Join the Propolise Revolution!

After the summer honey flow one honeybee crop comes in full force – propolis! Managed honeybee colonies face numerous issues – high mortality, parasites, pathogens, pesticides and poor nutrition. Propolis appears to play a role in the answer to all these questions, and research demonstrates it can mitigate the effects. Propolis is even more diverse in origin than honey, and is the bee product with the most amount of immune system benefits for humans and honeybees. It is a substance that has the potential to create new values in beekeeping, and new relationships between beekeeper and honeybee.
Why propolis is so important?
Propolis has, at the same time, a long history of human use, as well as a current renaissance in scientific research and understanding of its role in natural healthcare. Propolis is collected from plant resins, using the immune systems of trees inside the hive. Conifers are famous for it, but alder, birch, chestnut and willow all produce resins. There are a number of evolutionary benefits associated with propolis collection, in terms of its associated genetics as well as the presence of propolis in the hive. I have come across some fascinating insights from the literature on propolis, which I share below.
Resin collection is both a genetic tendency and a demand-driven process (1). Some bees in the hive are specialised propolis foragers due to their genetics. Although propolis in the hive contains compounds from hundreds of diverse plant sources, bees individually return to the same site of propolis collection, implying it is a unique part of bee intelligence, as the foraging is individualised, unlike the collective systems needed to collect pollen and nectar (2).
Colonies with high propolis-collecting behaviours, and subsequent exposure to propolis, for example on the rims and inside of cells, and on the top bars, demonstrate a number of health benefits. These include increased hygienic behaviour, and increased pollen and honey stores (3). Also demonstrated in research is: increased survival of brood from egg to adult, greater weight of emerging adults from cells, and increased worker and queen longevity (4)(5).
The mechanisms at work behind these findings:
Resin collection is response to detecting pests and pathogens in the hive. For example researchers have introduced a fungal infection A. apis into hives, which only affects larvae, and found adult bees consistently increased their resin foraging to protect their larvae. This protection of the group makes propolis making a social immunity behaviour (6). This ‘self-medicating’ pattern has been demonstrated by increased resin foraging in response to Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) infection, where propolis collecting bees are able to maintain low levels of DWV despite increasing mite numbers (7).
Propolis exposure appears to enhance the bees natural immune response systems, alongside making the hive less habitable for microbes. Experiments have shown that nurse bees in hives with propolis exposure were more quick and effective at producing antibacterial peptides in the larval food in response to being challenged with a microbial infection. There was particular success against American Foulbrood and Chalkbrood (9)(8). In particular is the compound glucose oxidase, an antimicrobial substance produced by nurse bees and found in propolis (10).
Propolis is highly concentrated with antioxidant compounds such as flavonoids and polyphenols. Propolis also enhances the bees natural detoxifying pathways. Studies have documented the role of one particular compound found in propolis called p-coumaric acid. This chemical “increased expression of detoxifying genes” (11) and produced increased life spans after exposure to insecticides as well as beekeeper applied miticide (11). The antioxidant compounds increase resistance to oxidative stress. Accumulation of oxidative stress causes damage to cells and DNA, and is what constitutes the ageing process, explaining why bees exposed to propolis appear to live longer. It has been argued by researchers that some of the phenolic compounds in honey may be derived from propolis (12).
Studies have demonstrated that bees in propolised hives had significantly higher levels of a protein called vitellogenin that is stored in the blood. High levels of this demonstrates good nutrition, and a decrease in energy costs of the immune system during the foraging season (4). This higher protein storage levels was thought by the researchers to explain over wintering success of the propolised hive, because the protein helps provide sufficient energy to perform vital early spring tasks, where colony death is most likely.
Propolis and varroa
The interaction of propolis and varroa is of particular interest. Firstly, the genetics that produce propolising behaviour are linked to other forms of hygienic behaviours which are known to produce varroa resistance (4). Furthermore, the compounds in propolis have been shown in labs to cause reduced heat production, lowered metabolism and even death of female varroa mites (13)(14). This suggests propolis can weaken mite populations to make them less able to cope with other stressors. It has also been suggested that propolis around cells reduces the number of female mites produced within each cell (4). It is widely acknowledged that chemical treatment for varroa, as well as antibiotic treatment for foulbrood, produce a wide range of issues, not least resistance. Due to the diversity of propolis compounds, this resistance and many of the contamination issues are avoided. Selecting genes for propolis collection should be part of a multi-pronged approach to genetic varroa resistance.
What is Propolise?
Propolis is a business based in North Wales making unique skin creams using beeswax and propolis. I started Propolise due to frustration at lack of effective treatments for my eczema. We keep native dark bees in an area of low-intensity agriculture and successfully do not treat for varroa. This means the propolis and wax used in Propolise creams are as free from pesticide contamination as they get! Our skin cream business is based around keeping these special genetics that are able to cope with the mite untreated.
