Propolis is one of the many remarkable but lesser-known products manufactured by honeybees. In addition to nectar and pollen, honeybees also collect plant resins. While nectar and pollen are stored for later consumption, honeybees mix plant resins with enzymes and beeswax to create a multipurpose substance that has a direct beneficial effect on a hive's health.
Plant resin is sometimes seen seeping from tree bark or flower buds. It contains phytochemicals that protect the plant from pathogens and is usually produced when the plant sustains an injury, acting sort of like a bandage pretreated with first aid ointment.
Ever the efficient workers, honeybees capitalize on this natural antimicrobial material, mixing it with their enzymatic saliva and beeswax to make propolis, and using it to sterilize their hive. Honeybees will line the entire interior if the hive with a thin layer of propolis, which acts as the colony's immune system. This force field of propolis prevents diseases and parasites from entering the hive and inhibits fungal and bacterial growth.
Propolis is sometimes used extensively at the entrance of the hive to form an elaborate, winding tunnel. As bees crawl through this tight tunnel, they are cleansed of microbes as they enter, and the sterility of the beehive is maintained. In fact, the beehive is the most sterile environment found in nature.
Honeybees also use propolis to embalm intruders that they've killed inside the hive that are too big to remove, such as lizards or mice, which, if left alone, would decompose, surely compromising the hive's well-being. Honeybees also employ propolis to smooth rough surfaces in the hive, as well as seal holes and cracks. It's very effective for this and is why propolis is often referred to as “bee glue.”
Ask any beekeeper who has struggled to pry open a hive cover that has been "cemented" closed with propolis. It's like the bees got their hands on superglue and are playing a prank on you. Once you finally get the cover off, you'll find the frames all stuck to each other as well. Scraping away propolis is an exercise in futility, as it will be back again the next time you open the hive.
Knowing all this, it's not surprising the word propolis means “defender of the city.”
Propolis can come in an array of colors -- green, red, black, or white -- but is usually a dark orange-brown. Just as with honey and pollen, the color and chemical composition of propolis will depend on the colony, its surrounding environmental conditions, and the botanical source of the resin.
Raw propolis is generally made up of 50 percent resins, 30 percent waxes, 10 percent essential oils, 5 percent pollen, and 5 percent other organic compounds.
Scientists have found propolis contains more than 300 natural compounds, including amino acids, coumarins, phenolic aldehydes, polyphenols, sequiterpene quinines and steroids. The majority of these compounds are a type of polyphenols called flavonoids. Flavonoids are produced in plants as a form of protection and contain antioxidants that fight disease and damage in the human body. Propolis also contains pinocembrin, a flavonoid that acts as an antifungal.
Ancient civilizations used propolis for a variety of ailments. The Greeks used it to treat abscesses; the Assyrians used it to fight infections; and the Egyptians used it during the mummification process.
Today, people look to propolis for immune system support and to help boost resistance to and recovery from the common cold. The immune system and antioxidant benefits of propolis provide can broadly benefit general health and wellbeing. Propolis has proven antibiotic and antiseptic properties and seems to act against bacteria, viruses, and fungi. These antimicrobial properties make propolis helpful in wound healing. It may also have anti-inflammatory effects.
When ingested, as with Savannah Bee Company Propolis Throat Spray, it helps to support the body’s immune system and promote oral health.
Propolis has been recorded as a beauty ingredient for over 3,000 years in Egypt, Rome, and Greece. This hive treasure is high in vitamins A, B1, B2, and B3, plus rich in amino acids and antioxidants. Added to skin care products, propolis is effective in helping to protect against bacteria and fight blemishes. As an antioxidant, it naturally helps restore and maintain skin structure. Propolis aids in balancing and soothing problematic skin, accelerating the rate of new cell growth. Shop all Savannah Bee beauty products that contain propolis here.
INSIDER INFO: To harvest propolis, special inserts called propolis traps are placed inside active bee hives. These flexible plastic sheets are perforated with hundreds of small slits – too small for bees to get through, but just big enough that the bees are motivated by instinct to seal them up with propolis. Once the bees have filled the insert with propolis, the beekeeper removes it and puts it in the freezer to harden the sticky propolis. The frozen propolis is popped off the insert by twisting it, similar to releasing ice cubes from a tray.