What is Propolis?
Propolis is a sticky resin that is collected by honeybees from the buds or bark of trees. Sometimes called bee glue, the bees carry home propolis in their pollen baskets.
The purpose of Propolis in the Beehive
Blended with beeswax flakes, the bees make a caulking compound to plaster up unwanted holes or openings in their hive. It is also used to line the interior of the brood cells prior to the queen laying eggs in it, a most important procedure that ensures a perfectly clean environment for the rearing of brood. Bees also use propolis to embalm any dead aliens such as mice, cockroaches etc that they cannot remove from the hive. They quickly cover such an intruder with a thick layer of propolis completely sealing it off and thus preserving the cleanliness of the hive. Bees of foraging age collect propolis only during warm days when the resinous material is soft and malleable. Using her sharp mandibles, she tears off a tiny glob. If the source is extra sticky she may need to take time kneading the glob into shape before transferring it to one of her pollen baskets. She then repeats the procedure, placing the next glob into the pollen basket on her other leg, so enabling her to balance her load. The collection and unloading of propolis can take several hours of work for the bee that will not unload until her pollen baskets are completely full. Sometimes she may return to the hive for a feed of honey then return to the collection site to continue loading.
Historical Uses and Knowledge of Propolis
The great Roman scholar, Pliny the Elder (79-23BC) talks extensively about propolis in his Historia Naturalis encyclopedia, where he gives it three distinct categories: (1) “Commosis” which refers to the bees use as a disinfectant paint for the brood cells and interior walls of the hive (2) “Pissoceros” the mixture of propolis and wax used to glue up holes and reinforce structural weakness and (3) “Propolis” which comes from two Greek words – ‘pro’ meaning before, and ‘polis’ which means city and was given this name because the bees use it to decrease the size of their hive entrance to reduce the invasion of intruders. Pliny also cited the medicinal action of propolis and its ability to reduce swelling, soothe pain, and heal the most hopeless sores.
It has been questioned whether propolis is related to frankincense and myrrh mentioned in holy writings of many civilizations including the Bible? Frankincense is described in modern dictionaries as ‘an aromatic gum resin from various trees’, and Myrrh is defined as ‘an aromatic resinous exudation from plants’? With such definitions it does make one wonder if the ancient people gathered these substances from wild beehives also? Before their destruction by the Spanish conquistadors, the Incas used propolis topically against inflammations and swellings, while during the Boer War of 1888-1902, propolis was mixed with petroleum jelly and used to disinfect battle wounds and to speed healing. In industry, it has been used in the production of an exceptionally fine and smooth varnish especially on musical instruments handcrafted by the Italian Antonius Stradivarius. Dissolved in alcohol, it was used to preserve the shining finish of gold leaf on statuary, moldings and plaster ornamentation on walls and panels. Leather treated with propolis develops a superior lustre and is still used in tanning today in some remote areas of the globe. In intensely cold climates such as Russia, Mongolia and Siberia propolis diluted with oil or turpentine was used to treat wood and so protect it from cracking or rotting.
The Composition and Properties of Propolis
Propolis is a complex mixture of chemical elements that vary according to its source and colours range from golden-brown to brownish-green to reddish-brown to blackish-brown. A broad analysis reveals approximately 55 percent resinous compounds and balsam, 30 percent beeswax, 10 percent ethereal and aromatic oils, and 5 percent bee pollen, along with flavonols, cinnamic acid, cinnamyl alcohol, vanillin, caffeic acid, tetochrysin, isalpinin, pinocembrin, chrysin, galangin, and ferulic acid. Altogether, 130 different chemicals have been identified, although not every sample of propolis has every one, nor are the proportions the same, but there is a definite sameness to all propolis.
Modern Values and Uses of Propolis
Another medicinal marvel from the beehive, research shows propolis offers antiseptic, antibiotic, antibacterial, anti-fungal and even antiviral properties, and has often been called Russian penicillin due to the extensive research done by the Russians. Medical research has also been done in Scandinavia, Poland and Romania with amazing results. Successful results were achieved for many conditions including cancers, infection of the urinary tract, swelling of the throat, gout, open wounds, sinus congestion, colds, influenza, bronchitis, gastritis, diseases of the ears, periodontal disease, intestinal infections, ulcers, eczema eruptions, pneumonia, arthritis, lung disease, stomach virus, headaches, Parkinson’s disease, bile infections, sclerosis, circulation deficiencies, warts, and conjunctivitis. A Romania study showed cancer patients treated with propolis went into remission.
