The humble but mighty honey bee is responsible for maintaining a great many different ecosystems on the planet. In addition, the products it creates supports the human condition. One of these is bee propolis, a lesser-known product that’s great for treating a sore throat, cold sores, and more.
What is Bee Propolis?
Bee propolis is a resin made by bees to fill in cracks and shore up their hives. Resin from coniferous trees is collected, mixed with saliva, wax, and pollen to create a sticky substance that acts like mortar among honeycombs. Because of this, it’s also known as “bee glue”.
Propolis differs from other bee products, like:
Bee pollen – pollen collected from flowers and used to feed the bee colony. It is remarkably nutritious for humans as well, with protein, enzymes, minerals, vitamins, and nucleic acids.
Royal jelly – this is the stuff in which queen bees gestate during the process of metamorphosis. It is made of a milky-looking secretion from glands in the heads of worker bees. Royal jelly is comprised of sugars and proteins to feed the developing queen. What makes it “royal” is that this substance is the exclusive food of the queen’s diet; worker bees eat pollen and honey.
Royal jelly’s contribution to humans is subtle: some studies suggest it promotes the creation of red blood cells, improves glucose tolerance, and supports mental health. (1) It’s been touted an aphrodisiac and supporter of sex hormone production which can boost fertility. (2, 3)
Other Bee Products
Propolis is different from these other substances in subtle ways.
Bee venom – this is the poison that makes a sting hurt and become inflamed. Because bees are vegetarian, venom isn’t used to kill prey. Rather, it’s a defense mechanism. Oddly enough, bee venom’s poisonous attributes are effective against HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Its analgesic application is effective in relieving the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. (4)
Beeswax – a thick substance produced by a gland in bees’ lower abdomen. It’s used by the bees to form and maintain the structure of the hive. Small amounts of pollen and nectar remain in the wax as it hardens to form the perfect hexagons of the combs.
Honey – we are most familiar with honey and its plethora of benefits to human health. A superfood and the only thing we eat that will never spoil, honey is not only the perfect sweetener, it is full of nutrients. Honey is made by bees’ ingestion of nectar from flowers, mixing it with stomach enzymes. It’s stored in honeycombs that are sealed with beeswax to form the beehive’s pantry. Anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and containing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, honey is as effective topically and internally.
What Makes Propolis Special?
Propolis is thicker than honey but not as thick as beeswax. Because it’s made from different ingredients, its chemical composition and consequential nutrition are unique among bee products. Bee propolis contains more than 300 identifies chemical compounds. Propolis is rich in polyphenols, chemicals found in plants that possess a certain structure of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Many polyphenols are antioxidants, and some also act as pigments. Polyphenols protect plants from insects. Flavonoids are antioxidant polyphenols and are found in abundance in bee propolis.
The chemicals in propolis vary by geography, as different plants live in different parts of the world. Bees use whatever is available. Propolis is far superior to pharmaceutical antibiotics by virtue of these variances: bacteria can’t readily adapt to the differences in propolis to develop resistance. Antibiotic resistance is becoming a global health concern as common drugs become less and less effective. Therefor, propolis and other bee products play a large role in curing infections without contributing to antibiotic resistance.
When propolis is warm, it is thick and sticky; when cool, it’s brittle. In addition to being the glue that helps keep the hive’s structure sound, the antiseptic qualities of propolis keep any micro-organisms from taking up residence and infecting the colony.
19 Ways to Use Bee Propolis
Find out what is propolis used for by reading on!
1. Tonsillitis Remedy
Propolis has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. Flavonoids pinocembrin and galanin have been found particularly effective against Streptococcus bacteria, responsible for strep throat. (5) Topical application of propolis can ease the discomfort and swelling of tonsillitis.
- Two parts (by weight) propolis
- 9 parts 75 proof vodka
- Mix together in a lidded container, such as a canning jar.
- Store in a dark place.
- Shake two to three times a day for one to two weeks.
- Strain through a cheesecloth or and transfer in an amber dropper bottle in your medicine cabinet or pantry. Refrigerate and store used propolis in the cheesecloth to use once more.
