Here is a little insight into Propolis and it’s uses. I am a plant person and use plants and herbs for healing and nourishment. In fact, the plants are such a huge part of human health on all levels; emotional, physiological, and within our spirit. So we now begin to see the truth of a separation from ourselves and the world, leading to dis-ease or dis-harmony, fracturing, complete dissemblance. Fortunately, the plants are, as always, here offering their healing, their kinship.
As far as propolis is concerned, the reading and research, (mostly from other countries) explains propolis from the perspective of the physical parts, phyto-chemistry, ancient anecdotal formula’s and cures, uses, how the bees use propolis, etc. (All valuable and good starting points) However, with regard to plant, bee or any other medicine, it is your body (and a quiet mind), your hands in the dirt, the synthesis of the totality of your consciousness that facilitates direct and complete communication; a tool our ancestors used, a knowing. Modern investigation, (while having value) consistently bears out what was already known. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the storehouse of medical information passed down about plants, bees, living in intimacy with our world was not trial and error based. Instead, direct relationship developed an ability or an understanding that transcended rationalism ,(i.e complete and direct information from the plant,animal, bee, water,etc ). From which sense based epistemologies develop such as Gaia,a mother earth that is alive and cares for us in every way. (Even the DNA double helix came to a researcher in a dream!) And yes, I have these experiences…. Please read Stephen Buhner, ” The Lost Language of Plants”.
So, let’s talk propolis. As a basis of understanding, I like to include a context of how propolis fits in to the whole picture. To me, honeybees (and all pollinators), weave threads as they touch herb and tree. Indeed they consummate the marriage of plants ensuring more plants, and thus life as we know it. For all life is plant based. Plants sublime the vapor of the sun into flesh, expressing in myriad forms the healing of sun, earth, water, the void. So then the honeybee touches, caresses and exchanges with the plants, and in this a gift to our people is made. Of course, pollinators are making medicine for the land, for the plants, and for other creatures. A concentration, a distillation, of plant medicine, of love. This is seen in all the bees make, all they do.
How is propolis made? First, I find it important to have a look at what is going on inside the honeybee’s body. The bee’s gut houses a community of bacteria that in function are like our own gut flora, that is essential to optimal health. These microbes are at the seat of the honeybees medicine, for it is they who originate the enzymes and facilitate the synergy we see in the medicine the bees make. As the bees gather resin, pollen, and nectar they combine their saliva (rich in enzymes and magic) with the resin (or pollen granule, or nectar) thus beginning the transformation from raw plant material (already medicinal) into something tangibly more potent, and or nutritive. The resin and/ or pollen granules so wetted are attached to the “baskets” (hooks or skewers) on the rear legs. The resins are returned to the hive and it is worked into propolis. Here is where the literature is non detailed and my observations are limited with regards to the exacting details of propolis formation.
Try to stick with this, as I find it important to track these components of propolis, each medicinal on their own, and the subsequent synergy found in the mixture we call propolis. It should be noted that there are as yet unidentified compounds in all bee hive products. Scientists have tried to duplicate propolis based on a rational reductionistic assumption that by reducing to individual parts we can understand the world around us. While the product they made exhibited mild antibiotic influence, it paled in comparison to the work of the bee.
The physical makeup of propolis shows 50-55 % resins and balsams, up to 30% wax, 8-10% essential oils, 5-10% pollen, and 5% solid organic matter.*(1) However, these are so variable that %’s are not so important as the understanding of the constituents and their medicinal properties, all variable depending on plants region and time of year. So that Brazilian propolis looks a lot different than my northern propolis, but for the hive , it is the same functionally. Honeybees in cities have been found to make propolis from road tar….Not something I’d take but on the other hand the bees are fitting it to their needs.
Plant resins. What is a resin, and why do some tree/plant produce it (not all of them do)? Resins are gummy in consistency and typically aromatic. They are produced in a protective capacity, either to protect leaf buds or when the tree is wounded( i.e a bandage or skin). These resins are in and of themselves medicinal and utilitarian ,collected and extracted in various solvents by herbalists and indigenous people since the beginning.
For instance, in my area, some typical resin sources are from the Poplar family such as Cottonwood, Balsam Poplar, Quaking Aspen, and others such as Sumac and Birch. In the cases of the poplar family, the resins (buds) are analgesic, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, soothing to sore muscles, antiseptic, and rich in anti-oxidants, and aid in wound healing. Some questions I ask myself:. What roles do these trees play in healing or nourishing the earth where it grows? or Why do these trees grow here? What is the history of the land where it grows? Scalar perspective. How do the qualities of this medicine affect the ecology where it grows.? or conversely How does this ecology affect the medicine? Research constituents; animal, human, insect interdependence, plant companions and successional relationship. What does the tree sound like in a northern wind? What items can be made from the bark or wood? How did the indigenous people in the area regard and use these trees? What time of year are the medicine collected and how are they processed.,. and on and on.
