Propolis is a resinous mixture that honey bees collect from tree buds, sap flows, or other botanical sources. It is used as a sealant for unwanted open spaces in the hive. Propolis is used for small gaps (approximately 6.35 millimeters (0.3 in) or less), while larger spaces are usually filled with beeswax. Its color varies depending on its botanical source, the most common being dark brown. Propolis is sticky at and above room temperature. At lower temperatures it becomes hard and very brittle.


For centuries, beekeepers assumed [1] that bees sealed the beehive with propolis to protect the colony from the elements, such as rain and cold winter drafts. However, 20th century research has revealed that bees not only survive, but also thrive, with increased ventilation during the winter months throughout most temperate regions of the world.

Propolis is now believed to:

  1. reinforce the structural stability of the hive
  2. reduce vibration
  3. make the hive more defensible by sealing alternate entrances
  4. prevent diseases and parasites from entering the hive, and to inhibit bacterial growth [2]
  5. prevent putrefaction within the hive. Bees usually carry waste out of and away from the hive. However if a small lizard or mouse, for example, found its way into the hive and died there, bees may be unable to carry it out through the hive entrance. In that case, they would attempt instead to seal the carcass in propolis, essentially mummifying it and making it odorless and harmless.


The composition of propolis varies from hive to hive, district to district, and from season to season. Normally it is dark brown in color, but it can be found in green, red, black and white hues, depending on the sources of resin found in the particular hive area. Honey bees are opportunists, gathering what they need from available sources, and detailed analyses show that propolis chemical composition varies considerably from region to region, along with the vegetation. In northern temperate climates, for example, bees collect resins from trees, such as poplars and conifers (the biological role of resin in trees is to seal wounds and defend against bacteria, fungi and insects). Poplar resin is rich in flavonoids. “Typical” northern temperate propolis has approximately 50 constituents, primarily resins and vegetable balsams (50%), waxes (30%), essential oils (10%), and pollen (5%). In neotropical regions, in addition to a large variety of trees, bees may also gather resin from flowers in the genera Clusia and Dalechampia, which are the only known plant genera that produce floral resins to attract pollinators.[3] Clusia resin contains polyprenylated benzophenones.[4][5][6] In some areas of Chile, propolis contains viscidone, a terpene from Baccharis shrubs[7], and in Brazil, naphthoquinone epoxide has recently isolated from red propolis[8], and prenylated acids such as 4-hydroxy-3,5-diprenyl cinnamic acid have been documented[9]. An analysis of propolis from Henan, China found sinapic acid, isoferulic acid, caffeic acid and chrysin, with the first three compounds demonstrating anti-bacterial properties.[10]

Occasionally worker bees will even gather various caulking compounds of human manufacture, when the usual sources are more difficult to obtain. The properties of the propolis depend on the exact sources used by each individual hive; therefore any potential medicinal properties that may be present in one hive’s propolis may be absent from another’s, and the distributors of propolis products cannot control such factors. This may account for the many and varied claims regarding medicinal properties, and the difficulty in replicating previous scientific studies investigating these claims. Even propolis samples taken from within a single colony can vary, making controlled clinical tests difficult, and the results of any given study cannot be reliably extrapolated to propolis samples from other areas.

Medical uses

Propolis is marketed by health food stores as a traditional medicine[11], and for its claimed beneficial effect on human health.

Natural medicine practitioners use propolis for the relief of various conditions, including inflammations, viral diseases, ulcers, superficial burns or scalds[citation needed].

Propolis is also believed to promote heart health, strengthen the immune system and reduce the chances of cataracts.[12] Old beekeepers[citation needed] recommend a piece of propolis kept in the mouth as a remedy for a sore throat. Propolis lozenges and tinctures can be bought in many countries. Though claims have been made for its use in treating allergies, propolis may cause severe allergic reactions if the user is sensitive to bees or bee products.[13]

Some of these claims are being clinically investigated and several studies are published in the biomedical literature. Since the chemical composition of propolis varies depending on season, bee species and geographic location, caution must be applied in extrapolating results (as above).

