Propolis has been around for over 40 million years and used as a healing agent even before the time of Christ. From the Greek words, "PRO", which means "in defense of" and "POLIS" which means "city", bee propolis extract is considered a natural cure by the WHO.
What is propolis ?
In simple words, propolis is bees ’ own medicine. What is it made of ? It is made of various resins collected by the honeybees from plants – particularly from flowers, leaf buds and the bark of trees.
The usually brown substance is also called bee glue. But note, it is not the same as bees wax.Beeswax is secreted by bees while the chemically complex propolis is collected by bees from trees.
What is it used for ?
Bees use the versatile resin for :-
- Sealing cracks and as natural cement to hold their home.
- Keeping themselves and their hives bacteria-free, and
- Coating invaders.
Sealing and strengthening hives
As propolis is sticky in warm weather, bees use it as a form of glue to seal cracks or hold the hive structure together.
Some African tribes are also using propolis in the similar way – to water-proof their water containers and seal cracks in their boats.
Keeping the colony bacteria-free
Living in a hive is like living in a super-busy apartment building, and sharing it with other 50,000 living beings. It’s like making a crowded Tokyo subway your home. But because propolis is used as the cement of the congested space, as bees squeeze themselves into or out of the hive, they will brush their body against the wall, and the propolis.This contact with propolis helps reduce bacterial and viral infection from spreading in their congested home. Without some kind of natural antibiotics protection, the whole colony would be dead. Scientist studying bees have agreed that the hive is as clean and sterile as most of our modern laboratories.
If a rodent like a rat enters the hive, bees will sting it to death and coat the carcass with propolis.Because it cannot carry the carcass away from its’ hive, bees need a way to sterile the dead body. By embalming the body with an antiseptic shell, the carcass will not rot and spread an epidemic in the congested space.As it’s already used as the coating and cement for the hive, the anti microbial and antiviral propolis is the fastest and most effective substance for the job.
What does propolis look like ?
Dark brown propolis rolled into balls.
Propolis has many colors. The color depends on the source of propolis and the season of the year. It ranges from yellow to dark brown, depending on the origin of the resins.
In fact, transparent colored propolis has also been reported. So don’t be surprised at two propolis that look very different.
In warm weather, propolis is sticky and soft. But in cool weather it hardens and becomes brittle.If you store your propolis at lower than 15 C or at a nearly freezing temperature, it will remain brittle, even after you heat it afterward.
At normal room temperature ( 25 – 45 C), propolis is a soft, sticky and pliable substance. As the temperature gets warmer (above 45 C), it will be more like a glue – gummy and increasingly sticky. And at less than 15 C or near freezing temperature, propolis will harden and becomes brittle.To change propolis from from solid to liquid, you need to heat your propolis at around 60 to 70 C. Some propolis, however, will only melt at 100 C.
How do you extract propolis ?
To extract propolis, you need ethanol ( ethyl alcohol), ether, glycol and water.Collecting propolis is an arduous task. Yes, you can scrap propolis from a hive. However, you would get an inferior propolis since you will also get other unwanted bee products during the process.
Tricking the Bees
The best way to get pure propolis is by tricking the bees. What breeders normally do is by inserting small insets into the hives. Bees will fill the insets with propolis because they are tricked into thinking that the inset is a part of their home that needs repair.
How to store your propolis
Where and How
If you have propolis in liquid form, we suggest that you put it away in an airtight container. After you have done that, make sure you put it somewhere safe and away from any excessive heat.That means far from your fridge or kitchen. It is preferred that your propolis be kept in a dark place.
Don’t mix them
Your old propolis solution should not be mixed with the new one. If you follow this advise your propolis solution will lasts longer.Ever after storing it for a year, your propolis should still be as good as new.
How Long Will It Lasts?
Like any other bee products, propolis is not easily ruined. But because most propolis products contain other ingredients, the life of your product will differ from one brand to another.One propolis cream from brand A may lasts longer than brand B, if brand B has more easily ruined ingredients.
The chemicals in propolis
The main component of propolis are resins. The flavonoids and phenolic acids rich resins make around 40 % to 50 % of propolis.Because propolis comes from variety of plants, availability of the plants sap and the type of bees, no two propolis are alike. They would be different in term of colors, odors and compositions.
Chemically, propolis is exceedingly complex. Apart from flavonoids, propolis is also rich in caffeic acid phenethyl ester. This is a substance that has been proven to inhibit cancer growth and reduce inflammation in animal studies.
