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Propolis: Bee Medicine

Propolis has earned itself the cute nickname of Bee Glue, but it would be more aptly named Bee Medicine.

Yes, that sticky stuff all over your hive tool, gloves, and cell phone is potently medicinal! The ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians all used propolis for its healing properties. The word propolis has greek origins, and Hippocrates himself is said to have used it to heal wounds and ulcers. Modern scientists have more recently been able to isolate many of the compounds contained in this natural medicine and prove their efficacy.

Bees collect resin from trees such as poplar, willow, alder, birch, and some conifers. They collect it with their mandibles, adding important enzymes, and then carry it back to the hive on their hind legs, just like pollen.

Back at the hive, it is used to seal up cracks, but also to coat any surfaces where comb will be attached to keep them free of harmful microbes.

The chemical make-up of propolis varies considerably from location to location, season to season, and hive to hive. In a typical sample of propolis, 80-100 different compounds can be isolated. Many of these compounds are flavonoids, which confirms its antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Commercial 'propolis traps' are available, but we find that we get more than enough propolis by scraping the sides of frames and boxes when we extract honey.

Propolis dissolves readily in alcohol to make a tincture that can be used topically or in the mouth. Other common uses are in mouthwash, natural toothpaste, throat spray, and salve.

Propolis is a highly sought-after and valuable hive product. In the next week, I will be sharing how I prepare a propolis tincture and salve for our local market. If you are considering processing and selling any propolis products, be sure to check out some similar products available nearby or online. You may be surprised by the going rate!


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