It isn't an herb but it comes from the sap of conifers and poplar trees. It's so effective that the name essentially meant "defense of the city" in ancient Greek. And unlike many natural healing substances it was specifically designed for the purposes we use it for. It just wasn't designed by humans.
That's propolis, the superhero of natural healing.
It's concocted by bees specifically to be antimicrobial and anti-fungal. To them it's literally the "defense of the city." They form a kind of gunk from sap and other specially selected plant materials and use it to patch their hives and cover up anything gross or infectious in the hive. Sometimes called "bee glue," it's sticky and eminently unwashable but for all that it can be used for serious medicinal power.
There are two words of caution about propolis. First of all, it can be an issue for people with allergies,. particularly bee allergies. It is never entirely free of bee products and enzymes, no matter how purified it is. So, be cautious with it if you have any sort of bee allergies or other serious allergies.
The second issue is simply the practical considerations of use. Propolis doesn't dissolve in water much at all. It dissolves reasonably well in alcohol and some in glycerin. As such, it's most effective when used as a tincture. Some people also just chew a piece for mouth infections and colds. But tincture is the most common form and the resulting mixture is very potent and usually bright yellow. It will coat anything it touches with an unwashable layer of bright yellow, including your teeth.
Mind you, it's very good for your teeth and would be great for preventing cavities, but your teeth would look horrible for a couple of days. So, most people try to knock it back to the back of the throat and swallow it without letting it touch their teeth. This is tricky and even the glass you use will be impossible to clean with anything but strong alcohol. (Paper cups are a good option with proplis.)
Yes, there are sanitized versions of propolis you can buy that aren't sticky and don't turn everything they touch bright yellow. But I suspect those preparations have so little propolis in them that they don't contain enough of the medicinal qualities. I have a toothpaste that supposedly contains propolis and it's okay but nothing spectacular. It also is only very mildly yellow.
I like the taste of many bitter herbal remedies but I'm not personally fond of propolis, even though many people describe the taste as pleasant. I do take it, however, because there is nothing that will deal with fungal infections or a sore throat like propolis. It can compete well with many synthetic antibiotics and fungicides and is far better for you.
You can usually obtain propolis from bee keepers. The best way to process it is:
- Freeze the pieces.
- Then crush them with a hammer or mortar and pestle while they're still frozen and brittle.
- Put the resulting powder into a jar you are prepared to devote to propolis tincture forever.
- Pour 80 to 100 percent alcohol over it. About one part propolis to two parts alcohol is recommended.
- Shake well and let it sit for a couple of weeks.
- I've been told that some people strain the stuff but I have never found anything that will strain the liquid without becoming immediately plugged by the propolis itself. Instead, I let it settle and skim the more liquid tincture off the top of the jar for use.
Here are some of the ways natural healers are using propolis extracts, according to the latest research.
- Gargle with propolis tincture diluted in water for sore throats, thrus, cancer sores and other mouth infections. The tincture applied topically in the mouth and throat is very effective. Swallowing it also has systemic immune boosting and antimicrobial results.
- A study found that propolis is superior to the drug acyclovir in fighting genital herpes. It is also used for cold sores around the mouth for the same reason.
- Propolis shows significant antimicrobial activity in the treatment of peridontitis, a stubborn mouth infection.
- Propolis is used for sores and bacterial infections (including tuberculosis). It is also active against many viruses (including influenza, H1N1 swine flue and common colds)
- Propolis fights fungus and infections of single-celled organisms called protozoans.
- People sometimes apply propolis directly to the skin for wound cleansing abd as an oral rinse for speeding healing following surgery around the mouth, nose and throat.
- Propolis is used to treat chronic ear infections in children with a history of ear infections and no known cure.
- A study from the 1990s showed the usefulness of propolis extracts in preventing viral respiratory infections or colds in children in preschools and schools.
- Studies are ongoing with exciting findings about how propolis and its flavonoid constituents protect human white blood cells from radiation sicknesses.
- New research is showing incredible anti-cancer potential in propolis compounds. It is already being used to treat cancers of the nose and throat; for boosting the immune system; and for treating gastrointestinal problems.
- Caffeic Acid phenethyl ester (or CAPE) is a molecular compound found in propolis and almost nowhere else. CAPE has grabbed the interest of researchers for its medicinal properties, but its anti-cancer capacity is the most stunning. A study from the "Journal of Radiation Research" shows that only two days after being exposed to a medicinal compound with CAPE, "46% of lung cancer cells had been destroyed and the cancer growth was reduced by 60%. Three days after the treatment 67% of cancer cells were dead." Other studies have found that CAPE prevents the growth of colon cancer cells and induces cell death of the malignant cells without harming healthy cells. Other types of cancer cells also respond to treatment with the CAPE in propolis, including breast, gastric, skin and pancreatic cancer and glioma cells, a form of inoperable brain cancer. When propolis is used as a whole the effects are even better than with isolated CAPE compounds.
Propolis is one of the more advanced medicinals I have featured here. I do so simply because of the fantastic results, though I do caution that it is more difficult to use than many herbs and it's good to get a licensed herbalist's or doctor's individualized advice with a lot of these health concerns.
I love to hear from you and I'd especially like to hear of the experience of other homecrafting herbalists with propolis. Drop a note and be sure to share this post in order to spread up-to-date information.