Propolis Benefits

Propolis
Propolis | Source

What Is Propolis?

Propolis, also called bee glue, is a resinous substance that honey bees collect from plants. Several species of social bees and insects collect plant resins, but for our purposes we are referring to that collected by the European honey bee, Apis mellifera.

It is often said that honey bees “produce” propolis, but this is misleading, as there is no evidence that the bees change the resinous material originally collected.1 The material is a resin, sap, or similar material when it is on the plant, but inside the beehive, it is referred to as propolis. Bees will collect different types of resinous materials exuded from different parts of plants such as buds, wounds, or fruits.

Propolis is chemically complex and has been used in folk medicine for centuries. The antimicrobial properties of propolis are well documented and modern science is beginning to substantiate some of these popular remedies.

Bees have used propolis to seal a crack between the boxes that makeup a beehive.
Bees have used propolis to seal a crack between the boxes that makeup a beehive. | Source

How Bees Use and Benefit from Propolis

The word propolis is derived from the Greek words pro (before) and polis (city), and almost certainly refers to the propensity of some honey bees to use the substance to reduce and seal the entrance to their hive.

The most obvious way that bees use propolis, at least the most obvious to a beekeeper, is to stick things together and seal cracks. Everything in a bee hive is stuck to everything else with propolis; every crack is sealed with propolis. Just like we seal the cracks in our houses in order to control the environment inside, bees do the same thing.

It is thought that propolis might contribute to a sort of colony level, social immune system.3 Honey bees coat the walls of the hive with a thin layer of propolis, perhaps to decrease bacterial growth within the hive.2

Being fastidious house keepers, bees will remove foreign objects from the hive. Objects too big to remove, like dead mice, are sometimes entombed in propolis, forming a barrier between the bee colony and the foreign object.

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Propolis and Benefits to Human Health: Sources of Trusted Information

As stated earlier, propolis is a popular folk remedy and has been used to treat a variety of ailments; there is no doubt that propolis has antimicrobial properties and perhaps other properties of medicinal benefit. As is true for many folk remedies, it can be difficult to find objective information about the medicinal use of propolis. Many claims are made, often by people selling a propolis product, but little objective research is offered, or what is offered can be difficult for the layperson to interpret. Below are two trusted websites that offer good overviews of the medical use of propolis:

1. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

2. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Institutes of Health

Potential Problems With Propolis

While much of the research might appear promising, there are some cautions.

Variability: The chemical composition of propolis is highly variable and depends on the source and type of the resin collected. Bees in different regions will collect resins from different plant species and the resulting propolis differs in its chemical properties. This makes propolis products difficult to standardize. A product made from Brazilian propolis might not have the same chemical or medicinal properties that a North American propolis product has.4

Potential Impurities: Bees might prefer to collect plant resins for propolis, but if the resins that they need are not available, they will take whatever they can get. Bees have been known to gather road tar, paint, and caulking compound.5

Allergies: Some people are allergic to propolis and it is a sensitizing agent meaning that, when taken over an extended period, it tends to induce allergic reactions to itself.6

Making Propolis Extract

If you are a beekeeper, or have access to raw propolis, you can make your own extract. Gary Reuter, a teacher and research technician at the University of Minnesota offers directions here: Making Propolis Extract.

Works Cited

1Shimanuki, et al., The ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture (Medina, Ohio: The A.I. Root Company, 2006) 671.

2Michael Simone-Finstrom and Marla Spivak, “Propolis and bee health: the natural history and significance of resin use by honey bees,” Apidologie 41 (2010) 296.

3Ibid. 299.

4Vassya S. Bankova et al., “Propolis: recent advances in chemistry and plant origin,” Apidologie 31 (2000) 3-15.

5Shimanuki 671.

6 “Bee Propolis,” Website of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center http://www.bidmc.org/YourHealth/HolisticHealth/HerbsandSupplements.aspx?ChunkID=21542

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Comments 5 comments

livelonger profile image

livelonger 4 years ago from San Francisco

I remember when I was a kid my mother used a propolis extract spray (from a Slovenian company called Api Baby) when we had a sore throat. It tasted awful, but I really think it accelerated healing. Fascinating Hub - thank you!


aethelthryth profile image

aethelthryth 4 years ago from American Southwest

I have wondered for a long time, if propolis isn't really changed from the resins, could I get the benefits of propolis directly from the drops of pine sap that I usually think of as an annoyance because it is so sticky and impossible to get off anything (just like propolis)? If so, that would be nice, as pine sap is not defended by a bunch of little ladies with stingers!


Wib Magli profile image

Wib Magli 4 years ago from Tennessee and Alabama Author

livelonger,

That's interesting. In my research, I read that propolis use is particularly popular in Eastern Europe. Much of the research on propolis comes out of Bulgaria and Brazil.


Wib Magli profile image

Wib Magli 4 years ago from Tennessee and Alabama Author

aethelthryth,

I wondered the same thing. In temperate zones the bees seem to prefer to collect from species of poplar, in tropical zones from Clusia sp. It seems like one could go directly to the source, that would eliminate the variability and purity issues. Perhaps it is difficult to collect in useful amounts without the help of the bees.


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 4 years ago

I never knew that Propolis is also called bee glue. Interesting and very informative.

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