Beeswax is made entirely by plant nectar (sugar water also). This amazing substance is indeed the skeletal structure of the beehive. The consumption of fresh nectar (in surplus) stimulates bees to produce wax flakes along their abdomen. The bees then gather and hang from the frame or structure and pass wax flakes to each other to build the honeycombs. This hanging of course always produces combs that are “level” or perpendicular to the ground. Beeswax forms the individual cells in which bees are raised, as well as the combs where honey is stored. Wax is used to seal honeycombs when they are cured. I have found these wax cappings are stimulating to digestion. Beeswax is rich in antioxidants (vitamin A), is protective, humectant, antibacterial, to name a few. Burning beeswax releases the sunshine and the light from the darkness (beehives are dark inside) and have a soothing aroma. Sounds like a creation story…..
Bee Pollen: Bees visit richly scented, flowering, medicinal herbs and gather the male part of the flower, the pollen. Wetted with enzyme rich saliva, the pollen dust is compacted into granules (squarish to ovoid in shape) with a dough like consistency to fit into the hook of the pollen basket. Once in the hive, the pollen is compacted into cells adjacent to larval staged bee brood. Here it will be consumed by nurse bees, who consume it to stimulate the production of worker jelly. The protein in pollen varies from 8 to 40 % and is exceptionally high in water soluble vitamins. It contains vitamin A, C, D, E, B1, B2, B6, Niacin, biotin, inositol, and folic acid. Pollen contains minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, iron, manganese, silicon, sulphur, chlorine, copper and zinc. It also contains 27 trace elements, rutin (vitamin P),flavinoids, and carotenoids.(5) Pollen is perhaps the most concentrated single source of complete protein and rutin on the planet. Rutin strengthens capillaries, minimizes bleeding, encourages coagulation, making it useful for those who bruise easily.(5) Scientists have confirmed a human can live on bee pollen and water alone! Bee pollen has been found to be antibiotic, antiviral, astringent, relaxant, tonic, and nutritive. It has been found useful in the treatment of allergies, bacterial infections, asthma, capillary weakness, chronic fatigue, immune depression, menopausal symptoms, nutritional disorders, prostate, chronic cystitis, and urinary tract infections.(5)
I haven’t yet found much to describe the exact process of how this pollen is added to the resin. One observation stated that bees made propolis even in confinement ( ahh bee experiments) suggesting the pollen addition maybe coming from inside the bee. It makes sense to me that bees are adding the pollen from their gut as they manipulate the warmed propolis with front claws and inject pollen into the tacky resin. Haven’t found many direct observations on propolis mixing yet. I have seen the bees working their tongues into resin. Pollen is a major food source for bees and their young, and in conjunction with honey, provides all the energy and nutrition for their incredibly demanding and joyous life. The color of propolis is influenced by the color of the pollen used in it.
Essential Oils: Do the bees gather essential oils from specific aromatic plants , or are they the oils from the resin? or from the pollen ? Qualities of these oils are penetrating, antiseptic, and cleansing.
How do the bees use propolis? As you will undoubtedly see, honey bees use propolis in various ways and these functions relate directly to the actions in the human body. In each of these capacities the bees make specific formulations for the work at hand. In other words the propolis varies within the hive ,some waxier, some more bitter(er), some gummier, etc.
Skin: Honey bees shellac all surfaces inside the hive with a patina of propolis, As the hive expands and grows so does the extent of the patina. Likened to a skin, this shellacking creates a protective barrier, anti-microbial, waterproofing, anti-fungal and mold. The bees feet are then constantly in touch with a disinfecting surface. This layer is very thin as you will notice when the fresh wood of your bees home will in time completely change color and smell. This kind of propolis contains a low wax content, richer in resins and aromatics, and mixed to be spreadable. I equate this functionally to the immune system.
Connective: The honeybees attach everything together in the hives. The frames are connected together, and in wild hives the wax combs are attached to the top of the cavity with wax and reinforced with propolis.
Circulatory: Unwanted holes and entrance size are plugged to maintain circulating air currents, temperature, and humidity (homeostasis) i.e desired internal atmosphere. In my hives (Langstroth) the bees form corrals on the top of the frames allowing air movement (or inhibiting it) where they desire. These corrals are also used to trap other insects (such as wax moth and hive beetles).
Protective: Unwanted organic matter too large to remove is customarily mummified in propolis. In the case of mice stung to death, they are encased in propolis. My observations show the purification of the carcass with regards to organs while the skin and bones remain unaffected by bacterial assimilation. The entrance of the hive is typically well propolised to ensure disinfection of returning foragers. In the brood combs, the wax cells are polished with propolis to sterilize before the next young bee is grown in the same cell.
Properties of Propolis: Get more info here…
(1) Hill, Ray. Propolis: The Natural Antibiotic
(2) Broadhurst, C.Leigh. Health and Healing with Bee Products
(3) Aagard, Dr.K. Lund. Propolis -Natural Substance, The way to health
in Brown, Royden. BeeHive Product Bible
(4)Brown,Royden. The Bee Hive Product Bible
(5)Buhner, Stephen. Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers
(6)Elkins, Rita. Bee Pollen, Royal Jelly, Propolis and Honey
(7)Popovici and Oita. Influence of Extracts of Propolis on Mitosis. in Brown, Royden.
(8)Rao, C.V., D.Desai, B.Kaul et al.Effect of caffeic acid esters on carcinogen induced mutagenicity and human colon adenocarcinoma cell growth.