What is propolis?
It is a rich mixture of resinous bioactive substances collected by bees from various trees (buds and bark) and plants. In the beehive, they are further processed and used to protect the beehive area from bacteria, viruses, fungi, and yeasts.
The base of propolis is a sticky mixture of resins from buds of trees and flowers just growing up. Bees collect this mixture and metabolically process it with beeswax for propolis. It is used to insulate various cracks, crevices, fissures, and other leaks in the hives. It is a solid dark substance that improves the insulation of the hive against cold outside air, against moisture or, conversely, against water vapour. For example, when a mouse gets into a hive, bees sting it to death with their stingers and cover it with propolis, when it dies. The body of the mouse is thus mummified and propolis with its antibacterial effects prevents the spread of contagion caused by decay of the body. Bees also use propolis against other pests - for example, to block the growth of eggs of wax moth, here, humans were also inspired by bees and began to use propolis to treat purulent wounds. Propolis is less known under other beautiful Czech names: “smoluňka” and “dluž”. In English, it is also called “bee glue”.
Colour and consistency
Propolis is a supple sticky substance coloured yellow brown to dark brown. When you move it into a refrigerator or a cooler space, it becomes brittle to crumbly. A beehive produces on average only about 30 g of propolis over a year. Beekeepers then harvest propolis by scraping it off the cover slats or hive windows into a container.
History of human use of propolis
Propolis has a more than 5,000-year-old tradition in medicine. It proved its ability to destroy all microorganisms that have a negative effect on human health, so it became a very popular substance of the Egyptian pharaohs. The Assyrians treated wounds and tumours with propolis and the Greeks used it in treatment of purulent inflammations.
Composition of propolis
Dipl. Eng. Štefan Demeter, Ph.D. states in his book Apitherapy: Treatment with Bee Products that „propolis is a natural, harmoniously balanced substance characterized by anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-parasitic effects. It is also characterized by significant antibiotic and immunostimulatory effects.“1 Its composition is generally expressible only approximately; some authors, for example, state that propolis contains 40 % of resinous and balsamic substances, elsewhere we find data on 50 to 80 % of these substances.
In his latest book, Dipl. Eng.Štefan Demeter presents the following composition of propolis:
- 41,5 % resinous and balsamic substances
- 17–30 % beeswax
- 14,5 % mechanical impurities
- 2–11 % pollen
- 10,5 % tannins
- 5–10 % essential oils
- 6 % vegetable wax2
Propolis contains more than 180 compounds, many of which are biologically active. Some experts even report the fact that propolis contains 300 compounds. The research of propolis is thus far from finished and we may still be very surprised by what researchers will find in it in the years to come.
Properties of propolis
Just like the composition of various samples of propolis is not always identical and depends on which woody plants and plants the resins were collected from, the properties of propolis can also differ slightly depending on the concentration of individual substances.
A very nice summary of the unequal composition of propolis has been given by Jan Šmíd M.D. in his book Bee Products in Nutrition and Medicine: „The magnitude of its antimicrobial and antifungal effects is strongly influenced by the source from which it is collected. Propolis, harvested extensively from rowans (Sorbus aucuparia), its buds, etc., has particularly excellent healing properties against fungi, which are then reflected in the defence of the hive against them. In point of fact, it contains sorbic acid, which is a cure against fungi, and the richest deposits are rowanberries, buds, and all sources of resin from rowans.“3
Propolis from our temperate zone contains approximately 40 different phenolic components, 90 % of which are flavonoids. „Flavonoids which impart immunological properties to propolis, compared to the antibiotics used, show a broad spectrum of activity against bacteria, fungal viruses, and fungi. In its use, adverse reactions have not yet been demonstrated, which cannot be said about synthetic antibiotics; in the enclosed patient information leaflet for a particular drug these are always listed in abundance. Experiments with propolis have shown an antimicrobial effect on many microorganisms. Some of their strains were destroyed within 15 to 20 minutes, others within 5 hours. Efficacy depends on the sensitivity of the microorganisms and the composition and origin of propolis.“4
Clinical effects of propolis
The effects of propolis on the human body have been carefully studied for many decades. With improved research methods, the results are more accurate, but the research is far from being finalised, and on the contrary, it could be said that it is only at the beginning. Already in 1968, Jan Šmíd, M.D. in his book Bee Products in Nutrition and Medicine described beneficial effects of propolis: „The antiviral, fungicidal (against fungi) and antibiotic effects have been verified in numerous experiments.“5
Štefan Demeter in his book continues to list the clinical effects of propolis: it is the anti-sclerotic effect, anti-inflammatory effect, antithrombotic effect, antiviral effect, and anti-infectious effect. He adds to the clinical findings: „The possibility of employing flavonoids in suppressing the growth of HIV virus has been intensively studied for the last 20 years. However, flavonoid research is far from being finished. Other beneficial effects include, for example, antibacterial and antiallergic effects. It has a positive effect even against development of osteoporosis, against emergence of dental caries. According to the latest scientific knowledge, up to 50% of cancerous diseases are of viral origin. In the animal kingdom, even 70%. Synthetic drugs are made for a specific type of virus, which requires very high costs for an adequate number of drug types. The exceptional antiviral properties of propolis, which have a broad-spectrum effect on viruses, create promising conditions for its use in the treatment. The antibacterial, antiviral, and antiparasitic properties of propolis are so effective that the interior of the beehive is considered much more sterile than the cleanest operating theatre… Serious research results were obtained from 16,000 people in Denmark. In the research, the patients were treated with propolis for various diseases. As many as 95% showed positive results of the treatment with propolis, in 3% the result was negative, and in 3 cases allergies occurred, so the treatment had to be stopped. The research results were surprising.“6
Propolis vs. antibiotics
"Propolis comes from nature, so its composition is always slightly different. It always affects bacteria in exactly the form in which we have it. Antibiotics have always the same composition, so bacteria can develop resistance to them and then it is necessary to use different, stronger ones. Of course, this need does not arise with propolis."7
Use of propolis
Propolis can be taken by the vast majority of patients, but if you have no experience with it yet, expect a possible allergic reaction and test your allergy to propolis first. Just drip it on the inner side of your forearm. As propolis is a very strong allergen, allergy thus should manifest itself in about an hour.