Bee propolis also contains organic acids, their derivatives as well as terpenoids. These constituents contribute to it’s antibiotic, anti fungal and antiviral effects.
Apart from that you will also find :-
- pinostrobin, and
All of which are anti-inflammatory, antiallergenic, antioxidant and/or antimutagenic.
Scientifically, studies done on propolis had found that it actually contains more than 150 chemical components. Some researchers even found as much as 300 components in their sample propolis.
About Propolis Antibacterial and Antiviral Effects
There is an interesting difference between propolis’s antibacterial property compared to an antibiotics.Antibiotics works by killing bacteria in our body. That includes “friendly” ones needed by the body. Among the good bacteria killed by antibiotics are ones responsible in helping the body produce vitamins like B and K. The more antibiotics you use, the more “friendly” bacteria will you kill.On the other hand, propolis raises your body’s natural resistance by stimulating your own immune system. It also adds vitamins like B1, B, C, E and essential minerals including iron, aluminum, manganese and silicon to the body.
The Health Benefits of Bee Propolis
In order to see the health benefits of propolis, we dig scientific journals. Let’s see how modern medical science conforms with ancient folk wisdom.
Improving Immune System
Professor S. Scheller, the head of a team of four doctors at the Institute for Microbiology at the Medical Academy in Poland found that propolis is able to stimulate the immune system.It works by increasing the formation of antibodies to build our body resistance to diseases and by stimulating our body to release chemicals that protects us from cellular deterioration.He also concluded that other propolis benefits include improved physical, intellectual and sexual performance as well as making injured tissue heal faster.The study also concluded that propolis is not a toxic substance.
Another benefit of propolis is in treating second degree burns. Research showed that propolis cream gave about the same result as normally prescribed cream.But it also reduces inflammation of the burnt skin.Believed to be a result of a substance called arginine, other studies have also supported this finding.These studies have also concluded that propolis also stimulates enzyme systems, cell metabolism, circulation and collagen formation.
One isolated study had tested the benefit of propolis on women with infertility and endometriosis. The study indicated that consumption of 500mg of propolis twice daily resulted in pregnancy rate of 60% as opposed to 20% for women not given propolis.How propolis would give this effect is still unclear.
Potential Cancer Drug
A report published in the Cancer Research (Sep 15,93;53 1482-88) stated that caffeic acids in propolis might help prevent colon cancer. The study expose rats to cancer chemical agents and study the effects of rats given propolis and those without the propolis diet. It found that caffeic acids in propolis were prevented the formation of pre cancerous tissues in rats that were given the substance.Another study done in 1990 had also reported that propolis chemicals could act against ovary cancer in hamster and sarcoma-type tumors in mice. Read some studies done on propolis and it’s ability to fight cancer here.
Propolis could also help patients suffering from inflammatory bowel problems — like Chron’s disease and ulceration colitis.In June 2001, Dr. Ralph Golan in his article published in the Townsend Letters For Doctors reported that ulceration colitis responded well to propolis therapy.
One useful application of bee propolis is in dental care. Propolis mouthwash used after an oral surgery appears to shorten the healing time. A study done in 1991 showed that rats given propolis in their drinking water had less caries compared to other rats.Another study done in 1986 also proposed propolis as a subsidiary treatment for gum infection and plague.You can read the latest study on the use of Brazilian Propolis to treat periodontitis here.
Two studies done in 1986 and 1987 showed that propolis may help in protecting our liver. In these studies, propolis was effective in protecting the liver against alcohol and tetrachloride.
Improve Antibiotic Effectiveness
Australian scientists, E.L Ghisalberti of the Department of Organic Chemistry at the University of Western Australia showed that propolis increases the effectiveness of penicillin or other antibiotics from 10 to 100 folds.This finding could help reduce the number of side effects associated with antibiotics and lower the over dependency on antibiotics by doctors.
Propolis offers some benefits to breeders by improving weight gain and reduce diarrhea in their animals.A study done in 1987 showed that 5 ml of propolis solution given to milk-fed calves can help achieve the above results.Studies done to rabbits have also showed that propolis could help treat coccidiosis and eimeria. It is also beneficial at treating mastitis.
Other medical benefits of propolis
Studies done in rats and mice had shown that concentrated propolis given to the rodents reduced their blood pressure, produces sedative effect as well as protects the liver and stomach against tetrachloride and ulcers.All these were achieved without any side effects.