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Propolis has been used for thousands of years by ancient civilisations around the world. Its use dates back to 350 B.C. when the Greeks used it to treat abscesses, the Romans used it as a mouth disinfectant, the Egyptians used it to embalm mummies and the Assyrians coated their wounds to fight infection and speed up the healing process. Propolis was listed as an official drug, in 17th century London. Due to its antibacterial activity, it became very popular in Europe between the 17th and 20th centuries. Propolis was widely used during World War II due to its healing properties.
The word ‘propolis’ is derived from Greek; ‘pro’ meaning “at the entrance to” and ‘polis’ meaning “community” or “city”. This alludes to the use of the substance by bees for hive defense and repair.
Propolis is commonly used for treating wounds, reducing swelling, boosting the immune system and fighting infections. It helps to minimise healing time and speed up new cell growth when applied to open wounds, cold sores and skin burns. Propolis can also be used for diabetes, mouth ulcers, acne, canker sores and genital herpes.
Propolis has even been suggested as a complementary treatment for cancer as it may possibly slow down the multiplication of cancerous cells and block the pathways that cancerous cells use to signal one another.
The specific composition of propolis will vary from place to place, depending on what trees and flowers the bees have access to. For example, the propolis in South Africa will be different from the propolis in Europe. This makes it difficult for researchers to reach general conclusions about its health benefits.
Propolis is produced by bees around the world.
Propolis is hard to find in raw form, but all beehives will contain the substance.
Propolis production is directly linked to beehives, so conservation efforts that aim to protect bees and promote hive health will also benefit the production of propolis.
Propolis is a sticky wax-like substance created by bees. It is a combination of tree sap, beeswax and natural discharge. It has a pleasant, aromatic smell and varies in colour, from yellow to a rich, dark brown, depending on its source and age. Bees use it as a coating to build their hives, for sealing cracks and smoothing out internal walls. In general, raw propolis is composed of 50% resins, 30% waxes, 10% essential oils, 5% pollen and 5% various organic compounds.
Propolis can be applied directly to the skin or swallowed as a supplement. It can also be used as a mouth rinse to treat ulcers and promote healing after mouth surgery. Extracts of propolis are commonly used in various remedies.
There is no medically-recommended dose because more research still needs to be done. However, one scientific study suggests that 70 to 80 milligrams of propolis, twice per day, is ideal. Use the information on the product label as a guideline and consult a medical professional before taking propolis supplements.
Scientists have found over 300 compounds in propolis – the majority of which are polyphenols and flavonoids. Benzoic acids, cinnamic acid, sesquiterpene, triterpene hydrocarbons, ketones, heteroaromatic compounds, terpenes, minerals; sterols and sugars are among the most common ingredients in propolis.
Scientists agree that all forms of propolis have medicinal benefits, especially antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties.
Beehives face numerous threats, such as habitat loss. However, the biggest threat to bee populations around the world is agriculture and the use of pesticides on crops. Bees pollinate crops, but when they come into contact with insecticides and other agricultural chemicals, it can wipe out entire hives very quickly.
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