wax. Cera Flava (U. S. P.)—Yellow Wax.

Preparations: Cerates
Related entries: Apis.—Apis - Mel (U. S. P.)—Honey

"Yellow wax bleached"—(U. S. P.) (see under Cera Flava).

"A peculiar, concrete substance, prepared by Apis mellifica, Linné"—(U. S. P.).
Class: Insecta. Order: Hymenoptera.

Source, History, and Preparation.—Wax is a substance which exists in small quantities in various plants. It is chiefly obtained, however, through the agency of the common bee (Apis mellifica), which forms cells, in which its food and ova are contained. It is a natural product of the insect, being secreted upon the abdominal scales or rings. The wax produced by the bee is the official article, of which there are two kinds, yellow wax and white wax.

YELLOW WAX is procured directly from the comb, which, after having been deprived of its honey, is fused in boiling water, strained, again fused, and poured into appropriate vessels of various sizes.

WHITE WAX is prepared by exposing ribbons of yellow wax to air, sunshine, and moisture, for one or two weeks, or more, according to the weather, when it loses its color, nearly all of its odor, and becomes yellowish-white. To bring about this effect, it must be turned every day, and watered from time to time. The wax is then remelted, reribboned, and rebleached; it is subsequently refined by melting in water acidulated with sulphuric acid. When finished, it is cut or cast into flat, round cakes, to which a little spermaceti is generally added to improve the color (C). Chlorine will also decolorize wax, but changes its character, causing it, when burned, to evolve irritating vapors of hydrochloric acid.

Description and Chemical Composition.—CERA ALBA, White wax. "A yellowish-white solid, somewhat translucent in thin layers, having a slightly rancid odor, and an insipid taste. Specific gravity: 0.965 to 0.975 at 15° C. (59° F.). Melting point about 65° C. (149° F.). In other respects white wax has the characteristics of, and should respond to the reactions and tests given under yellow wax (see Cera Flava)"—(U. S. P.). It readily dissolves in fixed and volatile oils, and combines by fusion with fats and resins; boiled with caustic alkaline solutions, it is imperfectly saponified.

CERA FLAVA.—Yellow wax. "A yellowish to brownish-yellow solid, having an agreeable, honey-like odor, and a faint, balsamic taste. Specific gravity: 0,955 to 0.967 at 15° C. (59° F.). Melting point: 63° to 64° C. (145.4° to 147.2° F.), It is brittle when cold, and when broken presents a dull, granular, not crystalline fracture. By the heat of the hand it becomes plastic. Yellow wax is insoluble in water, sparingly soluble in cold alcohol, but almost completely in boiling alcohol. It is completely soluble in ether, chloroform, and in fixed and volatile oils; partially soluble in cold benzol or carbon disulphide, and completely in these liquids at a temperature of 25° to 30° C. (77° to 86° F.)"—(U. S. P.). Wax possesses considerable firmness and tenacity, though somewhat soapy, but not greasy to the touch. At a high temperature it boils, and in close vessels distills over with little alteration; at a red heat its vapor inflames, burning with a dense white brightness. Boiling alcohol dissolves about 20 per cent of it (cerotic acid), but deposits it upon cooling almost completely. Yellow wax is largely a mixture of 3 substances: Myricin, or myricyl palmitate (C16H31O2.C30H61), which is the principal constituent, not soluble in boiling alcohol, and having its fusing point at 72° C. (161.6° F.); cerin, or cerotic acid, (C27H54O2) (Brodie), extractible from wax by boiling alcohol, fusing at 78° C. (172.4° F.); and cerolein, an acid substance, soluble in alcohol, to which are also due the color and flavor of wax.

Adulterations and Tests.—Both yellow and white wax are liable to adulterations. Resin may be suspected by the fracture being smooth and shining, instead of granular; also by its solubility in cold alcohol. Insoluble mineral and organic substances, like clay, yellow ochre, starch, etc., may be separated by dissolving the wax in chloroform, whereby these substances remain behind. However, this kind of clumsy adulteration is not now liable to occur. Tallow and suet reduce the melting point of wax, and impart an unpleasant odor when melted. Fatty acids, e.g., stearic acid, may also be detected by the formation of a granular precipitate of calcium soap, when the chloroformic solution is shaken with lime water. If the wax contains starch, boil it in water, and add tincture of iodine to it, which will produce a blue color. (For Myrtle wax see Myrica cerifera). Paraffin is sometimes mixed with wax, which will reduce the specific gravity of the latter. Wax has the specific gravity of 0.955 to 0.967; the specific gravity of paraffin varies from 0.870 to 0.877. Wax, when placed in alcohol (specific gravity, 0.961), will fall to the bottom; should it float, we may suspect it to be mixed with paraffin. The U. S. P. directs the following tests for wax: "If 1 Gm. of yellow wax be boiled, for 1/2 an hour, with 35 Cc. of a 15 per cent aqueous solution of sodium hydrate, the volume being preserved by the occasional addition of water, the wax should separate, on cooling, without rendering the liquid opaque, and no precipitate should be produced in the filtered liquid by hydrochloric acid (absence of fats or fatty acids, Japan wax, resin); nor should the same reagent produce a precipitate in water which has been boiled with a portion of the wax (absence of soap). If 5 Gm. of yellow wax be heated in a flask, for 15 minutes, with 25 Cc. of sulphuric acid, to 160° C. (320° F.), and the mixture then diluted with water, no solid, wax-like body should separate (absence of paraffin). If a portion of yellow wax be ignited on platinum, it should not emit the odor of acrolein (absence of tallow and other fats)"—(U. S. P.).