Honey Propolis Throat Spray
Mix three tbsp of propolis tincture (see recipe above) with two tbsp of raw local honey and one tbsp of warm water in a spray bottle. Open mouth wide and spray 2-4 pumps at the back of the throat.
2. Cancer Cure
Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a protein that stimulates the creation of new blood vessels. When there are abnormal cells present (i.e., cancer), the tendency is for the abnormal cells to proliferate at a faster rate than healthy ones.
A 2009 study of the effects of bee products on VEGF found: “Chinese red propolis and CAPE [its constituent, caffeic acid phenethyl ester] in particular showed strong suppressive effects against VEGF-induced angiogenesis. These findings indicate that Chinese red propolis and CAPE may have potential as preventive and therapeutic agents against angiogenesis-related human diseases.” (6)
In other words, propolis is effective in retarding the growth of cancerous cells. Numerous studies of different cancer cell types have found it to have cytotoxic effects. (7)
Propolis is sold in natural food stores in many forms. To treat cancer, try propolis capsules, tincture, or syrup. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the bottle.
3. Pharyngitis Treatment
The pharynx is what’s commonly referred to as the back of your throat. It’s the cone-shaped passageway from your ears, nose, and mouth to your esophagus and larynx. “Pharyngitis” is inflammation of the pharynx—a sore throat. Whether bacterial or viral in nature, propolis’ analgesics calm the pain and the anti-inflammatories reduce swelling.
To use, prepare or buy propolis tincture (recipe above under “Tonsillitis”). Gargle the tincture diluted with salt water in a ratio of 1:10.
4. Heal Dental Diseases
Your mouth is home to innumerable bacteria—most of them beneficial and critical for digestion. Healthy teeth are desirable for a bright smile and longevity (dentures can be a drag). Because of its many supporting qualities,
An article published in the North American Journal of Medical Science writes “Propolis has multiple applications in dentistry. It can be effectively employed as an oral hygiene product and treatment of oral candidiasis, denture stomatitis, viral infections, aphthous stomatitis, oral surgery, endodontics, and orthodontics. ” (8)
“Indian propolis has been observed to be more effective than routinely used anticaries agents [read: fluoride] in inhibiting the growth of Streptococcus mutans which is a frequent cause of dental caries,” Wrote another study. (9)
Propolis contains anti-calculus properties when applied to gums and teeth, curing and preventing tartar accumulation and gum disease.
One clinical study of propolis’ effect on dental hypersensitivity found that after using propolis for just one week, sensitivity noticeably declined. After four weeks, the level of sensitivity significantly declined in all subjects, with 30% of the participants experiencing no sensitivity at all. (10)
Healing Herbal Toothpaste
- 5 Tbsp Baking Soda
- 4 Tbsp Coconut Oil, melted
- 2 Tsp Propolis Tincture (recipe above under Tonsillitis)
- 1/4 Tsp Kaolin Clay
- 1/4 Tsp Stevia (optional -improves flavor)
- 30 drops Spearmint extract
- Melt the coconut oil in a double boiler until liquid.
- Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.
- Pour the liquid coconut oil into the bowl and mix well.
- Add the tinctures and extract and mix well.
- Stir until the coconut oil cools and you get a nice thick paste and spoon into your containers.
- To use, apply a small amount of paste to your toothbrush and brush as usual.
5. Reverse Otitis
You can use safely propolis for babies and children against otitis media (an inflammatory condition of the ear) and other infections. However, some children may be sensitive to topical application of the remedy. (11)
Ear infections afflict many children, making them and their families miserable. It seems that once a child experiences one infection, s/he becomes more prone to them. Otitis media is an infection that affects the middle ear. Chronic infections can damage the eardrum, causing permanent hearing loss.
