Propolis is a resinous mixture that honey bees collect from tree buds, sap flows, or other botanical sources. It is used as a sealant for unwanted open spaces in the hive. Propolis is used for small gaps (approximately 6 millimeters (0.24 in) or less), while larger spaces are usually filled with beeswax. Its color varies depending on its botanical source, the most common being dark brown. Propolis is sticky at and above room temperature, 20 °C (68 °F). At lower temperatures, it becomes hard and very brittle.
For centuries, beekeepers assumed that bees sealed the beehive with propolis to protect the colony from the elements, such as rain and cold winter drafts. However, 20th century research has revealed that bees not only survive, but also thrive, with increased ventilation during the winter months throughout most temperate regions of the world.
Propolis is now believed to:
- reinforce the structural stability of the hive;
- reduce vibration;
- make the hive more defensible by sealing alternate entrances;
- prevent diseases and parasites from entering the hive, and to inhibit bacterial growth;
- prevent putrefaction within the hive. Bees usually carry waste out of and away from the hive. However if a small lizard or mouse, for example, finds one's way into the hive and dies there, bees may be unable to carry it out through the hive entrance. In that case, they would attempt instead to seal the carcass in propolis, essentially mummifying it and making it odorless and harmless.
The composition of propolis varies from hive to hive, from district to district, and from season to season. Normally it is dark brown in color, but it can be found in green, red, black, and white hues, depending on the sources of resin found in the particular hive area. Honey bees are opportunists, gathering what they need from available sources, and detailed analyses show that the chemical composition of propolis varies considerably from region to region, along with the vegetation. In northern temperate climates, for example, bees collect resins from trees, such as poplars and conifers. (The biological role of resin in trees is to seal wounds and defend against bacteria, fungi and insects.) "Typical" northern temperate propolis has approximately 50 constituents, primarily resins and vegetable balsams (50%), waxes (30%), essential oils (10%), and pollen (5%). In neotropical regions, in addition to a large variety of trees, bees may 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. Clusia resin contains polyprenylated benzophenones. In some areas of Chile, propolis contains viscidone, a terpene from Baccharis shrubs, and in Brazil, naphthoquinone epoxide has recently isolated from red propolis, and prenylated acids such as 4-hydroxy-3,5-diprenyl cinnamic acid have been documented. An analysis of propolis from Henan, China found sinapinic acid, isoferulic acid, caffeic acid, and chrysin, with the first three compounds demonstrating anti-bacterial properties. Also, Brazilian red propolis (largely derived from Dalbergia ecastaphyllum plant resin) has high relative percentages of the isoflavonoids 3-Hydroxy-8,9-dimethoxypterocarpan and medicarpin. Poplar resin is rich in flavonoids. Caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE) is also a component of propolis.
Occasionally, worker bees will even gather various caulking compounds of human manufacture, when the usual sources are more difficult to obtain. The properties of the propolis depend on the exact sources used by each individual hive; therefore any potential medicinal properties that may be present in one hive's propolis may be absent from another's, and the distributors of propolis products cannot control such factors. This may account for the many and varied claims regarding medicinal properties, and the difficulty in replicating previous scientific studies investigating these claims. Even propolis samples taken from within a single colony can vary, making controlled clinical tests difficult, and the results of any given study cannot be reliably extrapolated to propolis samples from other areas.
Medical uses 
||This section needs more medical references for verification or relies too heavily on primary sources. (February 2013)|
Propolis is also believed to promote heart health and strengthen the immune system. One study has shown that it reduced the chances of cataracts in rat pups. Old beekeepers recommend a piece of propolis kept in the mouth as a remedy for a sore throat. Propolis lozenges and tinctures can be bought in many countries. Though claims have been made for its use in treating allergies, propolis may cause severe allergic reactions if the user is sensitive to bees or bee products.
Some of these claims are being clinically investigated and several studies are published in the biomedical literature. Since the chemical composition of propolis varies depending on season, bee species and geographic location, caution must be applied in extrapolating results (as above).
As an antimicrobial 
As an emollient 
As an immunomodulator 
As a dental antiplaque agent 
Propolis is a subject of recent dentistry research, since there is some evidence that propolis may actively protect against dental caries and other forms of oral disease, due to its antimicrobial properties. Propolis can also be used to treat canker sores. Its use in canal debridement for endodontic procedures has been explored in Brazil.
As an antitumor growth agent 
Propolis' use in inhibiting tumorigenesis has been studied in mice in Japan. In pre-clinical models of human breast cancer, propolis induces cell cycle arrest, apoptosis and reduces expression of growth and transcription factors, including NF-κB. Notably, caffeic acid phenethyl ester down-regulates mdr-1 gene, considered responsible for the resistance of cancer cells to chemotherapeutic agents.
As a radioprotector 
Commercial uses 
In musical instruments 
Propolis is used by most stringed instrument makers (violin, viola, cello and bass) to enhance the appearance of the wood grain. It is a component of some varnishes and its distinctive smell is easily recognizable in a luthier's shop. Propolis was undoubtedly used by Antonio Stradivari and his luthier colleagues of the time.
In food 
Propolis is used by some chewing gum manufacturers to make propolis gum.
Car wax 
See also 
- Discussion of bee space in the beehive article.
- R Krell 1996. value-added products from beekeeping FAO AGRICULTURAL SERVICES BULLETIN No. 124 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Rome
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