What is propolis? Learn more about this magical substance

propolis fresh from the hive

So, what is propolis?  Where does it come from? When most people think of a beehive they automatically think of lots of bees and loads of honey, particularly if the beekeeper has had a good season. What a lot of people don’t realise is, other than beeswax, there is another, almost magical ingredient to come out of the hive. This ingredient is called propolis, and it is essentially made up of bee saliva mixed with tree sap. When warm, it feels like lovely sticky toffee between the fingertips but when exposed to chilly temperatures it becomes hard and brittle. 

Propolis in Nature

When out foraging, a honey bee may visit several varieties of tree to specifically collect the sap or the residue from the tree’s growing buds. The trees favoured most by the bees seem to be horse chestnut, poplar, willow, conifer, beech, birch and elm. The busy bees bring their propolis booty back home, where it is either stockpiled for later use or put to good work straight away, filling in any nooks and crannies in the hive that may let the wind, rain or predators through. Sometimes it’s even used by the bees to narrow their entrance hole so it is easier to guard against intruders such as the dreaded wasp that is dead set on getting the sweet goodies inside. But just as importantly, it helps sterilise the hive, helping to ward off parasites and pathogens. 

Propolis is scraped from the frames by the beekeeper
Propolis is scraped from the frames by the beekeeper

During a season, the whole hive of bees may collect only between 150 to 200 grams. This is a tiny amount amount compared to the copious volumes of honey that can be produced in the hive, making it quite a scarce substance.

What is so magical about bee spit and tree sap anyway? 

Admittedly, at first glance the dark toffee looking bee spit and tree sap does not look very special, but in this instance it’s best not to judge a book by it’s cover. There are many wondrous and fantastic claims to be heard about the health giving benefits of propolis, some of them proven medically, some yet to be proven. Propolis has been found to contain over 300 different compounds, consisting of amino acids, vitamins, fatty acids and esters.

Two things that have generally been proven is that propolis is considered to be an excellent natural antioxidant and it also has good antibacterial properties. This opens up a whole world of uses to us all.

Wound Healing

The special flavonoids in propolis may have anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory agents which could help speed up the healing process of wounds. Studies have indicated that treatment with propolis on burn trauma have shown encouraging results, as it helps with skin cell proliferation along with free radical quenching in the wound area. Propolis has also shown to be effective clearing up cold sores when applied daily.

Propolis for healthier teeth

The possibility of a healthier mouth thanks to propolis is now being explored. Propolis can help fight against bacteria, the main cause of periodontitis. Tooth decay may even be slowed by the effects of propolis.

Acne and propolis

Propolis can be a wonderful natural remedy to troublesome acne. Acne occurs when skin pores become clogged with dead skin cells, sebum and bacteria. This in turn leads to the swelling and redness associated with acne. Propolis may come to the rescue as it can reduce inflammation and kill the bacteria. Propolis used daily in creams and lotions can help cleanse the skin’s pores, helping to prevent a future outbreak.

Future treatments using propolis

Although it is very early days, it is thought that one day, propolis can be used as an ingredient to assist in the treatment of cancer. Propolis possesses cytotoxic properties, which could be fine tuned to work or reducing tumour growth.

The history of propolis

The ancient Egyptians used propolis in the mummification process as it was a great protector and preserver, as well as using it for their own skin treatments. 

Maybe the ancient egyptian’s were inspired by the bees they kept? The honey bee is probably the first creature on earth to mummify objects. If a mouse enters a hive in the winter for shelter but dies, the bees will embalm its corpse with propolis to prevent decay minimise the spread of bacteria. 

Even in ancient Greece, Hippocrates, the most admired figure in the history of medicine, would use propolis to heal infections and wounds.

Where can I buy propolis infused products?

Right, you have read the above and you are now keen on experiencing some of this great stuff that you may not have given much previous thought to. So, where do you buy it? Before we jump into that I’d just like to say a word or two on using propolis. If you suffer from any form of bee sting allergy I advise you to NOT use propolis in any form. I also advise pregnant women not to use it without first consulting their GP. Also, do not rely on using propolis to treat any skin conditions without first seeing your doctor. 

Most beekeepers will have a small supply of raw propolis, but in my opinion this won’t be much use on its own. I imagine it would be quite messy and you’d get a few strange looks with propolis that is fresh from the hive smeared on your face. No no no, that is definitely not a good look to be going on. You should aim to use cosmetic product that has been specifically blended to preserve the healing properties of propolis. You also want a formulation that can be used on delicate areas of skin such as your face. These formulations can be creams, balms or lotions but make sure that propolis is one of the ingredients to get the full benefits for your skin. We formulate our very own natural beeswax skin cream that contains just 6 natural ingredients, including propolis. You can buy this in our shop.

Hopefully this page has been informative and helpful. The next time someone asks ‘what exactly is propolis?’ You should be able to give them an answer.

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