Bees collect the sticky resinous sap from the bark of conifers and other types of trees. They take this back to the hive and mix it with wax and their saliva to create propolis. Propolis is chemically very complex and contains more than 150 compounds, including terpenes, caffeic, and phenolic acids. It also has a high flavonoid content.
Propolis is generally brown in color, but can ranges from red to yellow depending on the particular sources of resin. In hot weather, propolis is soft and pliable, but when cold is hard and brittle.
Bee keepers harvest propolis in a number of ways. During the extraction of honey, the frames of honey must be separated since they are usually glued together with propolis. After honey extraction the propolis is scraped off the frames and ground to a powder.
Another method is the use of flexible plastic traps. These are basically special plates with small holes placed on the top of a hive below the cover lid. Bees try to fill the holes and thus fill the trap with propolis. The average production of propolis in a hive is 300 gms per year, although it can be considerably higher depending on the climate, the forest resources and the type of trapping mechanism used.
photo credit beepothecary.wordpress.com
Medical research has shown that propolis is a powerful, natural antibiotic, and has notable antioxidant and anti-microbial properties. Hippocrates prescribed it for the treatment of sores and ulcers and Romans used it in poultices in the first century A.D. The Hebrew word for propolis is Tzori and the therapeutic properties of tzori are mentioned throughout the Old Testament.
Propolis is a strong allergen and can cause a rash in susceptible people.
One might question why bees would have need of a substance with broad antibacterial and antiviral properties. Since bees are very susceptible to bacterial and viral infections that can destroy their hives propolis (Pro – before, Polis – City = defense of the City) is used to disinfect the beehive. This is sometimes done by using propolis as a thin coating on the inside walls of the hive. Larger amounts are used to block cracks in the hive and reduce the entrance. Of more importance is the use of small amounts of propolis mixed with beeswax to seal brood cells. This takes advantage of the antibacterial and antifungal effects of propolis in protecting the colony against diseases.
Propolis is a natural antiseptic which has been used by humans since the times of ancient Egypt. It has historically been used as an anti-viral treatment against colds and sore throats; an anti-inflammatory treatment that accelerates healing in minor burns, bruises and cuts; and to ease pain and relieve symptoms of sinusitis and tonsillitis.
Other medicinal uses of propolis include treatment of the cardiovascular and blood systems; ear infections; and gastro-intestinal problems.
Raw propolis can be used in chunks, fine powder, paste, liquid extracts, tablets or as an additive to other medicinal preparations.
The most common application technique is a tincture either in alcohol or water in varying percentages from 10 % to 35 % propolis. Usage is 2 to 10 drops in a small glass of water once or twice daily.