Propolis

Propolis is yet another magic product made by bees (as if honey, pollen and wax wasn’t enough).  It’s a resin that bees collect from plants – sap and such – and mix with whatever they think best (I believe wax is the main mixing agent but maybe some enzyme spit and nectar as well) then use it for hive maintenance. Bees use propolis to stick things together or seal things up in their hive and I’ve read they will keep some on hand just in case an emergency repair is called for. Some hives use propolis like mad, others use it in moderation. I’ve no idea where my bees sit on this spectrum but it’s impossible to open a hive without having to pry things (boxes, frames, queen excluder, beetle traps, anything I put in the hive in fact) apart because of the propolis.

IMG_9342-002

Propolis securely holding frames in place in a bee hive – do the frames wiggle when I’m not looking?

The entire rim of the bee hive box has a seal of propolis

The entire rim of the bee hive box has a seal of propolis

Some people believe propolis isn’t just a great hive maintenance tool, it also has all kinds of cool healing properties like suppressing a cough, preventing cavities, increasing bone density and curing cancer. I believe more research is required 🙂 but I’m not going to say it won’t be found to have incredible medicinal properties. It’s one more arrow in the quiver of the bee healing arsenal: pollen, honey, venom, royal jelly and propolis.

One day I was watching my bees (I often stand around staring at them in a creepy stalkerish way) and noticed the pollen baskets of a couple of bees looked very strange. I am positive this is propolis. It’s glumpier than pollen, is a dull brown and the bees sure looked like they were using it to close off their hive’s air vents.

Bee with propolis in her pollen baskets

Bee with propolis in her pollen baskets

These vents often are partially closed by propolis – and often clear of all propolis. Those bees are clever little insects and I’m sure they open and seal the air gaps to get the ventilation just right. See how her friends on the inside are helping? You can also see she has a bit of propolis on her middle left leg – she took that out of her pollen basket. I think she passed some through to the bees on the inside of those vents.

Here she has another friend helping her in the heavy lifting. It’s rare to see a bee working alone – a superorganism is an amazing thing.

Two bees applying propolis

Two bees applying propolis outside the hive

We conducted our own little home trials in the efficacy of propolis.

Trial 1: Frank has a chronic cough that is irritated by a million things and relieved by few. He sucked a lump of propolis – outcome: indeterminate.

Trial 2: I have a chronic toothache. One of those monster fillings that some day will be a root canal and crown which often flares up and always hurts a little. I sucked, chewed and masticated some propolis. It’s a lot like chewing a spicy wax and sticks to your teeth. That night, EXCRUCIATING tooth and gum pain. Coincidence? I haven’t a clue. Maybe it was working on some minor infection for me. The next day I pushed a lump on the sore tooth (am I a glutton for punishment?) and waited. Nothing. I chewed the propolis for a while enjoying the tingly heat of whatever chemical (Eucalypt extract?) is in there. For the next few days I kept smashing propolis into the gap between my teeth and leaving it there between meals. At meal time it vanished with my food. I skipped a day here and there and what I can say is that my tooth pain is significantly less on days when I use propolis. What I can’t say is why. It could be the magic of the propolis’ components, it could be that with a lump of goo in my mouth I’m less inclined to snack on sugary sweets or it could be that the bee-glue actually holds my cracked tooth still so there is less irritation. The truth is most likely a combination of all of them. Whatever it is, from now on when we check the hives, I’m making sure I collect and keep safe as much propolis as I can.

Propolis "snack"

Propolis “snack”

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About Laura Rittenhouse

I'm an American-Australian author, gardener and traveller. Go to my writing website: www.laurarittenhouse.com for more. If you're trying to find my gardening blog, it's here.
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26 Responses to Propolis

  1. Linda says:

    My roommate in college was from Brazil…and she brought loads of medicine with her when she came here. I remember one specific cough medicine that actually contained propolis…I thought it was the neatest thing! Lol

    • I’ve never purchased any of the bee healing products but I think they’re getting more popular. Anything that makes people like bees and want to keep the environment safe for them is a great thing if you ask me.

      • Linda says:

        Agreed! I think I wouldn’t mind buying anything with bee “healing” products in it…I mean, a lot of our modern medicine is derived from such natural sources to begin with.

        • I’ve been reading more on propolis and it’s apparently an excellent natural antibiotic – maybe not as good and one of the manufactured targeted type, but it has the huge benefit that it doesn’t kill goo bacteria so it doesn’t come with all of the negatives associated with modern antibiotics. Modern medicine is really great and I don’t want to bad mouth it but so often the incredible miracles it provides have that sting in the tail…

          • Linda says:

            Yeah, propolis is amazing. The beekeeper I learned from used to roll it in balls and put it in the freezer to keep it fresh…I think he may have roll it in something to keep it from sticking as well. That stuff will stick to everything though! I once laid an empty hive box on my mom’s freezer and it took the paint off!

