A natural antimicrobial compound

Propolis is collected by bees from leaf buds and bark.

The word propolis was probably coined by Aristotle from the Greek words pro meaning in front of and polis meaning city. The combined meaning then becomes In front of the City or Defender of the City (or Beehive) and this is how bees use propolis. Propolis is used to construct protective walls at the hive entrances, to keep the hive warm and predators away. It also functions to eliminate contaminating microorganisms in the hive.
Propolis is derived from a variety of resinous, gummy substances harvested by bees from the buds, young shoots or tree bark of birch, poplar, alder, fir and other trees. Propolis is composed of 50-70% resins and balsams (flavonoids and related phenolic acids), 30% wax, 5-10% pollen, and 8-10% essential oils and 5% various organic compounds (Murat, 1982; Pietta et al, 2002). In the hive the bees transform these residues into a sticky substance with a brown to black color, an agreeable odor, and a bitter taste. Bees use propolis to strengthen the structure of the hive, to glue movable parts down, to varnish the interior walls of the hive, and to protect the hive from temperature variation and intruders.

The use of propolis dates back to antiquity when the resinous and glue-like properties of propolis were utilized, for example, in mummifying the dead. Propolis was and is still used in varnishes. It protects from rusting and aging. Stradivarius has been said to have used propolis varnish in his exceptional violins.
The medicinal use of propolis dates back thousands of years and there is now substantial evidence of its antimicrobial properties. Propolis was used in dressings to protect wounds from gangrene, however, most of the scientific work on the composition, pharmacological and medicinal uses of propolis have been done in the last forty years.
Propolis has antiseptic, antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties
The antibiotic value of propolis extract varies according to the source of propolis and according to how the propolis extract is prepared. Alcohol extracts of propolis have been found to have various strengths of antibacterial activity against certain bacteria such as Bacillus subtilis.
Propolis extracts also have antifungal properties. They have been used to treat cases of candidiasis. Vasiliev and coworkers (1979) published a study where they treated 40 infants with moniliasis, in which conventional therapy had failed, with a preparation composed of 30% extract of propolis in 95% alcohol, water and honey. This preparation was applied on infected areas. The treatment lasted 3-5 days. A marked improvement was already evident on the second day, with complete recovery by either the fourth or fifth day.
A 30% propolis ointment was used on chapped skin from infants where conventional therapy had failed. The ointment was applied to infected areas and all patients recovered. A 70% alcohol tincture of propolis has been found to be very effective against Microsporum ferrugineum, a member of the dermatophyte fungi, several Trichopyta and Epidermophyton floccosum, a dermatophyte infecting skin and nails but not hair. The antifungal activity varies with the source of propolis (Braileanu et al, 1978).
Propolis is effective in preventing dental caries and gingivitis (Park et al. 1998) and is used in mouthwash and toothpaste.


Medical Applications of Propolis.

Propolis is used in a number of applications including over-the-counter preparations for cold symptoms (ie upper respiratory tract infections, flu, common cold), dermatological preparations to accelerate healing of wounds and burns, acne, herpes simplex and genitalis and neurodermatitis (Burdock, 1998)
Wounds, burns and acute infections have successfully been treated with propolis. Propolis is known to have wound healing and tissue regenerative properties. In the Soviet Union, propolis ointment is utilized during post-operative treatment of the deep burn wounds at the granulation stage to hasten the healing and to prepare the wounds for dermoplasty (Atiasov et al., 1975). Propolis ointment has been shown to increase the production of epithelial cells, increase the circulation, and decrease scar-tissue. In addition, propolis ointment acts as topical analgesic and doesn't stick to the wounds, which is very important for the survival of skin grafts (Atiasov).
Propolis has long been used in dermatology in the treatment of leg ulcers, neurodermatitis and microbial and fungal dermatitis and dermatosis. For treatment of leg ulcers, for instance, either a 30% ointment or an alcoholic solution can be utilized (Ghisalberti, l.c.).
Propolis has been used in the treatment of advanced stages of pulmonary tuberculosis, especially when the traditional therapy has failed or is contraindicated. Propolis has also been used as adjuvant therapy in the treatment of cases of a non-specific bronchitis where a conventional antibiotic therapy has failed (Rux, 1978).
Certain conditions of the gastrointestinal tract also lend themselves to the treatment with propolis. Propolis was found to intensify intestinal contractions and muscle tone.
Propolis has been shown to be a nonspecific immuno-stimulator. When added in the form of alcoholic solution to an immunizing agent, propolis improved the immune response. Protective properties of immunizing agents were markedly improved by the administration of propolis.
Propolis has its uses also in otorhinolaryngology, 5% alcohol solution of propolis was used externally in otitis media simultaneously with antibiotics. All the cases studied showed improvement in 5-9 days after the initiation of the therapy. Propolis was found to be especially useful in the foot and mouth disease. All the cases were cured within 3-8 days after the initiation of the therapy. There was one case of allergy which was relieved by an oral antiallergen (Matel, 1975).
Propolis in form of aerosols has been successfully used in pediatrics in cases of nonspecific chronic pneumonia and bronchial asthma. All the children with bronchitis improved. Rux (1978) treated bronchial asthma of adults with propolis orally. The results were positive.


