A recently uncovered archeological discovery has found that humans have been beekeeping for at least 8,500 years. This long history of use has resulted in a pretty in-depth understanding of the various gifts from the hive, including Propolis.
The ancient Egyptians, Persians, Greeks and Romans all used Propolis, and it had been used in primary medicine up through WW II where it aptly became known as “Russian penicillin”. The Greeks are responsible for its current nomenclature, “pro” meaning before or in front of and “polis” for city. The likely reason for this is because bees line the entrance of their hive with Propolis, acting as a sort of bee-wash when the bees enter the hive.
Ancient Egyptians considered Propolis to be the “secret to eternal health and life”. It is also commonly thought that Propolis was a compound in the mummification mixture, not unlike how bees use it to cover the carcass of any large intruder to the hive once it has been killed so that it won’t break down and create unhealthy conditions in the hive.
Several famous healing historical authorities utilized Propolis as part of their medicine chest. Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician, wrote that it was useful to treat sores, ulcers, and bruises. The famous Roman physician, Pliny, used it to disperse tumors and thought so highly of it as a first aid remedy that he wrote Propolis “heals sores when it appears hopeless for them to mend”. It is no surprise then that Roman Legionnaires were known to carry some Propolis in their first aid pouches to apply to wounds and injuries.
The great Persian physician, Avicenna, also thought highly of Propolis’ healing potential; in an ancient manuscript he suggested its use for eczema, myalgia, and rheumatism. The Renaissance era author of one of the most influential herbals, Gerard, wrote that Propolis was useful for all types of inflammation. Propolis’ use was not only limited to European/Mediterranean cultures; for example, the Incas used it as an anti-pyretic, while the Chinese employed it for toothaches and infections.
For me, one of the most intriguing things about these historical uses is that, amazingly, most, if not all of these traditional applications have now been confirmed by modern research. All except of course the “eternal life” of the Egyptians. However a more recently discovered type of Propolis, Brazilian Red, I feel, may well be a longevity aid – more on this in an upcoming issue.
With the onset of modern medicine and the widespread use of antibiotics Propolis fell out of favor. Thankfully, researchers over the last several decades have rediscovered the healing potential of this amazing gift from the beehive. And not a moment too soon considering the growing concerns over an increasing number of microbes becoming resistant to conventional treatment. This is an area Propolis can excel at since research shows its synergistic use with antibiotics significantly decreases the likelihood of bacterial resistance developing. On top of this, thanks to a wide array of active anti-microbial compounds, bacteria are not able to develop resistance to Propolis’ bug killing actions. So you could say, Propolis’ time has finally come, and now with the research to prove it.