As an antimicrobial

Depending upon its composition, propolis may show powerful local antibiotic and antifungal properties.[14]

As an emollient

Studies also indicate that it may be effective in treating skin burns.[15][16][17]

As an immunomodulator

Propolis also exhibits immunomodulatory effects.[18][19]

As a dental anti-plaque agent

Propolis is a subject of recent dentistry research, since there is some evidence that propolis may actively protect against caries and other forms of oral disease, due to its antimicrobial properties.[20][21][22][23] Propolis can also be used to treat canker sores,[24] its use in canal debridement for endodontic procedures has been explored in Brazil.[25

As an anti-tumor growth agent

Propolis’ use in inhibiting tumorigenesis has been studied in mice in Japan.[26]


  1. ^ R Krell 1996. value-added products from beekeeping FAO AGRICULTURAL SERVICES BULLETIN No. 124 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Rome
  2. ^ Walker, Matt (23 July 2009). “Honeybees sterilise their hives“. BBC News. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  3. ^ Mesquita, R. C. G.; Franciscon C. H. (June 1995). “Flower visitors of Clusia nemorosa G. F. W. Meyer (Clusiaceae) in an Amazonian white-sand Campina“. Biotropica 27 (2): 254–8. doi:10.2307/2389002. Retrieved 2008-05-17.
  4. ^ Tomás-Barberán, F. A.; García-Viguera C., Vit-Oliviera P., Ferreres F., Tomás-Lorente F. (1993-08-03). “Phytochemical evidence for the botanical origin of tropical propolis from Venezuela”. Phytochemistry 34 (1): 191–6. doi:10.1016/S0031-9422(00)90804-5.
  5. ^ Scott Armbruster, W. (September 1984). “The Role of Resin in Angiosperm Pollination: Ecological and Chemical Considerations“. American Journal of Botany 71 (8): 1149–60. doi:10.2307/2443391. Retrieved 2008-05-17.
  6. ^ Bankova, V. (February 2005). “Recent trends and important developments in propolis research“. Evidence-based Compl. And Alt. Medicine 2 (1): 29–32. doi:10.1093/ecam/neh059. PMID 15841275. Retrieved 2008-05-17.
  7. ^ Montenegro G, Mujica AM, Peña RC, Gómez M, Serey I & B N Timmermann 2004. Similitude pattern and botanical origin of the Chilean propolis. Phyton 145-154
  8. ^ Trusheva, Boryana; Popova, Milena; Bankova, Vassya; Simova, Svetlana; Marcucci, Maria Cristina; Miorin, Patricia Laguna; Pasin, Flavia da Rocha & Tsvetkova, Iva (2006): Bioactive Constituents of Brazilian Red Propolis. doi:10.1093/ecam/nel006 Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 3(2): 249–254
  9. ^ Park YK, Alencar SM, Aguiar CL. 2005. Botanical origin and chemical composition of Brazilian propolis. J. Agric. Food Chem. 50:2502–2506
  10. ^ Qiao Z, Chen R (August 1991). “[Isolation and identification of antibiotic constituents of propolis from Henan]” (in Chinese). Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi 16 (8): 481–2, 512. PMID 1804186.
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  12. ^ Orhan, H.; Marol S., Hepşen I. F., Sahin G. (1999-12-06). “Effects of some probable antioxidants on selenite-induced cataract formation and oxidative stress-related parameters in rats“. Toxicology 139 (3): 219–32. doi:10.1016/S0300-483X(99)00128-6. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
  13. ^ Brovko, T. E.; Kravchuk P. A. (July-August 1970). “Two cases of allergic reaction after administration of propolis drugs“. Zh Ushn Nos Gorl Bolezn 30 (4): 102–3. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
  14. ^ Orsi, R. O.; Sforcin J. M., Rall V. L. M., Funari S. R. C., Barbosa L., Fernandes JR A. (2005). “Susceptibility profile of Salmonella against the antibacterial activity of propolis produced in two regions of Brazil“. Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins including Tropical Diseases 11 (2): 109–16. doi:10.1590/S1678-91992005000200003. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
