Propolis is a mixture of resin, essential oils and waxes It also contains amino acids, minerals, ethanol, vitamin A, B complex, E, and flavonoids. Bees use it to seal cracks in their hive, coat foreign objects as a sealant against bacteria and to coat the cells of their comb. Its antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties protect the entire colony from infection. It truly is a unique and amazing substance. For human applications, propolis is often tinctured (dissolved in alcohol). We can use it the same way the bees do, to protect us from infection. Propolis also is used to prevent cavities and to desensitize tooth pain (who doesn’t love that?)
One of the things that I love about bee products is that not only do we get to experience the inherent benefits of the product itself, whether that is honey, beeswax, bee pollen or propolis, but we also benefit from the qualities in the plants bees make them from. It is a kind of terrior, but a medicinal kind. Propolis that bees make in the desert is made from plants like chaparral and brittlebush. You can tell because when you smell the raw propolis, the scent is almost as if you are holding the very plant right under your nose. It’s fresh, pungent, and beautiful. In other parts of the country propolis often smells of pine resin.
Study the plants around you. Break their stems and know their scent. Identify which plants the bees are using for propolis. Then look up those plants to discover their medicinal attributes. The book I always recommend is Medicinal Plants of the American Southwest, by Charles Kane. Add the properties of the plants to the properties of the propolis and you’ll know what kind of medicine you’ve got hiding in your own hives. I think there must be a natural draw for bees to use the most beneficial resins to protect their colony.
How to Use Propolis
The most common way to use propolis is to make a tincture, which is simply an extract of a material dissolved in alcohol. Resin is not water soluble, so alcohol is the best means of dissolving it. Propolis can also be dissolved by a lesser degree in oil over a long period of time. This is probably the best way of extracting its benefits for use in salves. You can actually store the leftover ground propolis in oil to be used this way.
Tinctures are used straight in or on the body or diluted in water to make them more palatable. One common way to use propolis tincture is to dilute it in water and honey and use it as a spray for sore throats. It is very effective in pain relief and healing.
Instructions for making propolis tincture
You can collect propolis slowly over time as you inspect your colonies and scrape if from your inner cover and frames. Simply put it in a jar each time and over several months, depending on how much propolis your bees produce and how many hives you have, you will have enough to use. I like to make tinctures using at least 1/2 cup of propolis. You can also add a propolis trap between your frames and inner cover to speed up the process. The bees will fill in the spaces on the trap with propolis and you can simply scrape it off when full.
1. Freeze propolis for several hours: Propolis is a resin which means it is sticky, even if it feels like a rock. You want your propolis to be hard and brittle to grind it or it will gum up your grinder and not become a powder.
2. Quickly grind the frozen propolis until it is a powder. You don’t want to build up heat and make a mess in your grinder, so quickly process this. It’s better to leave a few larger pieces in than to work too long and ruin your coffee grinder. You can still use the larger pieces.
3. Pour the ground propolis into a jar and fill with alcohol. You can use vodka or Everclear. (If you use the higher alcohol content solvent then you can add water into your tincture later, but vodka is easier to find in some places.)
4. Place the jar in a cupboard or on your counter for a 2-4 weeks, shaking daily to redistribute the propolis.
5. Filter your tincture using a pour-over coffee dripper with a fine mesh metal filter or a paper coffee filter. (If you don’t have this system, get one! I filter everything through this and it is so inexpensive.)
6. Finally, store your filtered propolis in a dark dropper bottle or sealed jar in a cupboard.
Use propolis tincture as a daily supplement for your own immune system, as a mouthwash for healing your gums, or as a spray for sore throats. Please research more ways of using this amazing gift and let me know what you find.
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As always, if you have any questions about beekeeping in Arizona, or for resources you need to find here, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
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