February in Alberta is a slow time for bees but not always the beekeepers. As much as we’d love to take it easy with our bees, it’s a time for catching up on paperwork, equipment repairs and planning. It’s also a time when colds and flu run rampant and this is when we appreciate our bees more than ever! Propolis is our ‘go to’ natural health remedy.
Propolis is the unsung hero of apitherapy (the medicinal use of beehive products). A brief description of propolis is that it’s a bee created blend of beeswax and plant resins. This amazing concoction (used by the bees for many purposes) is a natural antimicrobial which has been used by many cultures for centuries. Documented research has revealed that its medicinal components include polyphenols, benzoic acid, caffeic acid, cinnamic acid and terpine. The chemical composition of propolis varies with what resin the bees use; what plant it came from and what climate. Interestingly the medicinal value of propolis from North American poplar trees is not that different from Brazilian tropical baccharis plants.
Raw propolis is sticky and hardens when conditions are dry and cooler than 25C. That makes it very difficult to keep in a consumable form without either creating a tincture with ethanol or freeze drying it to create a powder. That powder will quickly harden if not mixed with a dry filler -or honey!
How do beekeepers harvest propolis? A screen or porous cover is placed over the hive box when the weather has turned cool (10-15C). This stimulates the bees to collect propolis and to fill the gaps to prevent cold air and pathogens from entering the hive. Once filled, the screen is bagged, placed in a freezer for 5 minutes, removed and smacked on a hard surface to dislodge the propolis.
Stay tuned to next months Hivelights to learn about how propolis could help you!