            • Yikes – I hope your mother’s forgiven you.

              I roll mine into balls (after cleaning out the nasty bits like bee body parts) and it’s sitting in a plastic container now. I hadn’t thought it might spoil. Can it? Maybe I should freeze some of it just in case.

              • Linda says:

                I’m not sure whether it spoils or not. I guess it’s one of those “that’s what he did, so I’ll do it that way too” without questioning. Maybe it gets hard? Or maybe it’s because the stuff is so messy and sticky! Lol.

                • It also dawned on me that maybe freezing the propolis makes sure nothing hatches. I know it’s gross, but little critters do live in hives (here we have small hive beetle and wax moth) that lay eggs in the hives. I’ve heard that freezing your frames kills off any eggs and larvae so is an effective way of ridding your hive of an infestation (assuming you have a large, empty, chest freezer I suppose). So I’ve now got my propolis balls in the freezer killing off anything that survived the bees, my picking over and rolling the propolis into balls. I may still have beetle eggs (eeewww gross) in there, but it will be dead and so less offensive. Anyway, I don’t plan to think about it when eating my propolis.

              • Stan says:

                Hi Laura, all bee products tend to be enzyme related, please dont freeze the propalis, as this might render it useless, better just to dehydrate it (low temp) and store it in an airtight jar

                • Good point about the enzymes – they wouldn’t like being frozen. Though I doubt that’s what helped my toothache. Airtight jar is the best bet for sure. I tend to keep a few lumps in a small Tupperware container and so far nothing gross has hatched or grown on any of it so I suspect it is self preserving without freezing.

  2. vuchickens says:

    Wow! So cool! Bees sure are amazing creatures.

  3. I’ve been watching the bees to see if I can see any carrying propolis but in vain so far. We have cherry trees that excude gum so I haven’t given up hope yet.

  4. Hi Laura. Many thanks for your bee photos. Look’s like we’re on the same page as I have just dug up an allotment over the last few weeks.

    • No problem, I’ve learned so much on from various blogs about beekeeping (and plenty of other things) that it seems right sharing what I know and have with others. Good luck with your lot.

  5. Emily Heath says:

    The beekeeping books say propolis is not removed by the bee that collects it as it’s too sticky – instead her sisters will nibble it off her legs when she returns to the hive. Liked your photo, it’s unusual to see bees collecting it. I’ve also seen it looking dark brown and shiny when bees return to the hive. My hive partner Emma has done a great infographic with some facts on propolis – see http://basilandbees.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/pollen-collection-infographic1.jpg.

    • Emily, I’ve heard a bee doesn’t remove her own propolis but my photo with the bee having propolis on her middle leg makes me wonder if sometimes they do. Maybe she was breaking off bits to pass through the holes to her hive-mates.

      And thanks for sharing that graphic. I saw your hive partners post on the topic (I follow both of your blogs) and found it, like all of them, really interesting and informative. You guys are doing it the right way in taking a course and learning so much about bees as you work your hive.

      • Emily Heath says:

        Interesting. Perhaps the methods of removing it depend on how sticky the propolis is. I like your home experiments too with propolis too. Have you considered whether the propolis might also be having a placebo effect? Sorry to hear you’re in so much pain with the toothache.

        • It could be the stickiness or it could be that it is easier if she has help but if not, she just does the best she can (we women are good at that 🙂

          I doubt it’s the placebo effect because a) I didn’t think it would have any effect at all so was surprised at the severe pain followed by a great improvement in pain and b) after the improvement I believed that I could stop using the propolis and my tooth ache would stay away (it is better, but it comes back if I don’t use the propolis ever once in a while). So if it was the placebo effect, it’s going about it based on someone’s expectations besides my own.

          Honestly I suspect the main thing propolis is doing for me is keeping air and food away from my sensitive tooth which gives the irritation time to settle. It may also have some mild astringent or antibacterial effect to reduce inflammation or infection but I’m not banking on that. As long as it keeps helping and my tooth keeps flaring up, I’ll keep using it.

          A friend of mine has a toothache and she is tried the propolis last night – I’ll be interested to see what effect it has (if any) for her pain.

  6. Great photography – your close ups of bees are amazing!!

    • Thanks – I just have a little automatic Cannon digital camera and close ups can be hard to get (focusing on what I want in focus isn’t always a given) but I persevere and am often amazed myself.

  7. Hmm, my husband has a cough and the sniffles. Just might have a go…..

  8. What does it taste like?!

    • Almost nothing. I guess the best description is a very mild taste of some light medicinal like Eucalypt. Kind of like that swab a dentist uses to numb the cheek before an injection but 100 times less. My friend swears it tastes of nothing – it’s that mild.

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