The Complete Guide to Propolis and its Health Benefits

What is propolis?

Propolis is a resinous mix that bees collect from botanical sources such as tree barks and then work in enzyme-rich digestive secretions, and adding extra ingredients such as bee wax and pollen. The resulting substance is used to protect the beehive against bacteria and other infections.

Propolis in it's natural form - a resinous mix, brown in colour, collected by bees to protect their hive

Propolis is one of the many incredible beehive products. This extraordinary reddish-brown substance is usually produced by the bees in the late summer months in the northern hemisphere (August to October), in preparation for Winter. The propolis is used to seal both the outside and inside of the hive to protect against both the colder climate, and prevent bacteria and infections from reaching the hive, keeping the bees and their larvae safe and in an excellent state of health deep inside. So in addition to a physical constructive use, propolis also serves as a disinfectant and antivirus.

The bees cover all important passageways and access points to the hive in propolis. As worker bees reenter the hive from the outside world, they pass through the tight tunnels lined with propolis, getting disinfected in the process, so that the hive remains an aseptic, germ-free environment. Propolis is also used as a protective substance for the eggs and larvae, inside the honeycomb cells and to disinfect dead animals that have managed to penetrate the hive.

The continual coating of the hive with propolis, ensures that the beehive is one of the most naturally occurring aseptic environments in the world.

Where does propolis come from?

Tree resin

The main raw material making up propolis is tree resin. So to fully grasp the unique properties and benefits of propolis, lets first take a quick look at tree resins.

Have you ever cut a branch off a pine tree and noticed a sticky golden goo oozing out of the trunk? This is resin. Perhaps comparable with how we produce blood and a blood clot when we cut ourselves, trees produce resins as part of their immune system to prevent infection and protect against infections and parasites.

When a tree gets damaged, its resin oozes out from the wound, sealing it, and avoiding infection of fungal attack. Similarly, when parasites attack the tree, the plant counterattacks by producing resin, that kills the insects and their larvae.

Tree resin is also secreted on important and sensitive surfaces such as buds and sprouts to protect from UV radiation and damage from free radicals. Most likely, the resin is simply acting to directly contrasting the free radicals thanks to its high concentration of polyphenols.

Once collected, the tree resin is modified by the bees using digestive secretions in their saliva. Bee wax and pollen are then added, to give propolis. The digestive secretions are essential in that the alter the chemical structure of the resin to unleash the benefits and healing properties for animals.

How is propolis extracted from the beehive?

There are two main ways to collect propolis from bees:

1. Collection of propolis from beehives by scraping. Beekeepers have a specially adapted tool to scrape hives. This method only allows collection of propolis on a small scale, and often of low quality, that needs to be cleaned to remove debris and other impurities that accumulate during the scraping process.

2. The alternative is to use grids or meshes previously placed inside the hive: bees simply cannot resist the empty spaces on the grid, and fill them with propolis. Collection via mesh usually takes place over summer, and leads to both a higher yield and purer grade of propolis compared to scraping. Naturally this is the best option for the commercial production of propolis.

What is propolis made of?

The actual contents of propolis vary from one type to another, depending on geographical location, type of bee, types of trees and flowers around the hive, and time of year. However, the main ingredients of this incredible natural substance are:

  • 45-55% tree and plant resins
  • 25-35% wax and fatty acids
  • 10% essential oils and other volatile substances
  • 5% pollen
  • 5% minerals and other organic components. The main minerals found in propolis are Magnesium, Calcium, Iodine, Potassium, Sodium, Copper, Zinc and Iron.
  • Vitamins found in propolis include: Vitamins B1, B2, B6, C, E, P (flavonoids or bioflavonoids)
  • Propolis has a high concentration polyphenols, coumarins, amino acids and steroids. The biological activities are mainly owed to the flavonoids (rutin, quercetin and galangina) and phenolic acid.

What are the benefits of propolis?

Propolis is one of the most important substances with curative and medicinal properties found in nature. First and foremost, propolis is one the best natural anti-bacterial substances that effective against an elevated number of known bacteria. Not to mention the powerful anti inflammatory, anti-viral and fungicidal properties of propolis.

Bees covering their hive with propolis

The benefits of propolis:

  • Propolis acts as an anti-inflammatory
  • Propolis has antiviral properties, for example, propolis fights against herpes
  • Propolis acts as a fungicide, for example, propolis is effective against candida albicans
  • Propolis is effective against parasites such as trichomonas
  • Propolis acts as an antioxidant
  • As resin heals the wounds of a tree, propolis helps the scaring process in humans.
  • Propolis can be used to regulate the immune system
  • Propolis can be used as a local anesthetic
  • Propolis has a detoxifying effect and can be used to protect the liver
  • Propolis can stimulate blood circulation

How do you take/consume propolis?

