Honeybees (Apis mellifera) produce propolis which is composed of beeswax, resin from a variety of plant sources including exudates, young leaves, and the terminal bud at the tip of the stem, essential oils, pollen, and organic compounds such as polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals.1,2 The resinous substances collected by the honeybees are used to build and protect the beehive. Propolis’s composition various greatly due to available plant sources, geographic location, and season of collection, as well as the beekeepers harvesting and post-harvesting methods.
Propolis comes from Greek, where “pro” denotes “at the entrance to” and “polis” meaning “community” or “city.”3 “Bee glue” is another name for propolis. The waxy compound’s main function is hive defense. Because of the mechanical properties and waxy nature of this substance, bees manufacture propolis for the construction and repair of their hives—to sealing openings and cracks and smooth out the internal walls, similar to the human use of adobe, and as a protective barrier against external attacks from moths, snakes, and lizards, as well protection from the elements, such as wind and rain.
Humans have employed propolis in traditional medicine for millennia.3 Egyptians used it in embalming. Greek and Roman physicians used propolis for wound treatment, both topical and mucosal, and as a disinfectant mouthwash. Incans incorporated propolis in antipyretic applications. London pharmacopoeias listed propolis as an official drug in the 17th century. Historically, propolis has also been used in treatments for tuberculosis, as well as other lung ailments, for sore throats, stomach ulcers, and as violin varnish by Stradivari. Present day applications include upper respiratory tract infections, influenza, and the common cold, wound healing, burn treatment, herpes simplex, gingivitis, and a variety of skin applications such as acne and dry skin. Propolis contains antioxidant, antiviral, antimicrobial, and antibacterial properties.
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1Esposito C, Garzarella EU, Bocchino B, et al. A standardized polyphenol mixture extracted from poplar-type propolis for remission of symptoms of uncomplicated upper respiratory tract infection (URTI): a monocentric, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytomedicine. January 2021;80:153368. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2020.153368.
2de Carvalho Furtado Júnior JH, Valadas LAR, da Cruz Fonseca SG, et al. Clinical and microbiological evaluation of Brazilian red propolis containing-dentifrice in orthodontic patients: A randomized controlled trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. January 2020;2020:8532701. doi: 10.1155/2020/8532701
3Wagh VD. Propolis: A wonder bees (sic) product and its pharmacological potentials. Adv Pharmacol Sci. December 2013;2013:308249. doi: 10.1155/2013/308249.