A natural protective barrier
In Greek, Propolis means "before the City". It's a mix of resinous, sticky and balsamic substances collected by worker bees from the buds of certain trees.
The plant resin used to build up the front of the beehive entrance as a natural barrier to protect the colony against external attacks and predators.
What is Propolis?
The Beehive's natural protective barrier
The richness of Propolis comes from the many substances it contains. They include flavonoids, phenolic acids, aromatic acids and many trace elements which make it a product unique in nature.
It is a pretty amber colour and has a viscous consistency. Bees can change the composition of their Propolis by adding secretions and wax.
A number of worker bees specialize in this difficult work. They gather the resin from buds using their tongues, mandibles and rear legs. The Propolis forms large drops which the bees bring back to the hive for several different uses:
- As a building and repair material: to glue, fill in cracks and maintain an ideal temperature for the well-being of the colony and to prevent predators from entering the beehive.
- As an antiseptic: to ensure a healthy environment for developing broods. The bees mummify the dead intruders they can't carry out of the hive to prevent the spread of bacteria.
- As thin layers: to smooth out the walls of the hive and the cells.
All of these activities ensure that the Beehive is always disinfected.
Processing and purification by beekeepers
The ideal time to harvest Propolis is during the winter because it comes off of the frames more easily.
Beekeepers harvest Propolis from the hives without disturbing the colonies by:
- Annual scraping of the hive frames
- Using perforated plastic grilles. The bees fill in the holes.
Beekeepers put the grilles in a freezer where the resin becomes brittle and easier to remove. The quantity collected depends on the surrounding vegetation and the bee species. The "Caucasian" bee yields the best harvests. Each harvest provides between 100g and 300g on average per hive per year. That's an indication of just how rare and noble Propolis is!
A little history
- The Egyptians used Propolis for sacred rites like mummification and embalming.
- Every Roman legionnaire took a small piece of Propolis with them for use during their military campaigns.
- In South America: we have clues that the ancient Inca civilization used Propolis.
- In Africa: Propolis was widely used for its many benefits during the colonial war (1880 and 1902) between the Boers, Dutch-speaking South Africans, and the British.
- In Russia: Soviet clinics used it successfully during the Second World War.