If the allergy does not manifest itself, you can treat or alleviate a number of diseases and ailments. Jan Šmíd M.D. in his book Bee Products in Nutrition and Medicine recommends the following use of propolis: „…it works well against fungal infection of the feet, infection sores in the corner of the mouth, white fungus on the face, and staphylococcal infections.“8
The Head of the Surgical Ward of the hospital in Boskovice, B. Handl M.D. in his book Bee Products in Medicine: Their importance in the treatment of nervous, gastric, rheumatic, cardiac, skin, liver, gallbladder diseases, asthma, sclerosis and other, from 1971, states: „It is most often used to treat corns and warts. All you have to do is put a piece of propolis on the sore spot and bandage. In recent years, it has proven particularly useful in the treatment of skin fungi and various bruises. It can be dissolved in alcohol and smeared on the diseased area or only grind in alcohol. ointments can also be made in this way.“9
The most specific is in his publication Apitherapy: Treatment with Bee Products Dipl. Eng. Štefan Demeter, Ph.D., whose list of propolis applications includes a good thirty-six items:
„Nowadays, propolis is used internally and externally in treatment
of skin diseases - eczema, acne, inflammation,
helps against hair loss,
improves quality of skin,
helps fight fungi, abrasions, and burns,
in the treatment of gastric ulcers, stomach inflammation and pain, improves digestion and bowel function,
acts in the treatment of high blood pressure, allergies, or dental caries,
it is used against periodontal disease,
helps in the treatment of haemorrhoids,
helps maintain excellent health by strengthening the immune system,
a bacterium called MRSA, which is quite resistant to drugs, reacts very sensitively to propolis,
in the treatment of flu, colds, sore throat, bronchitis,
earache (especially due to otitis media),
headaches and migraines,
in the removal of warts, in eczema, rashes, herpes, mycosis,
in the treatment of open wounds,
in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis,
urinary tract infections, kidney disease,
flatulence, intestinal infection,
gastric catarrh, ulcers, and virosis,
in the treatment of gallstones,
blood circulation disorders,
Very good results have been obtained in the treatment of diseases:
of large intestine,
inflammation of the eyes
gout and rheumatoid arthritis,
inflammation and infection of the liver,
sclerosis, multiple sclerosis,
diseases of prostate gland,
abrasions, and other.
Propolis has a very strong local effect on pain. This effect is 3.5 times stronger than the effect of the cocaine anaesthetic and 5.2 times stronger than of the effect of procaine.“10
Head of the Department of Nutritional Medicine and Medical Nutrition at the L. Pasteur University Hospital in Košice, Associate Professor Štefan Košlík M.D., Ph.D states in his book: „Propolis has proven its worth very much in the treatment various inflammatory and infectious diseases.“11 Propolis can also be used after oncological treatments.
Professor S. Scheller, the head of the team of physicians at the Institute of Microbiology at the Medical Academy in Poland, found out that „propolis has the ability to stimulate the immune system by increasing the production of antibodies in our body and thereby increasing its resistance to disease. In this way it stimulates our body to release chemicals that protect our body from damage. He also came to a conclusion that propolis has additional benefits of improving mental, physical, and sexual performance, as well as improving and accelerating healing of damaged tissue.“12
In scientific literature and also in Demeter´s book Apitherapy we can find a number of other independent studies focusing on the effects of propolis on various health problems, from infertility treatment, through the common flu and inflammation to cancer.
In Bratislava and Košice, professional symposia dedicated to the therapeutic effects of bee products are held regularly. 350 scientists and doctors from 38 countries recently gathered at a symposium in Bratislava, whose theme was “propolis as a medicine”. Propolis is therefore interesting not only for beekeepers and propolis users, but also for top experts.
