Propolis – bee glue

Bee Pharmacopia:

Topic: Propolis: a.k.a.” Bee Glue”


What is Propolis?

Propolis (also known as “bee glue”) is a substance which the bees create from tree sap and which they use to caulk their hives. The derivation of the word refers to “pro” = “before” and “polis” = “the city or community” signifying “that which stands before or protects the community”. It is generally thought to be composed of 55% resins and balsams (birch and popular), 30% waxes, 10% etheric oils and 5% pollen (Der Imkerfreund). Bees gather the raw material from tree buds, bring it back to their hive and transform it into a gluey substance known to much of the world as “Russian penicillin” on account of Russian and Eastern European countries utilizing its potent anti-biotic properties.

The typical modem hive is 50,000 cm3 and houses 60,000 bees. It doesn’t take a public health official to realize that sanitation is the honeybee’s number one concern. How do they keep that moist, warm hive space free of bacteria and other pathogens? Propolis is the answer. The bees varnish the inside of their hive with propolis thereby sterilizing and sealing wherever it is applied. A more remarkable example of bees’ capacity to sterilize involves a luckless field-mouse caught invading the hive. The bees will sting it to death but what can they do with a corpse too large to drag out of the hive? They proceed to coat the dead mouse with propolis effectively mummifying it and thereby preserving the sterile interior of their hive. The preservative properties of propolis were not lost on the bees. None other than the great Stradivarius revealed that he used a homemade” propolis varnish” to seal his priceless violins.


History of Propolis:

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines Myrrh as “a yellow to reddish brown aromatic bitter gum resin that was used by the ancients as a remedy for local application”. Sounds like propolis! Current research is seeking to answer the question of whether the Wise Men actually brought propolis (myrrh) as a gift of the Christ child. A topical anti-biotic of such potency would be a timely gift for a newborn. Webster’s also defines “balm” as a sticky resinous substance used by honeybees to varnish the insides their hives… ” What about the famous “Balm of Gilead”? Perhaps this most ancient and potent remedy may be a form of propolis. History also suggests that propolis was used to sterilize the site of surgery during the practice of trephination, the ancient surgery whereby holes were cut into living skulls for unknown clinical indications. Archaeologists point out patterns of regrowth around these holes suggesting, amazingly, that the operations did not prove to be fatal. Closer to the present, a propolis and Vaseline ointment called Propolisin or Propolis- Vasogen was used during the Boer’s War (1899-1902). This natural product, still available from beehives everywhere, has a lustrous history indeed!


How Propolis Works:


In order to understand the medicinal value of propolis, we need to understand its main component, bioflavanoids. A bioflavanoid is a chemical that aids in the anti-oxidant effect of vitamin C. It protects of blood vessels by aiding in the absorption of oxygen thereby making blood vessel walls less fragile and more flexible. For example, varicose veins are unhealthy because they are starved for oxygen. They consume 3-fold less oxygen and produce more lactic acid than do healthy veins. Bioflavanoids allow the walls of veins to absorb more oxygen thereby effectively treating varicose veins. Another function of bioflavanoids is to act as stabilizers of collagen. In this service it augments the effect of vitamin C. Propolis has significant anti-oxidant properties (free radical scavenging) as noted by electron spin resonance spectroscopy. It inhibits cytochrome-C­reductase pathways, which also serves an anti-oxidant function.

Propolis has been tested in the laboratory in a variety of models including culture plates, plant studies and animal models. In plant work: propolis, in concentration of 10 – 5, when compared to controls, was 40% more effective in treating the cucumber mosaic virus, 22 % more so in treating the tobacco spotting virus and 18 % more so in treating tobacco necrosis virus. (Bojnansky-Czechoslovakia) In animal studies: the anesthetic effect of hydroalcoholic propolis is equivalent to 5 % Novocain in sheep and dog abdominal surgery with no change in pulse, breathing, temperature and reflex excitability. (Tsakoff-Bulgaria) Propolis’s anesthetic properties are 3.5 times greater than cocaine and 5.2 greater than Novocain (Curylo 1970). Propolis has interesting anti-cancer potential as demonstrated by its caffeic acid phenethyl ester being preferentially cyto-toxic on tumoral cells. The anti­tumoral property of Ethanol Extract of Propolis (EEP) is significant and lasting. In addition, mice irradiated with 60 CO gamma radiation survived significantly longer than controls that died of cancer.