A 2010 study of 122 young children with frequent recurrent ear infections found that: “The administration of a propolis and zinc suspension to children with a history of rAOM [recurrent acute otitis media] can significantly reduce the risk of new AOM episodes and AOM-related antibiotic courses, with no problem of safety or tolerability, and with a very good degree of parental satisfaction.” (12)
Propolis Ear Drops
- Propolis Tincture (recipe above under Tonsillitis)
- Extra Virgin olive oil
- Use a ratio of 5 drops of tincture to 1 teaspoon of olive oil.
- Warm them gently over a low heat then drip a few drops into the ear with the head on one side. Test the oil on your hand first to make sure you don’t burn your ears.
- Let it sit for a few minutes then turn the head over on a towel and allow to run back out.
6. Treat Respiratory Illnesses
When mixed with healing herbs, propolis promotes a synergistic effect. In fact, propolis mixed with echinacea and vitamin C can prevent the onset of respiratory infections—even in children. (13) The ingredients below can be purchased at a natural food store or you can make your own.
Propolis Echinacea Elixir
- 50 ml (2 ounces) echinacea extract (recipe here)
- 50 ml (2 ounces) propolis tincture (recipe above under Tonsillitis)
- 10 ml (1 tablespoon) vitamin C (recipe here)
- Combine and store in an amber glass bottle away from light and heat.
- Administer 1 teaspoon for children 1-3 years or 1 ½ teaspoons for children 4-5 years, twice a day.
You can also inhale propolis with steam to pull the soothing, germ-fighting potion into your nose, mouth, throat, and lungs, where it’s needed most.
7. Fungus Remedy
In addition to its antibacterial and antiviral properties, bee propolis kills fungi. This ability is attributable to its resident flavonoids and phenols. Even in different parts of the world and the resulting variances in propolis, its antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal effects are pronounced. (14) More specifically, propolis inhibits fungus and yeast strains. (15, 16)
DIY Propolis Ointment
- 5 tablespoons melted beeswax
- 5 tablespoons macerated calendula oil
- 1⁄2 teaspoon lavender oil
- 15 ml bee propolis extract (NOT homeopathic tincture)
- Melt the beeswax in a small ramekin inside a small pot filled with boiling water or in a double-boiler that’s easy to clean.
- Add the calendula oil and continue stirring with an old wooden spoon, until blended and melted.
- Carefully from heat and add lavender and propolis. Let cool a bit but keep stirring so it doesn’t harden unevenly.
- Once it starts to harden a bit, return to heat and melt the mixture again, stirring continuously.
- Remove from heat again and keep mixing until slightly cooled and paste-like and then add to the jar(s).
- Wipe out ramekin while still warm with a paper towel to remove leftover balm before washing.
8. Gastric Tonic
Due to its general support of the immune system, bee propolis aids in the treatment of gastrointestinal illness. In fact, it has been shown to be extremely effective in inhibiting the proliferation of colorectal cancer. (18) Propolis’ many phytochemicals are responsible for promoting cell health. Soothing anesthetics and anti-inflammatories coat the stomach and intestinal linings to ease and heal the discomfort of gastric ulcers and colitis. Additionally, propolis decreases the secretion of stomach acids for long-term relief. (19)
- 30% spirit solution of propolis
- 5-30 ml of water
- Dilute propolis in oil and mix well.
- Pour into and amber glass bottle with an eyedropper top.
- Take 5 drops of the mixture 30 minutes before meals, up to 3 times a day.
- Gradually increase to from 40 drops at a time before each meal.
- Use alongside 2 spoonfuls of flaxseeds boiled 15-20 minutes in 0.5 liters of water. Take 100-120 ml of the flax mixture before taking the propolis.
9. Cold Sore Treatment
Cold sores are caused by herpes simplex virus (HSV-1). Propolis arrests the growth of the HSV-1 virus and promotes rapid healing. The flavonoids chrysin and kaempferol, found in propolis, stop the spread of the virus and quercetin reduces the chances of becoming infected. (20) A 3-5% propolis ointment applied to the cold sore up to 5 times a day will eradicate a cold sore in a matter of a few days. Use the recipe above for propolis ointment for genital herpes.