The invaluable property of the natural products of the beehive is that they exhibit immuno-stimulating characteristics, that is, unlike modern drugs, bee-made products do not depress the immune system. On the contrary, propolis and bee pollen, actually boost the immune defense forces in the body. This makes propolis Nature’s Preventive Antibiotic. The immune system is supported and strengthened by the ingestion of propolis and modern scientific studies indicate that those who take propolis regularly escape winter colds and sore throats and seem to develop a natural immunity to common viruses including flu strains. Chemical antibiotics destroy all bacteria in the body including the healthy, necessary ones, whereas propolis works against harmful bacteria without destroying the friendly bacteria the body needs. Propolis has also been proven effective against staphylococcus strains of bacteria that are antibiotic resistant.
There are several products available today using propolis. Following are the products Mossop’s Honey have available in their Shoppe at Tauriko:
Cough Elixir: For fighting sore throats, opening airways and relieving chest congestion.
Propolis Lozenges: Sooths sore throats and coughs and is safe for children and pregnant women.
Propolis Soap: Antiseptic soap excellent for cleansing the skin for acne and pimples.
Propolis Toothpaste: Strengthens gums and enhances oral hygiene
CAUTION: In regular use, propolis has been known to build resistance to respiratory distress, flu, coughs and colds, and to assist the immune system without inhibiting the immune actions as do drug anti-biotics. Generally, there are few, if any, known or proven, bad side effects except for people who suffer allergic reactions to bee venom, or other products from the beehive, caution would need to be taken, or if you are an asthmatic. Always start off with very small quantities at first and increase gradually, as with Bee Pollen. If in doubt consult your physician first.
Propolis Tincture: This is great as a type of ‘iodine’, which can be used externally and also internally. Apply it to sores and infections on the skin or take a few drops in water orally as a gargle for sore throats. This is available in and alcohol or non-alcohol base. Apply to cuts, sores, fungal infections, pimples, acne, and cold sores. Dilute for sensitive skins. Taken daily, you have a marvelous, simple and safe preventive medicine, and unlike chemical antibiotics produced by drug companies, propolis does not cause the body to build up a tolerance.
Here are some old yet very effective remedies that you can try yourself. Prepared new remedies are available over health and honey shop counters, such as propolis lozenges and elixirs.
Sore Throat: Put a lump of propolis in your mouth and let it melt. The juice is bitter, but the results are remarkable. As you swallow the propolis-rich saliva bathes your throat entirely with a disinfecting antibiotic. Swelling may be reduced, and the infection can clear up overnight.
Cuts and scrapes: Treat minor cuts and scrapes, skin irritations, pimples, acne, and non-specific skin rashes with propolis tea. To prepare pour boiling water over a crushed lump of propolis. Allow it to steep, then pour the resulting tea into a sterile jar and keep on hand. Apply as needed.
Corns: Coat the area with a thick layer of softened propolis and cover with an adhesive bandage. Apply more propolis at night before going to bed. Repeat this treatment each day. The hard corn should soften and be easy to remove in a few days.
Preventive Medicine: Propolis tincture is both a good preventive and a substitute for the propolis tea. Crush a lump of propolis and steep it in pure, food grade alcoholic spirits. (Vodka is recommended). the resulting golden brown liquid can be taken by the teaspoonful, on a sugar cube, or on a square of bread. Taken daily, you have a marvelous, simple and safe preventive medicine, and unlike chemical antibiotics produced by drug companies, propolis does not cause the body to build up a tolerance.
Side effects: In regular use, propolis has been known to build resistance to respiratory distress, flu, coughs and colds, and to assist the immune system without inhibiting the immune actions as do drug anti-biotics. Generally, there are few, if any, known or proven, bad side effects although it would be wise for me to mention here that for those people do suffer allergic reactions to bee venom, and other products from the beehive, caution would need to be taken, or if you are an asthmatic. Always start off with very small quantities at first and increase gradually, as with Bee Pollen. If in doubt consult your physician first.