by Peter Cole
This is Peter the 2017 ETBA Junior Ambassador. While it might be warm outside, it is still winter which means we are feeding our many of our bees. If you have gone into your hives while it has been cold then you may have noticed how tough the propolis is. Well did you know that propolis has too many health benefits to count?
Bees make propolis with tree resin. So when the foraging bees go get water, pollen, or nectar, a small group of bees will go collect resin from tree buds, sap flows, and other parts of the tree. They come back and mix the resin with their saliva and beeswax to form a substance that is super hard and brittle in the winter, and sticky in the summer. The composition of propolis is different hive to hive and season to season. Normally, it is dark brown in color, but it can also be found in green, red, black, and white colors, depending on the sources of resin found in that particular hive’s area. The properties of the propolis depend on the exact sources used by each individual hive; therefore any medicinal properties that may be present in one hive’s propolis may be absent or vary from another’s. Analyses shows that the composition of propolis varies considerably from region to region.
In northern climates, bees collect resins from trees, such as conifers. Propolis also contains persistent lipophilic acaricides, a natural pesticide that deters mite infestations. In more southern regions, in addition to a variety of trees, bees also gather resin from flowers in the genera Clusia and Dalechampia, which are the only known plant genera that produce floral resins to attract pollinators. Honey bees are opportunists, gathering what they need from available sources occasionally, worker bees will even gather various caulking compounds made by humans when they have a hard time find the more usual sources.
Bees use propolis for many different things. For centuries it was believed that bees used propolis for sealing the hive to keep out the rain and cold. In reality ventilation is crucial to survival during winter. Bees use propolis as a reinforcement, gluing the hive makes it much more stable. Sealing alternate entrances makes the hive easier to defend.
Propolis is anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral. That makes the hive easier to defend from bacteria, viruses, and other dangerous microbes. Bees even use propolis to prevent decay in the hive. If something dies in the hive bees will take it out, if they can carry it. If a mouse or small lizard gets into the hive and dies then the bees will completely seal the animal in propolis making it odorless, harmless, and mummified.
As beekeepers we have designed ways of harvesting propolis. One is the propolis trap; some of you may know that bees have a minimum space of 3/8 inches that they need to be able to maneuver their hive. They usually maintain this measurement by filling any spaces greater than 3/8 inches with wax for extra storage. Most places smaller than 3/8 inches they fill with propolis. The propolis trap is similar in design to a queen excluder; it looks like a piece of plastic with slots throughout the plastic. The most obvious difference is that the slots are smaller than bee space so when placed under the inner cover the bees will fill the slots with propolis to prevent pests from hiding above them.
Bees are not the only ones who use propolis; humans have many uses for the bee glue as well. Its properties make it healthy and some countries use it as medicine. A tincture can be made by grinding up the propolis as much as possible and letting it sit in everclear for about 6 weeks. This tincture then can be used in a variety of ways, and you can find other ideas and uses if you check out Propolis on line. Another common use is as a varnish on guitars, violins, and other stringed instruments.
Now you know all about propolis, how bees make it, what bees do with it and what we can do with it. It’s the perfect time to get a propolis trap of your own and start your own adventure with this amazing product of the honey bee!!