  15. ^ Gregory, S. R.; Piccolo N., Piccolo M. T., Piccolo M. S., Heggers J. P. (February 2002). “Abstract Comparison of propolis skin cream to silver sulfadiazine: a naturopathic alternative to antibiotics in treatment of minor burns“. J Altern Complement Med. 8 (1): 77–83. doi:10.1089/107555302753507203. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
  16. ^ Hoşnuter, M.; Gürel A., Babucçu O., Armutcu F., Kargi E., Işikdemir A. (March 2004). “The effect of CAPE on lipid peroxidation and nitric oxide levels in the plasma of rats following thermal injury“. Burns 30 (2): 121–5. doi:10.1016/j.burns.2003.09.022. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
  17. ^ Ocakci, A.; Kanter M., Cabuk M., Buyukbas S. (October 2006). “Role of caffeic acid phenethyl ester, an active component of propolis, against NAOH-induced esophageal burns in rats“. Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol. 70 (10): 1731–9. doi:10.1016/j.ijporl.2006.05.018. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
  18. ^ Brätter, C.; Tregel M., Liebenthal C., Volk H. D. (October 1999). “Prophylactic effectiveness of propolis for immunostimulation: a clinical pilot study”. Forsch Komplementarmed. 6 (5): 256–60. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
  19. ^ Ansorge, S.; Reinhold D., Lendeckel U. (July-August 2003). “Propolis and some of its constituents down-regulate DNA synthesis and inflammatory cytokine production but induce TGF-beta1 production of human immune cells“. Z Naturforsch [C]. 58 (7-8): 580–9. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
  20. ^ Botushanov, P. I.; Grigorov G. I., Aleksandrov G. A. (2001). “A clinical study of a silicate toothpaste with extract from propolis“. Folia Med (Plovdiv) 43 (1-2): 28–30. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
  21. ^ Koo, H.; Cury J. A., Rosalen P. L., Ambrosano G. M., Ikegaki M., Park Y. K. (November-December 2002). “Effect of a mouthrinse containing selected propolis on 3-day dental plaque accumulation and polysaccharide formation“. Caries Research 36 (6): 445–8. doi:10.1159/000066535. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
  22. ^ Duarte, S.; Rosalen P. L., Hayacibara M. F., Cury J. A., Bowen W. H., Marquis R. E., Rehder V. L., Sartoratto A., Ikegaki M., Koo H. (January 2006). “The influence of a novel propolis on mutans streptococci biofilms and caries development in rats“. Arch Oral Biol. 51 (1): 15–22. doi:10.1016/j.archoralbio.2005.06.002. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
  23. ^ Park, Y. K.; Koo M. H., Abreu J. A., Ikegaki M., Cury J. A., Rosalen P. L. (January 1998). “Antimicrobial activity of propolis on oral microorganisms“. Curr Microbiol. 36 (1): 24–8. doi:10.1007/s002849900274. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
  24. ^ Samet, N.; Laurent C., Susarla S. M., Samet-Rubinsteen N. (June 2007). “The effect of bee propolis on recurrent aphthous stomatitis: a pilot study“. Clin Oral Investig. 11 (2): 143–7. doi:10.1007/s00784-006-0090-z. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
  25. ^ da Silva, F. B.; Almeida J. M., Sousa S. M. (April-June 2004). “Natural medicaments in endodontics – a comparative study of the anti-inflammatory action“. Braz Oral Res. 18 (2): 174–9. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
  26. ^ Sugimoto Y, Iba Y, Kayasuga R, et al (April 2003). “Inhibitory effects of propolis granular A P C on 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone-induced lung tumorigenesis in A/J mice“. Cancer Lett. 193 (2): 155–9. doi:10.1016/S0304-3835(03)00016-8. PMID 12706872.
  27. ^ Gambichler T, Boms S, Freitag M (April 2004). “Contact dermatitis and other skin conditions in instrumental musicians“. BMC Dermatol. 4: 3. doi:10.1186/1471-5945-4-3. PMID 15090069. PMC 416484
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