Propolis can be administered/consumed in a number of ways depending on the purpose:

  • in a liquid solution
  • propolis syrup
  • spray and aerosol for the mouth, nose and throat
  • ointments for skincare
  • toothpastes, shampoo and soaps
  • pastilles
  • capsules
  • inhaled via a propolis diffuser, which essentially vaporizes propolis, sending the volatile fractions around the room.

Why breathe the volatile fraction of propolis?

The innovation of the Propolair Propolis Diffuser allows us to now breathe the volatile fraction of propolis in our home, cars and office - reproducing the air naturally occurring in woodlands and forests. The volatile fraction of propolis:

  • helps against all of the cold-related illnesses thanks to the antibiotic and anti-inflammatory effect of the propolis;
  • has an antispasmodic and analgesic action making it useful in treating cases of asthma, bronchitis and allergies;
  • has an antiviral effect, making it useful in preventing herpes and flu;
  • is a proven immune system stimulant with probiotic action that can increase the body's defense system.

Are there any studies on the benefits the volatile fraction of propolis?

Two studies performed in schools in Turin and Milan have confirmed the benefits of the propolis diffuser.

The first test, overseen by ASL 5 in Collegno (Turin Province), observed in only 3 days, a 71,8% reduction in the microbes present in the air when the diffuser ways turned on continually.

The second test, at the "l’Associazione Casa Materna Asili Nido (Milan)" (a nursery and preschool), found an elevated index of tolerability. During the testing period, the propolis diffuser was used continually, the number of child absentees from school notably reduced and there were no allergic reactions or cases of intolerance to the presence of propolis in the air.

Furthermore, the Chemical laboratory C.C.I.A.A. in Turin, Italy, conducted a study to verify the concentration of pollutants in the air, and found a significant reduction in IPA and a discrete reduction in fumes and other pollutants common in urban areas recognized as cancerogenous by the O.M.S.

Frequently asked questions about propolis

Collecting propoli

Are their any side effects or interactions from using propolis?

Usually the oral consumption of propolis does not have any side affects.There have however been rare cases of propolis intolerance and skin rash, especially in those with known pollen allergy or hay fever.

If you have any doubt at all, you should always check first with your doctor before using propolis.

Is it true that propolis offers a natural antimicrobial action?

Yes - largely due to the high concentration of flavonoids, propolis is a natural antimicrobial substance, that also helps with scaring, is an anti-inflammatory, and considered a superb natural antibiotic.

What is the use of flavonoids in propolis?

Among the most fascinating components of propolis are poliphenols or flavonoids - natural pigments that seem to have a protective action and stimulate the body metabolism.

Flavonoids are also responsible for the antimicrobial action in propolis. Some studies have reported that up to one third of the volatile fraction of propolis is in fact made up of flavonoids such as Falanghina and Pinocembrin.

Can I eat propolis?

Bees produce propolis to protect their hives, rather than for consumption (they actually eat pollen).

We use propolis more as a health supplement than a food, such as in our propolis chewing gum and our propolis sweets). So yes, you can technically eat propolis, though it is used more as health supplement than a food element.

Please do check with your doctor before consuming propolis.

How is propolis made/cultivated?

As explained above, bees produce propolis in the hive. We (or more accurately, beekeepers) have the relatively simple job of collecting the propolis in a limited quantity so as not to kill off or permanently damage the beehive ecosystem..

How is propolis diluted?

Propolis alone is not water soluble, so is often first dissolved in alcohol.

Our range of propolis supplements have a specially formulated an alcohol-free propolis throat spray and an alcohol-free propolis syrup that are ideal for children.

When should I take propolis?

Wherever you are in the world, we suggest you begin taking propolis just as the first cold of winter sets in (this is also when the bees start to line their hive with propolis in preparation for Winter). Preferably use organic propolis.

For alcohol propolis extract, the suggested dosage is 30-50 drops, 2-3 times a day.

Fascinating facts about propolis

Where does the word propolis come from?

The word "Propolis" comes from the Greek: ‘pro’ meaning infront of, and ‘polis’, meaning city. Literally propolis means the "defense of a city", in this case, the city if a beehive.

Tree resins and man

In observing nature, prehistoric man noticed the beneficial properties of plant and tree resins. Indigenous populations used resins as medicines.

The Romans used resin to preserve wine (preventing it from turning to vinegar), and the Christian civilizations prized tree resins, as is evidenced by the gifts of the Three Wise Men to baby Jesus (Frankincense and myrrh). Frankincense is a milky white resin extracted from species of the genus Boswellia which grows in East Africa and throughout the Arabian peninsula. Myrrh is a red-brown tree resin that comes from species of the genus Commiphora, native to North East Africa

Modern researchers have also tested tree resins and shown that like propolis, they can be used to fight bacteria.

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