Besides the methods here indicated an extremely useful method of analysis of beeswax has been introduced within the last 15 years, and consists in the determination of the acid number, and of the ether number, also certain other numbers. The acid number denotes the number of milligrams of potassium hydroxide required to saturate the free acids contained in 1 gram of wax. The ether number is the number of milligrams of potassium hydroxide necessary to saponify the ethers of 1 grain of wax. As these numbers vary only between narrow limits for pure wax, it is evident that any admixture of an adulterant like rosin, for example, which has a high acid number, may be easily recognized by titration with an alkali. For an interesting and instructive article on the subject of wax analysis along the lines briefly indicated, see L. F. Kebler, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1893, p. 585; compare ib, p. 380. Also see paper by Prof. Bedford in Proc. A. P. A., 1877, p. 444.

Action and Medical Uses.—Wax exerts little or no influence upon the system, though it has been recommended, combined with olive oil and the yolk of egg, in diarrhoea, dysentery, and inflammation of the alimentary mucous membrane. Its principal employment is in the preparation of ointments, cerates, and plasters, of which it forms an ingredient, imparting to them due consistence and tenacity.

Similar entry: AJP1881

Related Products.—JAPAN WAX. Insect white wax of China.—This wax is said to be obtained in Japan from the Rhus succedaneum, and other trees, being produced, as is supposed, by an insect, Coccus sinensis, Westwood, which feeds upon the tree. Huber states that the insect has the power of transmuting sugar into wax, which latter is, in fact, a secretion. It is said, however, that the Japanese make candles from the oil of the seeds of the Rhus succedaneum; and Nees von Essenbeck states that the wax from this tree greatly resembles the Japanese wax found in commerce. Japanese wax closely resembles white beeswax, but is less white and more yellowish, with a more tender and friable consistence, and a crystalline appearance. It occurs in circular cakes of from 4 to 4 1/2 inches in diameter, nearly an inch thick, flat on one side, and rounded off on the other, as if cast in a small saucer, and is also met with in large square blocks or cases, weighing from 100 to 150 pounds. Its fusing point varies from 45° to 48.8° C. (113° to 120° F.), and, when melted, it will unite with beeswax, lard, etc., and more perfectly incorporates with cacao butter than either spermaceti or wax. It has a rancid-like taste and odor; is far more soluble in alcohol than beeswax, and, unlike this last, it is saponified by caustic alkalies. It is chiefly palmitin, with a small quantity of glycerides of arachidic and stearic acids. It is said to be adulterated sometimes with water, samples containing from 15 to 20, and even 30 per cent of this fluid. When thus adulterated the wax loses its transparent and shining appearance, becomes opaque, white, and very brittle. The water maybe separated by simple fusion, or by fusion in water acidulated with sulphuric acid, when the presence of an alkali in the water of falsification is suspected.

CARNAUBA WAX.—A wax from the north of Brazil, wax of Carnahuba, a product of the palm, Copernicus cerifera, has been introduced into commerce, which possesses the advantage over beeswax of not melting so readily, as it requires a heat of 84° C. (183.2° F.). It readily saponifies, yielding an acid upon the decomposition of the soap by an acid; treated with alcohol, it gives cerotic acid, which melts at 77° C. (170.6° F.). As it is not affected by finger-marks at the temperature of the hand, it is much used as a furniture polish.

There are other forms of vegetable wax, but they do not enter prominently into our commerce. Among them are OCOTILLA WAX (from the bark of Fouquieria splendens.; ARBOL DE LA CERA (from Myrica jalapensis., employed in Mexico in jaundice and diarrhoea. OCUBA WAX is from the fruit of a Para shrub; while a wax, used by the natives in making candles, is yielded by the Ceroxylon andicolum, a palm of the Andes.


King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.



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