BeeFocus: Propolis

I love showcasing the wonderful things that bees make, and how good they are for us! I’ve been infusing propolis in oil for a new balm, and realized that many people might not be aware of what propolis is, let alone why it’s good for their skin. So onward!

Honey bees keep a clean house. Unless extremely ill, honey bees never defecate in the hive (phew, huh?).  A bee on the verge of death normally leaves the hive, but if she happens to die in the hive, her sisters will carry her outside. When debris falls to the bottom of the hive, it is also carried out and deposited outside.

Honey bees have another way of keeping the hive clean: any space too small for them to move through is sealed up.  This  means smaller pests have fewer hiding places within the hive–let’s face it, with warmth and food aplenty, a honey bee colony is pretty attractive digs for spiders, ants, and various beetles.

But propolis is more than that: it is a construction material, used to shore up the hive; it is used to make entrances the best size for the colony to defend (smaller in winter, larger in summer, for instance), and it has anti-microbial properties that, used in the hive, make it part of the bees’ immune systems.

Propolis
Propolis

Propolis varies in its composition, like so many natural products, depending on where and when it was gathered. Honey bees gather the resins primarily from trees, which themselves use the resins to fend off insects and pathogens. Sticky in warm weather and brittle when cold, the bees gather it into a ball, and carry it as they do pollen, in the “pollen baskets” on their back legs. Back in the hive, they masticate it and mix it with their own enzymes, and use it as needed within the hive.

Propolis has a variety of uses today, and historically. It has been used for millennia in salves to aid in wound healing and abscesses. Today many people use a tincture of propolis as an immune system booster, to help with canker sores, and to speed the healing of cold sores. While it certainly has anti-microbial properties, propolis’s effectiveness as a medicine has been little studied. As interest in natural products increases, perhaps that will change.

For now, I’ve been infusing propolis in organic olive oil, to use in a facial moisturizer. It is also an ingredient in my Liquid Hand & Body Soap, and in Avital’s “Bella Stella” All Natural Deodorant.

People who are sensitive or allergic to bee products should avoid contact with propolis.

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