Propolis: An Age-Old Medicine

Propolis not only protects beehives, it fights cancer as well.

At first glance, bee propolis may seem out of place in a column on herbal chemistry. But tests show that propolis retains the therapeutic compounds of tree resins, which bees use to make propolis, so calling it a medicinal plant product makes sense.

Bees collect and manufacture propolis resins from tree buds, twigs, and barks, using it as putty to seal cracks in the hive and strengthen and repair honeycombs. They also use it to “mummify” larger animals that have invaded the hive. Researchers believe propolis inhibits microbes that constantly threaten the humid, close quarters of a beehive.

Most propolis research focuses on resins from forests where bees collect mainly from the poplar (Populus) genus, and, to a lesser extent, beech, chestnut, birch, and conifer trees. Chemical analyses indicate that the bees’ propolis is almost chemically identical to these tree resins and is similar to medicinal gums such as boswellia and myrrh (for more about boswellia, see “Inside plants” on page 20 of the January/February 1998 issue of Herbs for Health). The biblical Balm of Gilead is nearly indistinguishable from propolis; Balm of Gilead is made of resin from various poplars, including P. balsamifera, P. nigra, and P. gileadensis.

Propolis is useful medicine

Propolis has been used to clean wounds, kill microbes, and fight inflammation for more than 2,000 years. European, Asian, and Middle Eastern cultures have used it to heal festering wounds, such as bedsores, diabetic ulcers, and battlefield slashes from jagged bayonets.

Modern researchers have confirmed these traditional uses and found support for more modern ones. Propolis compounds are making a strong showing as antioxidants and cancer preventives. The effectiveness of antibiotics such as tetracycline and penicillin has been increased ten to 100 times when combined with propolis extract. Propolis is also used in antibacterial mouthwashes, and evidence shows that it combats staph and strep infections.

Many compounds in propolis are antioxidants, but in cell culture studies conducted in 1995 and 1996, caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE) came out as its strongest antioxidant overall. CAPE also inhibits two enzymes that are involved in the creation of eico­s­anoids, a family of hormones and “signaling” biochemicals. Eicosanoids are vital to health, but if their production is excessive or unbalanced, they make certain conditions worse, including tendinitis, arthritis, asthma, psoriasis, and allergies.

7/29/2016 4:15:08 AM

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