The Health Benefits of Propolis for Bees & People
Propolis is derived from Greek, meaning “At the entrance to (pro) the city (polis)” and is a resinous substance collected by the bees to both coat the inside of their nest cavity (propolis envelope) and the entrance to the hive. Bees collect propolis from both plants and trees, similar to how they forage for nectar, pollen or water and bring it to the hive to coat surfaces, seal off cracks, or even trap pests. Specifically with pests that bees can not carry out of the colony, if they entered the colony and died, the bees would encase the carcass with propolis to prevent decay and bacteria spread. The resin itself is a secretion from plants that may be fighting off disease, or may have been damaged, making it highly anti-microbial. Depending on the geography, it can vary in color from green to very dark red and it’s properties, as well as potency can vary as well. Once its in the hive, it is comprised of resin, wax, essential oils and various other compounds.
Let’s talk propolis. What is it? Where does it come from? Why do the bees collect it? How can we use it? When we first started beekeeping, propolis was completely foreign to us and it was introduced as “bee glue” or the reason why a hive needs to be pried open with a hive tool. So that’s all it was, a nuisance that necessitated the hive tool to crack open the hive boxes or pull apart the frames so they can be inspected. It wasn’t until several years in, after learning more about the various hive products that we came to appreciate this super-sticky, beautiful aromatic substance.
So why do the bees collect it? Bees have a very weak immune system and as a result are quite susceptible to viruses and bacteria, amplified by the fact that such a large number of bees occupy a very small space. In the wild, bees will collect propolis and coat the inside walls surrounding the comb, and in doing so they essentially disinfect the cavity. The anti-microbial properties of propolis greatly reduce, if not eliminate the pathogens or microbes that would otherwise impact the colony health and reduce the need for the bees’ immune system to be activated. This activation is a great expense of enegy to the both individual bees and colony as a whole.
The human use of propolis dates back to ancient Greece, Egypt and Roman empires. Hive products were known to have medicinal properties and were regularly used in ointments and applied directly. In Egypt, propolis was used in mummification ceremonies for its preservation properties. In Greece propolis was used for wounds but very widely used for oral heigyne and care. Romans would carry propolis with them to battle to treat battle wounds. Its use waned in the Middle Ages, and its rarely used or known today. Fortunately, with increased awareness you will find it is re-emerging as an ingredient in throat sprays (Propolis Throat Spray), creams (Propolis Body Salve), and even toothpaste.
The big question still remains though on whether this really works. As the biggest consumers of our own products, we’ll share a recent experience where scalding hot water ended up spilling on Lior. The content below may be sensitive to some viewers –