Understanding The Benefits of Propolis

a wooden scoop full of propolis, honeycomb and beeswax

Honey and beeswax aren’t the only things that bees produce. Propolis is another bee product that, for thousands of years, has been extracted from hives and used in traditional medicines and treatments (such as healing wounds). From the common cold, cold sores and fungal infections (like candida) to serious conditions like cancer, research is growing in this area and showing propolis to be a super natural aid to a variety of health issues due to its anti-microbial, anti-oxidative and anti-tumour properties.

What is bee propolis?

Also known as bee glue, propolis is used by bees in the hive to bind crevices and small cracks, usually at the entrance to keep out intruders like insects and harmful microbes. It has a bitter taste and a strong aroma.  When you remove the roof of a hive, a strong scent of propolis mixed with the rich smell of honey and pollen wafts your way. Fourth generation beekeepers,  the Walkers, based in Australia describe it as, ”one of the most rewarding parts of the job, being hit with the smell from the hive every day”.

What is propolis made of?

“If you give the bees a hive in an empty air, they collect the” tears “coming out of the trees, which are resins of various types of vegetation to build the hive.”

(From the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, In his book “Animal Book” )

Propolis is a mix of bee saliva, beeswax, honey and tree resins and it’s collected on the legs of bees from flowers, buds, and other sources of sap (it is sometimes referred to as hive dross). Beeswax is like the cement used for large-scale construction and propolis the putty used to continuously repair.

Propolis also acts as a disinfectant. When the bees return to the hive, they go through a protected entry which is sealed by propolis. This sterilises the bee’s body to ensure the hygiene of the hive and their environment is safe from viruses and bacteria. Any insects that may invade the hive, despite this protection, are stung to death. The bees stuff the insect carcasses with propolis so protecting the hive from the spread of germs and bacteria from the decomposing bodies. Even animals the size of a mouse that wander into a hive, as they often do, succumb to this fate. It is thought ancient Egyptians learned the mummification process from bees’ embalming. Propolis also helps maintain a stable temperature and so keeping the hive alive and ‘active’.

The meaning of the word propolis

There are a couple of meanings to the word propolis and both are linked to the idea of construction. There is the Greek combining ‘pro’ meaning ‘in favour of’ or ‘defense’ and the word ‘polis’ which means ‘city’. So, ‘to defend the city’, the city being a hive of bees. The other originates from the word ‘propo’ from the Latin, meaning ‘structure’ and the Greek word ‘polis’, meaning “structure of the city.”

The goodness contained in propolis

Propolis contains over 300 natural compounds, including organic acids, essential oils, flavonoids, vitamins, minerals and 16 amino acids.  It has antibiotic, anti-fungal, antiviral, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Like raw honey, propolis varies depending upon the exact time of collection, the location and its plant sources.

To collect it, beekeepers scrape propolis from the frames in a beehive when it is dry and flaky. It is then powdered for use or soaked for extraction. It’s used as a preservative or a bioactive food supplement.  When added to raw honey, the combination of natural healthy-promoting enzymes make this a powerhouse of superfoods – and it tastes better too.

scraper with propolis on it by a bee hive

Removing propolis from a hive

Benefits of propolis

A natural antibiotic

Propolis has powerful antibiotic properties and many beekeepers will chew it as a remedy for a sore throat. Research coming out of the University of Heidelberg in Germany tested propolis extract against a variety of disease-causing bacteria, including MRSA, Candida and Streptococcus. Within six hours of taking the extract, propolis was able to stop the bacteria that causes strep throat and skin infections. The study also showed that propolis had a high degree of antibacterial activity against all tested MRSA strains. Researchers concluded that propolis may, “be used in the development of alternative products for therapy of microbial infections.”

Skin care

For people with sensitive skin or suffer from regular break outs or acne. Natural skin care products in the form of creams and masks are available with propolis because of its healing and anti-inflammatory properties. It can help boost collagen, reduce pigmentation and has strong antioxidant protection against environmental pollutants and sunlight.

Supports oral health

During ancient times, Roman and Greek physicians were said to have used propolis as a mouth disinfectant and scientific studies today have shown that it offers beneficial properties for oral health. It has been been found to reduce plaque, herpes and various other oral diseases that affect the lips, gums and throat. Again those antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties help and the antifungal, antiviral and analgesic properties have been found to be effective for treating gingivitis and periodontitis as well as for reducing cavities and reducing bacterial plaque.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Taking propolis can help reduce rheumatoid arthritis pain to a certain extent. Its anti-inflammatory action is a result of a variety of antioxidants including flavonoids and something called caffeic acid.

Cancer prevention

Studies have found certain propolis to possess anti-tumour agents. Research shows that the origin of the bee product is important when it comes to its anti-cancer properties. Propolis from different regions of the world contains different antioxidant compounds.

According to the research from the US National Library of Medicine National Instititute of Health, Brazilian Green Propolis posesses anti-cancer activity. The scientists tested propolis against colon cancer cells. Evidence suggests the propolis caused the cancer cells to die by interrupting the blood supply to the cell and killing only the local cancer cells saving the healthy ones. Scientists also found propolis tincture, at least in the laboratory, can inhibit the growth of prostate cancer cells.

A study examined propolis extracts from the northern part of Thailand on cancer cell growth. The results showed high anti-oxidant activity. This study concludes, “From these findings, it is evident that propolis extracts can be considered as a naturally obtained agent extremely useful in cancer treatment”.

Propolis in nature is a protector and offers immune support. A superfood from the hive. Using this for humans is still be developed but certainly evidence suggests propolis can help support the immune system in many ways.

Always seek the advice from a medical professional first but as research grows it is really interesting to see what potential natural benefits bee products can provide humans inside and out.

a jar of propolis

Some propolis harvested by beekeeper is Nelson De La Querra of Cape Honey Factory, Stellenbosch, South Africa, which we saw on a recent visit

Propolis can be taken as a tincture or in capsule form.

Have you ever used propolis for your health? Let us know in the comments.