The word propolis originates from Greek: «pro» = in front and «polis» = city. The meaning “in front of the city” suits well the protecting role of propolis for the bee colony. The Greek world propolis means also to glue and describes also the role of propolis to cement openings of the bee hive. Another name of propolis is bee glue.
Propolis was already known in ancient Egypt, where it was probably used as an adhesive. Propolis was mentioned by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. It was referred to a substance which the bees smeared at the hive entrance and used as cure for bruises and sores.
The Roman scholar Plinius, postulated that it originates in the buds of different trees like willow, poplar, elm, reed and other plants. He knew of the use of propolis as glue in the hive and about its medicinal properties and described them in his 35 volumes Natural History. He says “Current physicians use propolis as a medicine because it extracts stings and all substances embedded in the flesh, reduces swelling, softens indurations, soothes pain of sinews and heals sores when it appears hopeless for them to mend.
The Arabs knew probably also about propolis. Doctor Avicenna speaks of two different kinds of wax: clean wax and black wax. The propolis. He says: “by its strong smell it makes you sneeze” and “has the characteristics to eliminating the spikes of the bolts and the stakes”. In Europe it is mentioned in the herbal literatures. Other healers in many centuries that followed also praised the use of the propolis for healing.
BEES COLLECT PROPOLIS
Bees gather resinous exudates originating mainly from buds, but also from leaves, branches and barks. Recently, this topic, especially the role of propolis in bee health has been reviewed. Indeed the principal role of propolis is to maintain an antiseptic environment in the bee hive and to enable the bee colony health. It promotes the social immunity of bees and helps them to fight infections. As propolis has strong antibacterial and fungicide properties they create a highly hygienic environment. Also, bees make a propolis “door mat” on the hive entrance, so that every bee has to step on propolis before entering and leaving the hive. Bees use propolis for the disinfection of the hive.
In the temperate zones propolis is gathered during summer until the beginning of autumn. Generally, beekeepers collect propolis by scratching off propolis present on the comb frames and in the bee hive box. Bees try always to seal cracks in their hive. This behavior is used by beekeepers for gathering propolis. For that purpose plastic nets with a mesh diameter of 2 to 4 mm are placed on top of the beehive and the bees seal them. The net filled out with propolis is taken out and is placed in the freezer. After rolling the net the propolis falls and can be easily harvested.
Propolis is composed mainly by the plant resins and exudates that bees gather. Bees add wax, and also some secretions and pollen to it. The composition of propolis depends on its botanical and thus also on its geographical origin. Several hundred different compounds have been characterized in the different propolis types. The typical components of poplar propolis are the phenolics: flavonoid aglycones, (flavones and flavanones), phenolic acids and their esters, as the volatiles.
ALLERGY AND TOXIC EFFECTS
Most allergy studies are conducted with poplar propolis. There are no reported on allergy cases of other propolis types.
Propolis is used as cream or lotions for different cosmetic purposes. Its use is based on the antibacterial, antifungal, anti-viral anti-acne, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant effects, epithelial, micro-circulation and topical anesthetic effects. Low toxicity and good skin compatibility have been demonstrated, despite the risk for allergic reactions. However, before use a test on a small skin surface should be made, if there is a propolis allergy problem.
- The antimicrobial activity of propolis is by far the most important biological property of propolis, which has deserved the highest scientific interest. In spite of the big compositional differences of the different propolis types, they all have antimicrobial activity, fungicide, antiviral and anti-parasitic effects of against harmful and pathogen organisms. The antibacterial effect of propolis is bactericidal, that means bacteria-killing, by inhibiting their mobility.
- Propolis acts against a number of parasites. Thus, it could act as a protective agent against intestinal parasites.
- An antioxidant is a molecule capable of slowing or preventing the oxidation of other molecules and so to prevent such changes. The antioxidant effect correlates roughly with the anti-inflammatory and hepatic protective activity.
- All propolis types have immune-stimulating However the active substances of the various types of propolis are different.
- The antitumor activity of propolis, shows that the chemo preventive- activity of propolis are likely to be the result of their ability to inhibit DNA synthesis in tumor cells, their capability to induce apoptosis (cell death) of tumor cells.
- Inflammation is the complex biological response of vascular tissues to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, irritants and free radicals. Anti-inflammatory activity is thus defined as the primary effect of the host defense system.
- There are numerous publications that show a positive influence of propolis on depression, Alzheimer and dementia. Polyphenols generally have a preventive function in dementia due besides to their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and neuron-protective properties. The medicinal effects of propolis are summarised in table 5, as available in original publications.
- Propolis is applied in the different dental In restorative dentistry, propolis can be used to decrease permeability of the dentin and to direct pulp capping in order to create restorative dentin. One of the aims of endodontic treatment is a complete elimination of microbes in root canals.
- The applications of propolis in gynecology and urology are based on the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects of propolis. Most successful is the treatment of the inflammation of the vagina and of the female genital area.
- The application of propolis in veterinary medicine is based on its antimicrobial properties.
- Stefan Bogdanov (Bee Product Science), The Propolis Book, 2016