Power Plus Protection – Honey + Propolis

When your job is to make one of the best natural food sources in the world, your next job is to protect it! 

Today we’re taking a closer look at Propolis, the material bees make to keep their hives safe, healthy and microbe-free which begs the question, can it do the same for us?


Honey has been a prized food source for generations of humans.  Our ancestors learned to read bee behaviour and recognise signs of their presence so they might share in their rich, life-sustaining bounty!  Ancient humans knew of honey’s life-giving powers long before we could map, measure and understand its chemistry - the abundance of slow-release sugars, it’s diverse array of antioxidants and its potent anti-microbial activity.   They also recognised the value of the material that protected this sweet, aromatic prize.  A tacky, glue-like substance with a waxy consistency and strong, slightly bitter balsamic odour and taste.  We now call this material Propolis, a word that means ‘At the entrance of the city’ in ancient Greek. Propolis has been protecting and defending bees since time began and if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us!

Bees make Propolis by reacting the resinous materials and pollen they collect from their plant foraging with salivary enzymes.  The result is a substance that comprises of around 55% resins and balsams, 30% beeswax, 10% aroma chemicals and 5% pollen.  Of this, the resins and aromatic components are most beneficial to our wellbeing as it is here where we find the polyphenolic antioxidants.

Antioxidants help us retain optimal health by neutralising free radicals that would otherwise cause inflammation, irritation, disease and damage. We come into contact with free radicals all the time through our diet, UV exposure, smoke inhalation, pollutants and toxins, mental or physical stressors and as part of our natural ageing process.   Avoiding free radicals is as impossible as it is unnatural so instead we do our best to keep ourselves healthy by investing in good diet and lifestyle choices that keep our antioxidant tanks full!

 Many different antioxidants exist to neutralise the numerous free radicals we encounter and each one can be measured via its own test protocol.  The three most common antioxidant tests show propolis dramatically outperforms honey with an antioxidant capacity that’s up to 160 times as effective!  An amazing feat given honey is already prized for its antioxidant capacity.

 To get the best result from Propolis we need to concentrate the antioxidant-rich portion of its chemistry and remove the less-useful waxy components.  This can be done in many ways, the most efficient being alcohol extraction. 

Alcohol is mixed with the raw propolis to solubilise the antioxidant polyphenolics and flavonoids while separating out the waxes and heavy oils. Once all the good stuff has been transferred to the alcohol, it can be evaporated off, leaving behind the pure, clean and highly concentrated antioxidant Propolis extract. This is now ready to use as a nutritional supplement, skincare additive or complimentary medicine active. 



 Propolis is made by all types of bees and is found all over the world. While the antimicrobial and antioxidant capacity  of honey is strongly influenced by the botanicals the bees have visited,  propolis seems less influenced this way.  While comparative studies of propolis from hives located all around the world have found differences in propolis chemistry based on location and foraging behaviour,  this didn’t translate to a significant difference in antioxidant or antimicrobial activity.  In its raw state propolis is a highly complex material containing up to 500 unique chemicals. With so many things contributing to Propolis’s power, it’s not surprising we can’t pin its activity down to one or two special plant species or one or two special regions!

 Propolis quality is typically measured by its antioxidant activity and that may be referred to as its total flavone and flavonol content, it’s total phenolic content or its total flavone and dihydroflavonol content but however we describe its chemistry, it’s clear propolis packs a powerful antioxidant punch!

 Propolis is currently experiencing an upsurge in scientific attention, especially in the health care field as old materials are revisited in a bid to counter antibiotic resistance and ward off new infections and diseases, a great example of which is in dentistry.

 Ayurvedic dentistry has utilized propolis for its anti-inflammatory, anti-cavities, disinfecting and hypersensitivity reducing powers for the last 3000 years.  Modern analytical methods have allowed the scientific community to gain greater insight into the chemistry of propolis which in turn has led to a more thorough understanding of how propolis works and its limitations.  Much of the current research is around optimising results,  standardising material quality and reducing the potential for allergies, outcomes that will be of benefit whatever product propolis finds itself in!

 As well as topical application, many traditional medicine practices recommend taking propolis internally for its health-promoting benefits. There is a growing interest in using propolis for the management of blood sugar levels, interest in its immunomodulating activity as well as a general buzz around its health-boosting antioxidant powers (super-food potential).  Again,  scientific advances have led to a deeper understanding of how polyphenol and flavonoid antioxidants work in the body and especially how they impact our blood pressure, blood sugars and general health status. 

 Propolis plus honey is power plus protection.  Honey provides us with the power boost we need to get through the day and propolis helps us recover from whatever damage we encounter while doing it!  This pairing has had bee’s seal of approval since time began and we’re excited to see our human science catching up. 

 Amanda Foxon-Hill







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