10. Heal Herpes
Genital herpes also responds to bee propolis. Herpes is caused by HSV-1 and/or HSV-2 is a common sexually transmitted virus. Sores in the genital area can cause itching and pain. The fluid in herpes blisters contains the virus but it can also be spread through skin contact. Some symptoms of herpes include flu-like body aches, fever, and swollen glands. Very often, there are no symptoms at all and you can have herpes without knowing it. HSV can remain in your body indefinitely; one of the many benefits of bee propolis is that the odds of outbreak recurrence are minimized, as it treats the cause.
The flavonoids in propolis have been found more effective in healing genital herpes lesions than popular prescription medication acyclovir. (21) Honey tested against the same medication was over 50% more effective than the drug. (22) Mixing propolis with honey soothes genital sores and exponentially increases nutrition and healing properties. Propolis is also effective in treating shingles, another potentially chronic malady caused by a different strain of the virus, herpes zoster.
Simple Herpes Salve
Using the recipe for Propolis Balm above: substitute the same volume of raw, unfiltered honey for the beeswax and coconut oil for the lavender oil. Mix well. Apply as needed to open sores to reduce itching and get rid of them quickly.
11. Wound Salve
Bees tend to make propolis from poplar, willow, birch, elm, alder, beech, conifer, and horse chestnut trees, depending on what’s in the neighborhood. The antioxidants in bee propolis come from the metabolism of plant matter and the plants themselves.
Thanks to these healing compounds, propolis counteracts free radicals on the skin, speeding wound repair and stimulating the growth of healthy new tissue. The antibiotic and anti-inflammatory agents in propolis applied to a cut or scrape will kill germs, coat the area to protect further infection, and promote healing faster than without its use. With the first topical application, propolis was found to increase healing of deep diabetic wounds and foot ulcers. (23)
“Propolis dressings provided for a moist wound environment, facilitated autolytic debridement and healthy granulation tissue formation; were painless and easy to use and to remove without trauma to the wound. In conclusion, propolis dressings were effective, safe and inexpensive to treat poor healing diabetic wounds. It should be noted that in the U.S.A the costs of treatment of diabetic foot ulcers totaled almost $40 billion in 2007,” wrote one study. (24)
Propolis can even inhibit abnormal cell growth and promote healthy cell growth, accounting for the speed with which it heals.
- o.3 oz. (10 grams) propolis
- 6.7 fl oz. (200 ml) olive or coconut oil
- Mix the propolis and olive oil together in the top of a double boiler.
- Use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature and heat the oil to no higher than 122 degrees F.
- Stir and heat for about 10 minutes. Don’t worry, the propolis will not all dissolve.
- Strain this mixture through a coffee filter. Freeze the leftover propolis and use again to make more oil!
- Store it in a sealed jar in a dark place.
12. Heal Burns
The same bee propolis benefits for skin that lend themselves to healing wounds go for burns, too.
“Propolis treatment accelerated the process of tissue repair and led to decreased local inflammation, which indicates that treatment with propolis was successful in the initial period (7 days) and stimulated the production of collagen fiber (assessed by morphometry) in all the periods evaluated (14 and 21 days)…These treatments offer new therapeutic strategies for treating severe skin burns; these strategies may allow the minimization of scar formation, a more rapid return of function and, ultimately, a better quality of life for burn patients,” writes Burns: the Journal of the International Society for Burn Injuries. (25)
13. Wart Removal
You can also apply propolis directly to the wart: use the balm or oil recipe above and cover with a bandage. To take internally, mix 20 drops of propolis tincture with a little water or a teaspoon of honey twice a day.
14. Parasite Treatment
We may not know it but we carry around dozens of parasites with us wherever we go. Some of them are harmless while others are decidedly not. Contaminated water and food are often the sources of parasites. Once ingested, parasites can cause terrible gastrointestinal results like painful cramping, gas, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, chills, and headache.