Technology of Propolis.

There are basically four different ways of collecting propolis; the quality of propolis varies with the method of collection. The oldest method involves scraping propolis from the fames, walls of the hives, and cloth when extracting honey twice during the season. The second method used is adjusting the frame spaces, then propolis can be chiseled when inspecting the nest. Third method is changing the cloth (usually twice a year) or polyethylene covers. This method yields the highest quality propolis. The fourth method utilizes a special grate. Two or three of the special Leikart hardwood or plastic grates are introduced into each hive and periodically removed, and propolis collected on the grates is then harvested.
At the present time there are several countries in the world, the Soviet Union, Romania, Japan, China, Poland, Canada, and the U.S., that produce propolis containing products for medical use. Honeyview Farm produces a number of products containing propolis. Propolis extracts contain flavonoids, ferulic acid, and balsam. Such preparations have antiviral and antibacterial properties and are used to treat respiratory tract ailments. Propolis tablets, containing 5% propolis, are used to treat pharyngitis. Propolis containing suppositories with royal jelly, pollen and honey are used in inflammation and erosions. Soft propolis is used also in the manufacture of cosmetics (Palos et al, 1978).



Even though propolis has been known for thousands of years, the knowledge of propolis chemical composition dates back only a few decades. During the last forty years the progress in the use of propolis in medicine has been observed in many Western societies. In medicine, however, propolis is used as an adjuvant, not as a primary therapy. Propolis cannot take the place of conventional therapy, but it is very useful as an aid to the conventional therapy. There are still many aspects of propolis that need to be explored in order to be able to utilize its potential to the fullest. Present status of our information indicates a possible preventive role of propolis in cases of the exposure to bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Propolis has very few side effects. There have been reports of allergic reactions, but are rarely encountered. The high therapeutic effect of propolis is poorly understood and needs to be explored. It has been assumed that it is linked with the chemical composition of propolis and possibly with the fact that propolis appears to stimulate the immune response. This needs to be explored further to be able to understand all the aspects of propolis preventive and therapeutic uses.

1. Atiasov, N.I., M.P., Kuprianov, V.A. (1978). The Use of Propolis Ointment in the Treatment of Wounds with Granulations.
2. Brailearu, R., Gheorshu, A., Popescu, A., Velescu, Gh. (1978). Researches on Some Pharmaceutical Forms of Propolis. In: "Propolis," Ed. V. Harnaj, Apimondia, Bucharest.
3. Burdock, G.A. (1998). Review of the Biological Properties and Toxicity of Bee Propolis (Propolis). Food and Chemical Toxicology, 36:347-363.
4. Danilov, L., N. (1978). Treatment of Skin Diseases with Propolis. In "Propolis," Ed. V. Harnaj, Apimondia, Bucharest.
5. Ghisalberti, EX. (1979). Propolis: A Review Bee World. Vol. 60(2) 59-84.
6. Park, Y.K., Koo, M.H., Abreu, J.A.S., Ikegaki, M., Cury, J.A., Rosalen, P.L. (1998) Current Microbiology 36:24–28
7. Murat, F. (1982) - Propolis: The Eternal Natural Healer, Ed. ISBN International Standard Book Number 0-9600356-48.
8. Palos, E., Petre, N., Andrei, C. (1978). The Technology of Obtaining Soft Propolis Extract for Pharmaceutical Use. In: "Propolis," Ed. V. Harnaj, Apimondia, Bucharest.
9. Pietta, P.G., Gardana, C., Pietta, A.M. (2002). Analytical methods for quality control of propolis. Filoterapia 73: Suppl. 1, S7-S20.
10.Rux, V.R. (1978). The Treatment with Propolis of Nonspecific Endobronchitis. in: "Propolis," l.c., pg. 165.
11.Vasiliev, V., Manova-Kanazireva, St., Todorov, V., Drianovski, St. (1978). Treatment with Propolis of Moniliasis and integrigo In Infants. In: "Propolis," Ed. V. Harnaj. Apimondia, Bucharest.