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As the colder months are approaching and hats and scarfs are hung back onto the coat rack, immune boosting herbs and cold remedies find their place back onto the shelves of our green medicine cabinets as well.
Even though technically speaking propolis is not an herb, it holds a dear spot on the top of my list of herbal winter remedies. Not only do I keep it close at hand during the cough and flu season but, as one of the most versatile alternative medicines, it would also accompany me on my Robinson Crusoe island to which I could only bring five medicinal herbs to keep me healthy. And it takes a lot for a remedy to be invited on that trip with me.
How Bees Use Propolis
The word propolis comes from Greek pro=before and polis=city. Propolis, a gummy, sticky substance that is soft like chewing gum when warm and hard and brittle when it is cold, plays an essential role in the bee hive. Forager worker bees collect the sap and gum of tree barks and tree buds of conifers, birches, and poplar trees. They carry the sap home in their pollen baskets, blend it with wax flakes secreted from special glands on their abdomen, mix in some pollen and their saliva, adding enzymes in the process, and pass it on to other bees in the hive who put it to use.
Worker bees install carpets and even tunnels of propolis at the hive entrance to prevent disease from entering the hive and to inhibit fungal and bacterial growth. Bees use propolis to build structures and channels to direct the flow of air through their hive for proper ventilation. Nursing bees varnish the interior of brood cells in preparation for the eggs. With its antiseptic properties, the propolis lining insures a microbe free environment for the rearing of the brood.
If a mouse, or other honey thief too large to be carried out, gets into the hive the bees will sting it to death and encase the dead body in propolis, protecting the hive from bacteria and odor.
Constituents of Propolis
Propolis contains a varying list of complex chemicals. Its constituents and color, ranging from golden brown to reddish to almost black, depends on the tree source of collection. Propolis consists of roughly 55 percent resinous compounds and balsam, 30 percent beeswax, 10 percent ethereal and aromatic oils, and 5 percent bee pollen.
The powerhouse remedy contains 500 times more bioflavonoids than is found in oranges. Flavonoids have strong antioxidant properties and help to protect cells from free radicals and cell mutations.
Except for vitamin K, Propolis contains all the known vitamins. Of the fourteen minerals required by the body, Propolis contains them all with the exception of sulfur.
If you don't feel great about swallowing a lab produced vitamin pill on a daily basis, take 10 drops of propolis daily instaed to strengthen your immune system and supply your body with ample antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
When To Use Propolis
Propolis can be used during acute conditions as well as a preventative and immune building remedy. Research has shown strong antimicrobial properties against various bacterial, fungal, and viral infections. It has even been shown effective against some strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Propolis is much more complex than a simple antibiotic and thus harder for bacteria to become resistant to. Even though propolis works against harmful bacteria, it does not destroy the friendly gut bacteria our body needs to function properly.
The many bioflavonoids in propolis have health-promoting effects on eyesight, the cardiovascular system, connective tissues, appearance of the skin, and the immune system. Propolis can help lowering the risk of atherosclerosis, cancer, arthritis, and gastrointestinal disorders. Other therapeutic applications include allergies, inflammation, respiratory infections, flu, cold, sore throat, viral infections, food poisoning, herpes simplex types 1 and 2, and ulcers.
Propolis can be applied externally to wounds, bruises, burns, acne, sun burn, irritations in the mouth, canker sores, and gum disease.
CAUTION: While propolis is generally safe and useful as a home remedy there is one exception: people who have an allergic or hypersensitivity reaction to bee stings or bee products (including honey), could react to propolis in the same way.
How to Use Propolis
Since propolis contains mostly alcohol soluble sap, resins, gum, and wax, and just very few water soluble constituents, propolis has to be extracted in 96% alcohol for maximum therapeutic effect.
Do not give propolis tincture to small children or people with a history of alcohol abuse. Use propolis capsules and propolis lozenges instead. Also, keep the high alcohol content of propolis tincture in mind when applying it to an open wound. It will hurt – a lot – for a few seconds.
Propolis is a powerful antiseptic and once the alcohol quickly evaporates, the remaining resin will form a liquid bandaid that keeps a small wound sealed and free of microbes. For larger wounds and burns a propolis cream or salve is a better choice. Another option is to dust the wound with a wound powder that combines raw propolis powder with other powdered antibacterial and wound healing herbs, such as goldenseal, echinacea, calendula, and oak bark.
You can find herbal tooth paste with propolis for daily dental hygiene. Dabbing propolis tincture on canker sores and inflamed gums can help heal infections and tighten gum tissue.
Use propolis tincture straight on the back of your tongue for a sore throat. Or find an herbal throat spray that combines propolis with echinacea and goldenseal for even broader antibacterial and antiviral action.
Take propolis with you while traveling and start taking a few drop daily before you get on an airplane.
How to Make Propolis Products
You can make your own propolis products from raw propolis very easily. The best source of propolis is – your local beekeeper! The best way to meet him or her is to look up your local bee club online (there is always a local beekeeper club) and go to one of their meetings. They will be delighted to welcome a newcomer and will love to share their passion with you. The majority of beekeepers have no use for propolis and throw it away after collection. Most likely somebody will gift you a chunk or you can buy a few ounces at a reasonable price.
You can also buy raw propolis online – but its not as much fun.
Raw Propolis Powder
• Break raw propolis chunks into smaller pieces
• Store the raw propolis in your freezer for 1-2 days until it is hard and brittle
• Use a cheap coffee grinder to grind it to a very fine powder and sift it through a fine strainer
(IMPORTANT: Do NOT use your Vitamix or any other valuable blender that is dear to you! It will be clogged with sticky propolis and very very hard to clean. I have an old coffee grinder that is dedicated to propolis and I don't use it for anything else)
• Store raw propolis powder in a dark, cool place and use it later to make other propolis based products.
Propolis Water Extract
• Take 10 grams of propolis powder and mix with 100 ml of distilled water (1:10) in a sealable jar.
• Let it stand for about 10 hours and shake as often as possible.
• Filter the solution through a coffee filter.
• The maze can be used to make an alcohol extract later.
• The resulting weak water extract has the taste and aroma specific to propolis and can be used as a mouth wash or gargle, or in external applications, such as eye drops or as a wound wash.
The alcohol extract is the most common propolis preparation with maximum therapeutic benefits and it can later be added to other propolis preparations such as creams and salves.
• Fill a sealable jar half with raw propolis powder and fill to the top with 90 - 96% alcohol. You can use “Everclear” 190 proof grain alcohol, or another 190 proof alcohol from your liquor store.
• Shake and let sit for six weeks in a dark cool place. Shake the jar as often as you can remember.
• Filter the solution and store in dark tincture dropper bottles.
Et voila! Your own home made, powerful ally and defense against a long list of ailments and diseases.
Did I mention that I like propolis? I really, really like propolis.
With gratitude for all the blessings of this Earth,
Susanna is an herbalist and medicinal herb grower, and owner of Raven Crest Botanicals, a small-scale organic herb farm nestled in the hills in upstate New York.