In late fall, bees may significantly reduce the opening of the flight entrance with propolis.
They are caulking themselves against the winter.
What is this curious “material” with which the workers seal the cracks in their home, consolidate the combs, fill the gaps between the frames, and coat the inner walls of the hive? A cement? Not only! With this same product, the “guards” mummify the bodies of intruders (small rodents, caterpillars, etc.) killed inside the colony and too heavy or too bulky to be evacuated outside.
What is this curious “material” with which the workers seal the cracks in their home, consolidate the combs, fill the gaps between the frames, coat the inner walls of the hive? A cement? Not only! With this same product, the “guardians” mummify the bodies of intruders (small rodents, caterpillars, etc.) killed inside the colony and too heavy or too bulky to be evacuated outside.
Famous in the popular medicine of the first centuries, propolis fell little by little into oblivion, to reappear suddenly these last decades with such a force that one very often tends, today, to lend him the virtues of a new panacea… After the royal jelly: propolis!
It is useless to insist on the ridiculousness of such an attitude, this sudden adoration for what one has burned does not make much sense. Neither this “excess of honor, nor this indignity”, here is it seems what deserves the propolis, with also a healthy curiosity, a real desire to better know the product of the hive, in order to better appreciate the services which it can return to us.
“Cement” of the hive, propolis is a hard, friable substance, but, like beeswax, easily malleable from a certain temperature (35 degrees Celsius approximately). It melts at 70 degrees. Its color can vary: light yellow, brown, dark green, black. It has a slightly bitter taste and an odor of wax and resin.
For a long time, it was believed that it was “produced” by the bee, from a digestion of pollen. In fact, specialists now seem to have agreed on its origin: it would be “harvested” from the buds of some trees such as birch, alder, fir, oak, ash and poplar. After the addition of certain salivary secretions that transform its characteristics, propolis is “ready to use” for the needs of the colony.
We have seen that it was essentially used to improve the thermal insulation of the hive, to repair defective combs but also to “line” the walls of the cells before egg laying: its antiseptic properties would protect the larvae. But we will come back to this.
Since its “qualities” have been rediscovered, propolis is once again on sale in shops. Beekeepers collect it by scraping it off the frames and walls of the hive. This operation is done at a cool hour, so that the propolis does not “stick” too much to the wood and can be detached more easily by small patches. The fact remains that, year in, year out, this harvest is rather meager: from 50 to 300 grams per year and per hive, and this, taking into account a certain number of factors which more or less incite the bee to “propolize”: ambient temperature, situation of the hive in relation to the “raw material” (tree on which the bees harvest), etc.
There are, as for the royal jelly, substances still badly determined and which enter the composition of the propolis. The chemical analysis is therefore not yet fully completed. However, we can give the following indications concerning the elements which compose it, taking into account, of course, that it is a question, as we have already underlined for honey and pollen, of a common denominator, or, rather, of a “common composition”, since the quality of the sources of harvest differs: each species of tree has its own values On average, propolis is composed of :
– Resin : 50 %
– Beeswax : 25 à 30 %
– Pollen : 5 %
– Various materials : 5 %
The recognized properties of the propolis are it since some decades of experiments of this product. They join in the majority of the cases the virtues which recognized to him ancient medicines. After the studies carried out in Romania in USSR, in Bulgaria, in Spain… and in France (cf. in particular the works of Doctor Lavie: Traité de biologie de l’abeille, Masson, 1968), one recognizes with the propolis of very serious properties:
That is, they prevent the growth of bacteria or destroy them. “This antibacterial power (…) is due to the antibiotic substances, galangin and pinocembrin, isolated in 1964 and 1969 by Lavie and his collaborators. Thus, during the Boer War, at the end of the last century, propolis was used to treat wounds: “In those remote times,” writes Alain Caillas, “antibiotics were obviously unknown and, without the wounds, many wounded would have died of infection. It is thus necessary to suppose that propolis has the same properties as penicillin for example”. Other testimonies abound in history to confirm the use of this product of the hive in the care of inflammations, wounds or suppurations. Pliny, Aristotle, Avicenna mention it in their writings. It was also part, it seems, of the “individual bandage” of the Roman legionnaires in campaign!
“The anesthetic action of the propolis is very powerful, writes Doctor A. Castel, in an article already quoted. It is 3.5 times stronger than that of cocaine and 52 times stronger than that of procaine… Moreover, one observes a synergistic effect of propolis and procaine, being able to go up to 14 times that of the procaine alone.”
This property, combined with the healing and antibiotic action of this product of the hive, currently makes it, in some countries, an effective weapon in the therapeutic arsenal of oral diseases. Let us recall that this use goes up in fact at the end of XIIème century, if one believes some treaties of medicine of Russia of then: “With propolis, one adds a little arsenic, of red lentil, of yarrow, of teucrium. The product is crushed and sifted. Then mixed well and applied to the diseased tooth.”
We spoke about its action on the wounds and the cutaneous affections in “popular” medicine where one employed it in the form of ointments and balms. Here are the principal properties of propolis. Although this product enters “officially” in the composition of certain drugs, in some foreign countries, it remains, in France, of a use “parallel” to the traditional pharmaceutical prescriptions, even if a certain number of representatives of the medical profession are interested more and more in the products of the hive. Reticence is still very much alive in this field as in all others.
Propolis and health
The therapeutic properties of such a product are real, but not yet sufficiently identified and codified. Its use in a certain number of countries should nevertheless give us a minimum of confidence. Its antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and healing qualities, and its absence of major contraindications (with the exception of certain allergies with cutaneous reactions which are encountered in some beekeepers and which it is obviously advisable to treat accordingly) make it a “remedy” or therapeutic adjuvant which is not negligible in :
- Oral and dental diseases
- Pharyngitis, angina, rhinitis
- Skin diseases: wounds, sores, burns – including sunburns! – abscesses…
Propolis can currently be found in stores specializing in dietary and natural products, or directly from beekeepers, in various forms, either in :
- Paste: this preparation is to be advised for all that relates to the affections oral-dental or O.R.L. One advises in this case to chew – during 30 minutes approximately 1 to 3 grams of propolis. To renew three times in the day, during one to two weeks.
- Powder or granules: to advise for the digestive or urinary affections – colitis, cystitis. Same indications as before. To take mixed with a little water.
- Ointment: to advise for burns, abscesses, cuts, small wounds, boils. In external application: 1 to 3 times per day.
Propolis for dietetic use is also associated with honey, pollen or royal jelly. The doses of this “food” will vary according to the composition of the mixture.
«”It removes the stings and what has entered the flesh; It reduces swelling and softens hardening of the skin. It reduces nervous pains, heals ulcers, abscesses, boils…”. Pline
excerpts from La Santé par le miel by Jean-François Chèzeries (LDP)