Propolis, like other bee products, is formulated to protect bees and their environments. Its constituents know an invader from a healthy cell or organism and go to work to disarm it. Studies have proven successful parasite elimination with propolis use. (27)
15. Manage Endometriosis
Endometriosis is a condition in which the tissue that lines the uterus grows outside of the uterus, causing pain and, often, infertility. Bee propolis was tested to treat infertility caused by endometriosis in a study in Egypt. A group of 40 women was given either 500mg of propolis or placebo twice a day for nine months. At the end of the study, 60% of the women given propolis became pregnant, while 20% in the control group did. The women in the propolis group experienced no adverse effects. (28) Fertility isn’t the only way that propolis addresses uterine health; it is a happy result of the restoration of balance.
16. Control Blood Sugar
With the lifestyle and food choices now common, the incidence of diabetes has risen dramatically in the last 40 years. Toxins in the environment make it even more difficult for the body to metabolize nutrients and purge harmful substances. Pre-diabetes refers to chronically elevated blood glucose levels; over 30% of those diagnosed with pre-diabetes will advance to full type-2 diabetes (diabetes mellitus).
If blood sugar is a concern for you, bee propolis may be part of the solution. Propolis supports carbohydrate metabolism, moderating glucose levels. A clinical trial of 62 pre-diabetes patients found that the half who took bee propolis experienced a significant decrease in all sugar indicators (glucose tolerance, fasting blood glucose, and total cholesterol) after only three weeks with no other changes to diet or lifestyle. (29)
17. Candida Suppressor
Propolis is known to show significant antifungal activity against C. Albicans, C. glabrata, C. krusei, and Trichosporon. This is especially good news for anyone who suffers from yeast infections. In several studies, propolis reduced and inhibited multiple strains of yeast (including C. Albicans). (30, 31) Even chronic yeast infections have been successfully treated by douching with propolis. (32)
18. Vaginal Treatment
For inflammation of the vagina and cervix caused by pathogens (trichomoniasis, staphylococcus, streptococcus, etc.), you can use douching or tampons soaked in a propolis treatment under the supervision of your certified naturopath. Taking propolis internally can also have positive effects on your vaginal health.
19. Clear Your Skin
The antioxidants and antiseptics in bee propolis combined with its natural emollients explain how it benefits the skin. Propolis is known to clear acne and boils, heal rashes and blemishes, and reduce scarring. Bee propolis was used in the embalming process in ancient Egypt; it’s said that Cleopatra used it to apply the same preservative qualities to her skin. Even mainstream cosmetic companies have hopped on the propolis bandwagon, adding it to lotions and tonics for the skin.
Nourishing skin and hair by the roots, bee propolis also stimulates hair growth. (33)
Egyptian Magic Cream
- 37g| 1.3oz c olive oil
- 10g | 0.35oz beeswax
- 5g | 0.17oz raw honey
- ½ tsp ground bee pollen
- 40 drops bee propolis tincture
- Weigh the olive oil and beeswax into together in a small saucepan and melt together over low heat, reserving a teaspoon or two of the olive oil.
- Whisk the honey in a small bowl, slowly blending in the pollen, propolis, and reserved olive oilYou’ll need to whisk very thoroughly to ensure the olive oil emulsifies into the honey.
- Once the olive oil and beeswax have melted, remove them from the heat and let cool, stirring, until you have an opaque, creamy substance. Transfer the honey mixture to the pot and vigorously whisk everything together.
- When the mixture is thoroughly mixed and emulsified, pour it into a small 30mL/1oz aluminum tin and chill in the fridge until hard.
- Use on skin, lips, blemishes, and small sores.
Bonus: Healing Propolis Tonic
Bee propolis also contains vitamins A and B complex; minerals calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, and zinc; and 16 of the 22 essential amino acids. Given all the healing benefits of bee propolis, a general healing tonic seems appropriate.
To use, mix 8 drops of bee propolis tincture in 16 ounces of warm water. Drink every day to maintain health. You may also mix it with honey, tea, and herbs.
Propolis may not be the best known of bees’ contributions to humanity but it is certainly just as important. With so many applications and such a large variety of benefits, propolis is something we should all add to our pantries to support our health, inside and out.