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.
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.
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.
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.