The study of propolis has produced a wealth of clinical information. Some in vitro work with the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) shows that propolis leads to a decrease in infecting titre and inhibition of viral replication. In many countries, pro polis is used as a first line topical anti-biotic, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and analgesic agent. It stimulates granulation and epithelization therefore being used to treat superficial lesions (cervical erosions, post-surgical sores, vaginitis) (Sucher; Poland). Controlled trials showed propolis as superior to sulfadovaginol in treating erosions of uterine cervix and trichomoniasis, moniliasis and bacterial infections (Zawadzki; Poland).

Propolis’s most common use is in the treatment of parodontopathies (tooth and gum problems) (Gafar; Romania). Other uses include: Moniliasis (Vasiliev; Bulgaria) Intertrigo (fodorov; Bulgaria) Bronchial Asthma (Mihailescu;

Romania) Rhino-sinus allergies, acute traumatic pharyngitiseczematous otitis, bacteriostatic and bactericidal effects (Karimova USSR). When compared with sulphonamidic ointments and tetracycline, propolis 30% ointment BID for 1 week was a faster and more efficient agent.

Most of the work with propolis has been done in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and China. For example, between 1964 and 1972 Danilov reported 680 dermatological patients who were treated in Svetogorsk USSR with a

90.1 % positive cure rate. [Ed. note: specific diagnoses were not available] In addition, a 15% propolis with

vegetable fat ointment was the most commonly used topical remedy used in Gorki’s Central Russian Hospital

between 1961-70. During this time, 830 patients (age 1-87) were noted to have hastening of complete cicatrisation of wounds between dennoplasty treatments.

                Propolis’s anesthetic, bactericidal and regenerative effects on wounds were noted by Kazakov and Kirsanov (USSR). These investigators observed that propolis potentiates the epithelium proliferation and granulation, limits the surface scars and improves local blood circulation as compared to controls. Furthermore, propolis ointment dressings do not stick to the wounds thereby avoiding post-operative trauma to granulation tissue prior to trans­plantation.


How to use Propolis:


Propolis should be harvested at warmest part of day because it is brittle when cold, but sticky and easy to gather when warm. It is insoluble in water but partially soluble in alcohol. For that reason, a tincture can be made from an alcohol base or an ointment from a vegetable oil base. The propolis remedies

. I are best prepared by freezing and then grinding the propolis in a (second hand) coffee grinder. This propolis powder can

then be added to alcohol (tincture) vegetable oil (ointment) or honey (cough medicine / bum ointment).




Propolis has an ancient folk medicine tradition used topically for infections and wound healing but recently has been used to treat one of America’s most lethal diseases: hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) which is a known risk factor for heart attack. It is readily available from the hive and ought not be over looked in the study of apitherapy.



Aagaard, K.L. Propolis, Natural Substance the Way to Health. Mentor, Denmark 1974

Apimondia, Propolis: Scientific data on composition, properties and therapeutic uses. Bucharest, 1978. Greceanu, A_ Observations on the Antibiotic Effects of Propolis, Pollen and Honey

Hill, R. Propolis Description of propolis’s antibiotic activity against Staph Aureus, Proteus, B. subtilis, Salmonella pallorum and gallinarum, e. coli, Pseudomonas pyocyanea etc. It is used in ulcers, as a topical anesthetic (3x more effective than cocaine solution and 5x more effective than Novocain solution) a remedy for sore throats, and for intestinal ailments.

Serbanescu,T. Treatment of Bedsores with Antiseptic Powder with Propolis. MD in Rumania performed controlled clinical studies using propolis for bedsores. ,

Vasiliev, V. Treatment with Propolis of Moniliasis and Intertrigo in Infants. Vasilca, A. Local treatment of Chronic Ulcers with Extract of Propolis

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