Propolis is a resinous mixture that honey bee
Honey bee
Honey bees are a subset of bees in the genus Apis, primarily distinguished by the production and storage of honey and the construction of perennial, colonial nests out of wax. Honey bees are the only extant members of the tribe Apini, all in the genus Apis...

s collect from tree buds, sap flows, or other botanical sources. It is used as a sealant for unwanted open spaces in the hive
Beehive (beekeeping)
A beehive is an enclosed structure in which some honey bee species of the subgenus Apis live and raise their young. Natural beehives are naturally occurring structures occupied by honeybee colonies, while domesticated honeybees live in man-made beehives, often in an apiary. These man-made...

. Propolis is used for small gaps (approximately 6 millimetre (0.236220472440945 in) or less), while larger spaces are usually filled with beeswax
Beeswax is a natural wax produced in the bee hive of honey bees of the genus Apis. It is mainly esters of fatty acids and various long chain alcohols...

. Its color varies depending on its botanical source, the most common being dark brown
Brown is a color term, denoting a range of composite colors produced by a mixture of orange, red, rose, or yellow with black or gray. The term is from Old English brún, in origin for any dusky or dark shade of color....

. Propolis is sticky at and above room temperature (20 °C). At lower temperatures, it becomes hard and very brittle.


For centuries, beekeepers assumed 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
  5. prevent putrefaction
    Putrefaction is one of seven stages in the decomposition of the body of a dead animal. It can be viewed, in broad terms, as the decomposition of proteins, in a process that results in the eventual breakdown of cohesion between tissues and the liquefaction of most organs.-Description:In terms of...

     within the hive. Bees usually carry waste out of and away from the hive. However if a small lizard
    Lizards are a widespread group of squamate reptiles, with nearly 3800 species, ranging across all continents except Antarctica as well as most oceanic island chains...

     or mouse
    A mouse is a small mammal belonging to the order of rodents. The best known mouse species is the common house mouse . It is also a popular pet. In some places, certain kinds of field mice are also common. This rodent is eaten by large birds such as hawks and eagles...

    , for example, finds its way into the hive and dies there, bees may be unable to carry it out through the hive entrance. In that case, they would attempt instead to seal the carcass
    Carrion refers to the carcass of a dead animal. Carrion is an important food source for large carnivores and omnivores in most ecosystems. Examples of carrion-eaters include vultures, hawks, eagles, hyenas, Virginia Opossum, Tasmanian Devils, coyotes, Komodo dragons, and burying beetles...

     in propolis, essentially mummifying it and making it odorless and harmless.


The composition of propolis varies from hive to hive, from 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
Resin in the most specific use of the term is a hydrocarbon secretion of many plants, particularly coniferous trees. Resins are valued for their chemical properties and associated uses, such as the production of varnishes, adhesives, and food glazing agents; as an important source of raw materials...

 found in the particular hive area. Honey bees are opportunists, gathering what they need from available sources, and detailed analyses show that the chemical composition of propolis varies considerably from region to region, along with the vegetation. In northern temperate
In geography, temperate or tepid latitudes of the globe lie between the tropics and the polar circles. The changes in these regions between summer and winter are generally relatively moderate, rather than extreme hot or cold...

 climates, for example, bees collect resins from tree
A tree is a perennial woody plant. It is most often defined as a woody plant that has many secondary branches supported clear of the ground on a single main stem or trunk with clear apical dominance. A minimum height specification at maturity is cited by some authors, varying from 3 m to...

s, 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 flavonoid
Flavonoids , are a class of plant secondary metabolites....

s. "Typical" northern temperate propolis has approximately 50 constituents, primarily resins and vegetable balsam
Balsam is a term used for various pleasantly scented plant products, and the plants which produce them. Balsams are oily or gummy oleoresins, usually containing benzoic acid or cinnamic acid, obtained from the exudates of various trees and shrubs and used as a base for some botanical medicines...

s (50%), wax
thumb|right|[[Cetyl palmitate]], a typical wax ester.Wax refers to a class of chemical compounds that are plastic near ambient temperatures. Characteristically, they melt above 45 °C to give a low viscosity liquid. Waxes are insoluble in water but soluble in organic, nonpolar solvents...

es (30%), essential oil
Essential oil
An essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants. Essential oils are also known as volatile oils, ethereal oils or aetherolea, or simply as the "oil of" the plant from which they were extracted, such as oil of clove...

s (10%), and pollen
Pollen is a fine to coarse powder containing the microgametophytes of seed plants, which produce the male gametes . Pollen grains have a hard coat that protects the sperm cells during the process of their movement from the stamens to the pistil of flowering plants or from the male cone to the...

