Propolis has been used for centuries by many cultures for its antiseptic, antimicrobial, and detoxifying properties. Propolis, also known as “Russian penicillin” or “bee glue”, is a sticky substance that bees make from tree and other plant resins. Bees keep their hive from being infected by coating the inside of the hive with it, thus preventing the spread of bacteria and fungi that would be detrimental to the well being of the colony. Propolis from different regions of the world exhibit slightly different properties depending on the types of tree and plant resins available in the area. Propolis contains flavonoid compounds known for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity as well as tissue strengthening and regenerative effects. A 1994 Polish study found that mice given propolis lived longer than the mice in the control group. Antioxidants are thought to have anti-aging properties in humans as well. In many countries where antibiotics are not widely available, it is a common to use propolis to heal a wide variety of wounds. Used as an antiseptic wash or salve, propolis is able to prevent the growth of bacteria in cuts and burns and it can also promote the healing process in lesions of the skin that have not healed. Used as a mouthwash, propolis is able to prevent bad breath, gingivitis, tooth decay and gum disease and it is commonly taken as a remedy for sore throats. Propolis is capable of acting as an anti-inflammatory as well. It can help with symptoms of arthritis, boils, acne, asthma, dermatitis, ulcers, and inflammatory bowel diseases. Propolis has also been found to have antimutagenic effects, which may aid in the prevention of cancer. In conjunction with royal jelly it can ameliorate the side effects of chemo and radiation therapies.
The word PROPOLIS is reputed to have been coined by Aristotle, from the Greek words pro (before) and polis (city), meaning, Before The City, or Defender Of The City. In his writings, Aristotle showed a remarkably accurate and detailed knowledge of propolis. The name, Defender Of The City², is a very appropriate term to describe the role of propolis in the beehive.
Propolis in the beehive.
Bees use propolis to virtually encase the inside of the hive. It is used to caulk and seal every crack, and a very thin coat of propolis is spread over the surfaces of the honeycomb cells, inside and out. This is important for the prevention of infection in the honeycomb. Propolis is used to sterilize the honeycomb cells that contain the larvae, as well as the cells that store the honey and bee pollen. Propolis is also used extensively at the entrance of the hive to form an elaborate, winding tunnel. Bees literally have to crawl through a tight tunnel of propolis to enter and leave the hive. In this way, bees are cleansed of microbes as they enter the hive, and the sterility of the beehive is maintained. In fact, the beehive is the most sterile environment found in nature. The fact that this structure, located in the wild, and full of food and organisms, can be kept free of disease and infection is quite remarkable. In very real terms, propolis functions as the natural defense and immune system of the beehive.
Bees collect tree resin for propolis, just as they collect pollen and honey for food. Although it is still a matter of debate, research indicates that the chemical structure of resin is altered by the bees secretions during the collection process. Bees work the resin with their front legs, while adding saliva and beeswax to the mixture. The saliva and other secretions are catalysts for biochemical changes within the propolis. The resin is passed to their back legs for storage in their pollen sacs. Bees then transport the resin back to the hive, where it is stored or used. Bees show definite preferences for certain species of tree resins in their collection of propolis. It appears that bees have unerringly identified the highest quality, and most appropriate raw material to use for propolis. The bees¹ secretions then transform the resin to optimize the benefits of propolis. Man has used propolis for healing since ancient times. The Greek physician, Hippocrates (460-377 BC), who is considered to be the father of modern medicine, recognized the healing properties of propolis. Hippocrates prescribed propolis for different types of ailments. The Greeks were also the first to develop beehives, and honey, as agricultural products. The Romans further developed beekeeping and expanded on the knowledge and benefits of propolis. Pliny the Elder, the famous Roman researcher and natural historian, showed a detailed understanding of propolis in the beehive. He also was well versed in the applications of propolis.
Propolis functions as the immune system of the beehive. It is not surprising, then, that tree resin functions as the immune system of the trees. When physical damage occurs to trees, then tree resin, or sap, floods into the area and seals it off. In this way, the damaged tissues are protected from infection from bacteria or fungi. Similarly, when parasites, such as bark beetles, attack a tree, tree resin flows into the wounded area and kills the insects and their larvae. Tree resins and waxes are secreted onto the surfaces of sensitive tissues, such as delicate new buds, to protect against harmful ultraviolet radiation. Tree resin screens out harmful radiation, and protects the buds from damage. Ultraviolet radiation also causes free radicals, and tree resin acts as antioxidants to smother the free radicals before they can cause damage.