Propolis, or bee glue, is a natural resin-like substance found in bee hives. Honeybees use it as a kind of cement that seals cracks and open spaces in the hive to protect the hive. People have been using this bee glue for centuries as home remedies, toothpastes, creams, ointments, drops, and dietary supplements.Common Names:
At high temperatures, propolis is soft, pliable, and very sticky. At low temperatures it becomes hard and brittle. Honeybees don’t produce the propolis itself, they collect it from tree buds or other botanical sources. It is thought that the best sources of propolis are species of poplar, willow, birch, elm, alder, beech, conifer, and horse-chestnut trees.
Amazingly bee glue appears to also act as an antiseptic preventing microbial infection of larvae, honey stores, and the combs. Whether the bees know about these germ-fighting properties that is anyone’s guess. It is well established that bees around the world are constantly fighting off illness. The confined quarters and bee behavior make for the perfect conditions for viruses and disease to spread. The bees’ manufacturing and use of propolis reduces microbial growth on hive walls where combs are attached and controls airflow, maintaining a consistent humidity inside the hive.
But propolis has beneficial properties for humans and not just bees!
The history of the use of bee products can be traced back to 13,000 BC and our historical knowledge of propolis goes back to about 300 AD. There are records suggesting the use of it by ancient Egyptians, Persians, and Romans. Ancient Egyptians depicted propolis-making bees on vases and other ornaments and used it to alleviate many ailments. The Ancient Jews considered tzori (the Hebrew word for propolis) as a medicine. In fact, tzori and its therapeautic properties are mentioned throughout the Old Testament chapters of the Bible.
In the Middle Ages propolis was not popular and its use in mainstream medicine soon disappeared. Only a few manuscripts dealing with propolis have survived.
In the 21st Century, Bee glue made quite the comeback and is now available to the masses.
Beneficial Properties of Propolis
Researching and observing 50,000 patients treated with bee glue over 20 years in the 60s and 70s, Dr. Karl Lung Aagaard, known as Dr. Propolis, found a variety of conditions benefited from Propolis.
- infection of the urinary tract,
- swelling of the throat,
- open wounds,
- sinus congestion,
- diseases of the ears,
- periodontal disease,
- intestinal infections,
- eczema eruptions,
- lung disease,
- stomach virus,
- bile infections,
- circulation deficiencies,
- conjunctivitis, and
Since then, contemporary studies have confirmed certain benefits and found others such as eliminating parasites, improving fertility for females with endometriosis, and stop cold sore reproduction. The reputable Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center includes this list of benefits on its Integrative Medicine pages and describes a few exceptions and areas where more research in needed:
- Cancer treatment-related oral ulcerations (mucositis)
- Heart disease
Does harvesting propolis harm bees?
Like other honey products, the use of bee glue is controversial. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are opposed to its use in any form because “bees are often left unprepared to survive harsh winters, unable to fight off diseases, or worse” and for many other reasons like the stress caused and loss of life to bees.
Undeniably bees are killed in honey production for human consumption, though there are ways to minimize loss of life. For beekeepers who find other ways to protect the bees to survive winter and fight off diseases, they believe that harvesting propolis, if done properly, does not harm bees more than other types of honey production.
To harvest bee glue, beekeepers simply scrap frames, lids and hive boxes. One beekeeper reports that when she harvests propolis in this manner, she is “careful not to also scrape up bee parts, paint or wood…it saves me time gathering the purist of propolis”. Another way propolis is harvested from the hive is by placing a propolis trap inside the hive. Some companies report they never remove any propolis from the brood box where the larvae and queen live in order to reduce the harm to bees.
How to Take Propolis
Use of bee glue can be found as home remedies, toothpastes, creams, ointments, drops, and dietary supplements. How it is used and how often depend on what it is being used for. If it’s being used internally there are extracts, tinctures capsules and tablets, or you could even consume it raw. For topical needs, there are creams, sprays, ointments, powders, and balms. For detailed descriptions of quantities and frequency for certain ailments visit here and here.
Sloan Kettering warns that allergic reactions to propolis and bee pollen have been reported. Therefore, patients who are allergic to bee venom (i.e., bee stings), honey, ragweed, or chrysanthemum should not take these supplements. Bee pollen may increase the side effect of warfarin, a blood thinning drug.