 (5%). In neotropical regions, in addition to a large variety of trees, bees may also gather resin from flowers in the genera Clusia
Clusia is the type genus of the family Clusiaceae. Comprising 140-150 species, it is native to tropical and subtropical America. Its species are shrubs, vines and small to medium-size trees up to 20 m tall, with evergreen foliage...

and Dalechampia
Dalechampia is a genus of plant of the family Euphorbiaceae and of the monogeneric subtribe Dalechampiinae. It comprises about 120 species, all found in lowland tropical areas and especially in the Americas. There are ca. 90 species in the Americas and ca. 10 species each, in Africa, Madagascar,...

, which are the only known plant genera that produce floral resins to attract pollinators. Clusia resin contains polyprenylated benzophenones.
In some areas of Chile
Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...

, propolis contains viscidone, a terpene
Terpenes are a large and diverse class of organic compounds, produced by a variety of plants, particularly conifers, though also by some insects such as termites or swallowtail butterflies, which emit terpenes from their osmeterium. They are often strong smelling and thus may have had a protective...

 from Baccharis
Baccharis is a genus of perennials and shrubs in the aster family . They are commonly known as baccharises but sometimes referred to as "brooms", because many members have small thin leaves resembling the true brooms. They are not at all related to these however, but belong to an entirely...

shrubs, and in Brazil, naphthoquinone epoxide has recently isolated from red propolis, and prenylated acids such as 4-hydroxy-3,5-diprenyl cinnamic acid have been documented. An analysis of propolis from Henan
Henan , is a province of the People's Republic of China, located in the central part of the country. Its one-character abbreviation is "豫" , named after Yuzhou , a Han Dynasty state that included parts of Henan...

, China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 found sinapinic acid
Sinapinic acid
Sinapinic acid, or sinapic acid , is a small naturally occurring hydroxycinnamic acid. It is a member of the phenylpropanoid family. It is a commonly used matrix in MALDI mass spectrometry. It is a useful matrix for a wide variety of peptides and proteins...

, isoferulic acid, caffeic acid
Caffeic acid
Caffeic acid is a hydroxycinnamic acid, a naturally occurring organic compound. This yellow solid consists of both phenolic and acrylic functional groups...

 and chrysin
Chrysin is a naturally occurring flavone chemically extracted from the blue passion flower . Honeycomb also contains small amounts. It is also reported in Oroxylum indicum or Indian trumpetflower.-Aromatase inhibition:...

, with the first three compounds demonstrating anti-bacterial properties. Also, Brazilian red propolis (largely derived from Dalbergia ecastaphyllum plant resin) has high relative percentages of the isoflavonoid
Isoflavonoids are a class of flavonoid polyphenolic compounds. They are biologically active compounds, such as phytoestrogens, produced by pea family plants.Isoflavonoids are derived from the flavonoid biosynthesis pathway via liquiritigenin or naringenin....

s 3-Hydroxy-8,9-dimethoxypterocarpan and medicarpin.

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 store
Health food store
A health food store is a type of grocery store that primarily sells health food, organic foods, local produce, and often nutritional supplements...

s as a traditional medicine
Traditional medicine
Traditional medicine comprises unscientific knowledge systems that developed over generations within various societies before the era of modern medicine...

, and for its claimed beneficial effect on human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

Health is the level of functional or metabolic efficiency of a living being. In humans, it is the general condition of a person's mind, body and spirit, usually meaning to be free from illness, injury or pain...


Natural medicine practitioners use propolis for the relief of various conditions, including inflammation
Inflammation is part of the complex biological response of vascular tissues to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants. Inflammation is a protective attempt by the organism to remove the injurious stimuli and to initiate the healing process...

s, viral diseases, ulcer
Peptic ulcer
A peptic ulcer, also known as PUD or peptic ulcer disease, is the most common ulcer of an area of the gastrointestinal tract that is usually acidic and thus extremely painful. It is defined as mucosal erosions equal to or greater than 0.5 cm...

s, superficial burns or scalds.

