Get Well

Wellness One-oh-Ones: Propolis

by Hannah Smith

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While temperatures drop, the chances of illness increase. Add holiday travel on top of that, and it’s almost inevitable that you’ll end up with at least a cough or cold. Enter propolis, a bee byproduct that’s used in the hive and has been used for centuries to help prevent illness. To get the low down on all of the benefits this magical substance, we spoke with Carly Stein, Founder and CEO of Beekeeper’s Naturals. Ahead, get all of the germ-fighting information and some fun tidbits about bees you never knew you needed.

What Does Propolis Do in the Hive?

“Propolis is an incredible substance. It’s a hive product, like honey, but while honey is the bees’ food, propolis is more like their medicine. Bees make it by collecting and processing various plant and tree resins (which naturally contain beneficial compounds from the start). The sticky substance that results is used to line the entire interior of the hive—mainly to seal up cracks as well as protect from bacteria, viruses, and other foreign invaders. (The bees even keep a propolis mat at the front door to ensure no one drags nasty germs in. Believe it or not, bees are clean freaks!)                                

In a way, propolis functions as the hive immune system. For example, if a mouse gets inside the hive, the bees will defend their home by stinging it to death. But bees are small—they can’t possibly remove a big dead mouse from their home. And even though it’s dead, it still poses a major threat to the hive—it’s a breeding ground for disease. So bees will mummify the carcass with propolis, and that’s enough to keep the entire environment sterile. It’s a pretty gross visualization—but it does accurately demonstrate the strength of this natural substance.”

What Exactly is Propolis Made Of?

“Bees collect resins from plants and trees and bring it back to their hive, where they mix their haul with special enzymes and beeswax to create the sticky substance we call propolis. Propolis has been shown to contain more than 300 different compounds, each with its own benefit to the human body. These include polyphenols like flavonoids, terpenoids, amino acids, and an extensive array of vitamins and minerals—calcium, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin E for starters. But that is just the beginning. If you want to get granular, you can. For instance, propolis contains a special flavonoid called pinocembrin, which possesses well-known anti-fungal properties. It’s really special stuff.”

How did you learn propolis is helpful to humans?

“As a college student, I struggled with a really weak immune system and recurring tonsillitis. On my semester abroad in Europe it got particularly severe. I am unable to tolerate most antibiotics so, without a cure in sight, I was on the cusp of cutting my trip short and flying home for surgery. I had saved up my pennies for months to go on this trip, so I was absolutely desperate for a natural cure. When I stumbled into an Italian pharmacy, I was given a bottle of this strange stuff called bee propolis by the pharmacist. I didn’t really know what it was, but I figured I had nothing to lose and gave it a shot. After barely one week of propolis, my tonsils actually returned to normal! No more pain and swelling—for the first time in my life something had finally worked. I was able to fully recuperate and complete my time in Europe feeling healthier than ever. That’s when I realized that this bee stuff was magic. 

After my first experience with propolis, I began devouring information about it. I wanted to know what this magical remedy was—this stuff that worked for me when nothing else in the world ever did.     

It turns out, humans have been benefiting from the healing properties of bee propolis for millennia. In fact, the first recorded human use of propolis actually dates back earlier than 300 BC. Aristotle is thought to have coined the term ‘propolis’, which means defender of the city. It is also widely referenced in ancient Egyptian and ancient Roman medical texts. (Cleopatra even used it in her beauty routine to keep her skin smooth and firm.) Even Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, was a big fan of using it to help cure wounds. It has a rich history of natural healing, but in western society we seem to have forgotten about it completely. That’s when I knew that it was my mission to help people who have struggled like I had by reintroducing this powerful natural remedy to the world!”  

What are the main benefits of propolis consumption? 

“Propolis is really this natural wonder. Modern research on propolis continually affirms its beneficial effects on the immune system. In study after study, it demonstrates powerful antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. Propolis is also super dense in antioxidants and other healthful compounds that help the body fight off germs and recover from environmental stress. In fact, on a cellular level, the antioxidants in propolis even help counteract the free radical damage we incur from day-to-day stressors.                

Propolis is a daily essential for me, particularly during cold and flu season. As someone who grew up with chronic sore throats and neverending colds, I now use our Propolis Spray daily for a natural immune boost and I rarely get sick (which is incredible considering all the traveling I do). But it has other uses, too. I apply it topically on minor scrapes and burns to add an extra layer of protection and promote healing. I’ve even found that it helps to hydrate and heal chapped lips. There have also been studies linking propolis to dental health and cavity prevention. It really is this incredible healer.”

How does propolis boost immunity? 

“Propolis is an incredibly soothing substance that is also massively effective at fighting off germs. Think of it as your immune system’s helping hand—taking the load off a little by keeping bad germs in check and stocking up your body with the nutrients it needs to be able to fortify and defend at its max capacity. And with all of its natural antibacterial and antiviral properties, its support is unmatched during cold and flu season. I never leave home without a bottle.”

How often and how much propolis is recommended? 

“At Beekeeper’s Naturals, we generally recommend dosing with 4+ sprays at least once daily for prevention and immune support. That being said, if I feel a tickle in my throat, I go for it! I’ve been known to go through half a bottle in a day, easy. I use it as often as I feel it’s needed. And that works because it’s natural—it’s not like these OTC remedies where you suffer from nasty side effects if you dose too high. Every time you soothe your throat with a spritz, it’s loading your body with really beneficial nutrients. So if you’re feeling sick or stressed, I recommend using it as often as needed (8+ sprays daily minimum).”

How do you harvest your propolis? 

“The way our propolis is collected is pretty fascinating—and completely harmless to the bees. Sheets perforated with small holes or mesh are placed inside the top of the hive. The bees use propolis to weatherproof their hive and seal up cracks, so they can’t resist patching up all the holes with propolis. The sheet will quickly fill up with plenty of this hard, sticky substance. When it’s full, the beekeeper will simply slide it out and scrape off the propolis—leaving the rest of the hive completely safe and intact. There are other, less efficient ways of harvesting, but this is our preferred technique—it yields the most premium quality propolis without harming the hive. When it comes down to it, keeping the bees happy is our top priority.”

Feature Image via Beekeeper’s Naturals

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