How our beekeeping business is part of the future for sustainable business
Organic farming: all ingredients used in Propolise creams are organic, because natural skin care is reliant on agriculture, and we believe supporting organic farming is the best way to produce a change in agriculture for the better.
Native honeybees: These are an important species of conservation that is gaining more recognition in recent years. The native bee typically has evolved to produce more propolis, despite it being suppressed by beekeepers for a long time, and it is also in the native bee that the genetics of varroa resistance seem to be most prevalent in the UK. We select for native traits and varroa/disease resistance. Because propolis accumulates chemicals, it is important that the propolis that is used for humans comes from treatment free hives. Propolis for human use, native bees and varroa resistance genes are all hand in hand.
Effective skincare: Propolis has antioxidant properties that reduce damage to the skin and promote skin healing. There is much wider literature into how propolis helps humans, and in particular skin, than there is research into how propolis benefits bees. In fact propolis has been used by humans for skin conditions and wounds for thousands of years. Beeswax is also one of the best remedies for dry skin, as it provides a non-waxy barrier against water evaporation from the skin, which dries and weakens it, particular in the cold and wet of autumn and winter.
How you can get involved and support Propolise
Propolise products make the perfect gift for friends and family, and for yourself to protect and nourish your skin through the winter.
Please get in contact if you have any questions about your skin by contacting Frankie at or 07805700642.
If any beekeepers who do not use chemical treatments in the hive have fresh, good quality wax and propolis that you are interested in selling please also contact me as my business is based around treatment free beekeeping and so I pay a premium for produce from untreated hives.

(1) Nakamura, J., Seeley, T.D. “The functional organization of resin work in honeybee colonies.” Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology 60 (2006), pp. 339-349.
(2) Wilson, M.B., Spivak, M., Hegeman, A.D., Rendahl, A., Cohen, J.D. “Metabolomics reveals the origins of antimicrobial plant resins collected by honey bees.” PLOS ONE 8 (2013).
3) Nicodemo, D., De Jong, D., Couto, R.H.N., Malheiros, E.B. “Honey bee lines selected for high propolis production also have superior hygienic behaviour and increased honey and pollen stores.” Genetics and Molecular Research 12 (2013).
(4) Spivak, M., Simone-Finstrom, M., et. al. “Propolis counteracts some threats to honey bee health.” Insects 8(2) (2017).
(5) Borba, R.S., Klyczek, K.K., Mogen, K.L., Spivak, M., “Seasonal benefits of a natural propolis envelope to honey bee immunity and colony health.” Journal of Experimental Biology 218 (2015), pp. 3689–3699.
(6) Simone-Finstrom, M.D., Spivak, M., “Increased resin collection after parasite challenge: A case of self-medication in honey bees?” PLOS ONE 7 (2012).
(7) Drescher, N., Klein, A.-M., Neumann, P., Yañez, O., Leonhardt, S., “Inside honeybee hives: Impact of natural propolis on the ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor and viruses.” Insects 8 (2017).
(8) Borba, R.S. “Constitutive and Therapeutic Benefits of Plant Resins and a Propolis Envelope to Honey Bee, Apis mellifera L., Immunity and Health.” Ph.D. Thesis, University of Minnesota, Ann Arbor (2015).
(9) Niu, G., Johnson, R.M., Berenbaum, M.R. “Toxicity of mycotoxins to honeybees and its amelioration by propolis.” Apidologie 42 (2011) pp. 79–87.
(10) Zhang, C.-P., Zheng, H.-Q., Hu, F.-L. “Extraction, partial characterization, and storage stability of β-glucosidase from propolis.” Journal of Food Science 76 (2011), pp. 75–79.
(11) Johnson, R.M., Mao, W., Pollock, H.S., Niu, G., Schuler, M.A., Berenbaum, M.R., “Ecologically appropriate xenobiotics induce cytochrome p450s in Apis mellifera.” PLOS ONE 7 (2012).
(12) Mao, W., Schuler, M.A., Berenbaum, M.R., “Honey constituents up-regulate detoxification and immunity genes in the western honey bee Apis mellifera.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 110 (2013), pp. 8842–8846.
(13) Garedew A., Lamprecht I., Schmolz E., Schricker B., “The varroacidal action of propolis: a laboratory assay.” Apidologie 33 (2002) pp. 41–50.
(14) Garedew A., Schmolz E., Lamprecht I., “Microcalorimetric and respirometric investigation of the effect of temperature on the anti-Varroa action of the natural bee product – propolis.” Thermochimica Acta 399 (2003) pp. 171–180.