Propolis is also believed to promote heart health, strengthen the immune system and reduce the chances of cataract
A cataract is a clouding that develops in the crystalline lens of the eye or in its envelope, varying in degree from slight to complete opacity and obstructing the passage of light...

s. Old beekeeper
A beekeeper is a person who keeps honey bees for the purposes of securing commodities such as honey, beeswax, pollen, royal jelly; pollinating fruits and vegetables; raising queens and bees for sale to other farmers; and/or for purposes satisfying natural scientific curiosity...

s recommend a piece of propolis kept in the mouth as a remedy for a sore throat. Propolis lozenge
Throat lozenge
A throat lozenge, cough drop, troche, or cough sweet is a small, medicated tablet intended to be dissolved slowly in the mouth to temporarily stop coughs and lubricate and soothe irritated tissues of the throat , possibly from the common cold or influenza...

s and tinctures can be bought in many countries. Though claims have been made for its use in treating allergies
An Allergy is a hypersensitivity disorder of the immune system. Allergic reactions occur when a person's immune system reacts to normally harmless substances in the environment. A substance that causes a reaction is called an allergen. These reactions are acquired, predictable, and rapid...

, propolis may cause severe allergic reactions if the user is sensitive to bees or bee products.

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
An antibacterial is a compound or substance that kills or slows down the growth of bacteria.The term is often used synonymously with the term antibiotic; today, however, with increased knowledge of the causative agents of various infectious diseases, antibiotic has come to denote a broader range of...

 and antifungal
* Antifungal medication, a medication used to treat fungal infection s such as athlete's foot , ringworm, candidiasis, etc.* Antifungal protein, a protein family* an adjective referring to a fungicide compound...


As a dental antiplaque agent

Propolis is a subject of recent dentistry research, since there is some evidence that propolis may actively protect against dental caries
Dental caries
Dental caries, also known as tooth decay or a cavity, is an irreversible infection usually bacterial in origin that causes demineralization of the hard tissues and destruction of the organic matter of the tooth, usually by production of acid by hydrolysis of the food debris accumulated on the...

 and other forms of oral disease, due to its antimicrobial properties. Propolis can also be used to treat canker sores. Its use in canal debridement
Root canal
A root canal is the space within the root of a tooth. It is part of a naturally occurring space within a tooth that consists of the pulp chamber , the main canal, and more intricate anatomical branches that may connect the root canals to each other or to the surface of the root.-Root canal anatomy:...

 for endodontic
Endodontics is one of the dental specialties recognized by the American Dental Association, Royal College of Dentists of Canada, and Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons, and deals with the tooth pulp and the tissues surrounding the root of a tooth...

 procedures has been explored in Brazil.

As an antitumor growth agent

Propolis' use in inhibiting tumorigenesis has been studied in mice in Japan.In pre-clinical models of human breast cancer, propolis induces cell cycle arrest, apoptosis
Apoptosis is the process of programmed cell death that may occur in multicellular organisms. Biochemical events lead to characteristic cell changes and death. These changes include blebbing, cell shrinkage, nuclear fragmentation, chromatin condensation, and chromosomal DNA fragmentation...

 and reduces expression of growth and transcription factor
Transcription factor
In molecular biology and genetics, a transcription factor is a protein that binds to specific DNA sequences, thereby controlling the flow of genetic information from DNA to mRNA...

s, including NF-κB. Notably, caffeic acid phenethyl ester down-regulates mdr-1 gene, considered responsible for the resistance of cancer cells to chemotherapeutic agents.

In musical instruments

Propolis is used by certain music instrument makers to enhance the appearance of the wood grain. It is a component of some varnishes and was reportedly used by Antonio Stradivari
Antonio Stradivari
Antonio Stradivari was an Italian luthier and a crafter of string instruments such as violins, cellos, guitars, violas, and harps. Stradivari is generally considered the most significant artisan in this field. The Latinized form of his surname, Stradivarius, as well as the colloquial, "Strad", is...


Car wax

Propolis is used to bring about a chemical reaction to convert fats and oils into automobile wax
thumb|right|[[Cetyl palmitate]], a typical wax ester.Wax refers to a class of chemical compounds that are plastic near ambient temperatures. Characteristically, they melt above 45 °C to give a low viscosity liquid. Waxes are insoluble in water but soluble in organic, nonpolar solvents...

 during application.

See also

  • Discussion of bee space in the beehive article.
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