Natural treatment with propolis
Propolis has a long tradition in home medicine chests; most often we find there propolis tinctures, which are used for many purposes. In his book Apitherapy, Štefan Demeter lists dozens of various recipes for treatment with propolis, wherefore we provide the most common ones:
„In case of inflammation of the upper respiratory tract and bronchi, 20-40 drops of propolis on a sugar cube or with a teaspoon of honey with a liquid or separately, 3 times a day; to increase the efficiency, we can inhale the tincture with hot water.“
„In influenza , usually 10-15 drops on a sugar cube twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, 3 hours before or 2 hours after eating.“
„In inflammation of the bladder and urinary tract we add 10-15 drops of propolis into herbal tea and use it twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, for a maximum of 8-9 days. As a last resort, we can repeat the treatment after 14 days.“
„In periodontal disease, propolis tincture is applied twice a day with a tampon to the affected areas and at the same time a gum massage is done. It is advisable to chew honeycombs seasonally.“
„Against hair loss, inflammation of the hair follicles, drip 20 drops of propolis tincture into 100 g of birch water and massage gently after bath. Hair can be washed more than once a week (max. after 4 days).“
„Against fungal diseases between the toes, on nails and other sites we treat the affected areas with propolis tincture.“
„Against chronic eczemas of each kind , either propolis ointment or poultice with propolis emulsions act as a medicine. In case of inflamed and weeping eczemas, the eczema must first be soothed, and then propolis can be applied.“
„In acne, propolis ointment or tincture is used. Good results will show after 1 to 3 weeks.“
„For corns and other hyperkeratoses (thickening of the stratum corneum due to mechanical irritation - calluses, bruises - or from pathological causes - developmental abnormalities, inflammation, tumours, and warts), administer propolis ointment or tincture-moistened gauze for 3 days. Then soak the corn in warm water and peel it off. In hyperkeratosis, we can add 2-4% of salicylic acid to the ointment, we can also apply a pancake made of raw propolis, warmed in advance, so that it sticks well.“
„In inflammation of the oral cavity, in aphthae in the oral cavity, wipe with a tampon soaked in propolis tincture and gargle with propolis emulsion.“
„In inflammation of the rectum sitz bath 3 times a day. Poultices 3 times a day are more efficient. Add 10 drops of propolis into 1/8 L of boiled and cooled water.“13
1 Czech publication: Ing. Štefan Demeter, CSc.: Apiterapie: Léčení včelími produkty; Vydala Mgr. Andrea Lenochová, Olomouc, 2015, str. 82 Back
2 Czech publication: Ing. Štefan Demeter, CSc.: Apiterapie: Léčení včelími produkty; Vydala Mgr. Andrea Lenochová, Olomouc, 2015, str. 82–83 Back
3 Czech publication: MUDr. Jan Šmíd: Včelí produkty ve výživě a lékařství; Liberec, 1968, str. 32 Back
4 Czech publication: Ing. Štefan Demeter, CSc.: Apiterapie: Léčení včelími produkty; Vydala Mgr. Andrea Lenochová, Olomouc, 2015, str. 83 Back
5 Czech publication: MUDr. Jan Šmíd: Včelí produkty ve výživě a lékařství; Liberec, 1968, str. 32 Back
6 Czech publication: Ing. Štefan Demeter, CSc.: Apiterapie: Léčení včelími produkty; Vydala Mgr. Andrea Lenochová, Olomouc, 2015, str. 83–84 Back
7 Czech publication: Klíma Zdeněk: Terapeutické využití potencovaného medu při léčbe ran (přednáška); Kdyně: Mezinárodní apiterapeutická konference. 29. 10. 2017 Back
8 Czech publication: MUDr. Jan Šmíd: Včelí produkty ve výživě a lékařství; Liberec, 1968, str. 32 Back
9 Czech publication: MUDr. Bohuslav Handl: Včelí produkty v lékařství: Jejich význam při léčení nemocí nervových, žaludečních, reumatických, srdečních, kožních, jater, žlučníku, astma, sklerose aj.; Blansko: Základní organizace včelařů a zdravotní osvěta, 1971, str. 11–12 Back
10 Czech publication: Ing. Štefan Demeter, CSc.: Apiterapie: Léčení včelími produkty; Vydala Mgr. Andrea Lenochová, Olomouc, 2015, str. 85–86 Back
11 Czech publication: Ing. Štefan Demeter, CSc.: Apiterapie: Léčení včelími produkty; Vydala Mgr. Andrea Lenochová, Olomouc, 2015, str. 87 Back
12 Czech publication: Ing. Štefan Demeter, CSc.: Apiterapie: Léčení včelími produkty; Vydala Mgr. Andrea Lenochová, Olomouc, 2015, str. 87 Back
13 Czech publication: Ing. Štefan Demeter, CSc.: Apiterapie: Léčení včelími produkty; Vydala Mgr. Andrea Lenochová, Olomouc, 2015, str. 93–96 Back