What is propolis?

Some common misspellings include “Propolisse”, “Propolice”, “Propolys”, “Propoline”… and even “Apropolis”!

Despite the very recent reintroduction of this substance into our everyday usage, “Propolis” is not a neologism, but a word whose semantic origin is to be found in Greek etymology…

Greeks had noticed that certain breeds of bees reduced the entrance to the hive with this resin plant to defend their colony. They called it pro-polis that means in front of the city.

The word propolis also comes from the Latin verb propolire meaning to coat. Indeed, bee smeared inside the habitat of this resin to protect against microbial attacks!

Propolis is a rare natural substance made by bees.

Propolis is a unity of resinous substance, gummy and balsamic collected by bees from the buds of certain trees.

From viscous consistency, bees can alter the composition by providing some of their secretions and wax.

Only the forager bees (the oldest and most experienced bees in the hive) are assigned to this task. Their job is to collect the resins found in the buds of various plant species (such as poplar, birch, alder, elm, beech and certain conifers), and in some cases those excreted from the bark of the trees they visit.

The same bee will therefore not collect nectar, pollen or propolis in the same flight (or in the same period of its life as a bee).

When harvesting, the forager chooses, removes and shapes the resins with her mandibles, before placing them on the baskets of her hind legs.

It can take several hours for the bee to build up her ball of resin.

At the end of the harvest, she returns to the hive and positions herself near the place where the raw material is to be processed and used.

From then on, the worker bees will take the useful quantities of resin by stretching it into a thread until it breaks.

Because of its viscosity and stickiness, the resin is rarely used as it is.

So, to prevent it from getting stuck, which would be fatal for the other bees in the colony, the workers incorporate wax and their own secretions into the resins, using pharyngeal trituration, to give the product a malleable but sufficiently rigid texture.

Propolis, once removed from its vegetable source, is returned to the hive and used in different ways the bees:

  • Cement to glue the different parts of the hive, to block cracks in wood, to reduce the hive entrance to better control the passage of intruders such as mice.
  • Lagging ideal to maintain a constant temperature for brood development.
  • Antiseptic treatment of waxy cells before the laying of the queen who performs in a clean environment.
  • Biological fight, by covering the inside of their habitat with a thin film of this resin, the bees are free from diseases. Thanks to its adapted and complex composition, it protects the colony against many microbial infections, viral and fungal that threatens constantly. With this glue, for example, it mummified body of hungry honey predators ( Death’s-head Hawkmoth, small rodents…) that enter the hive and are too heavy to be evacuated once killed. Once covered with the resin, the biological body of the predator is no longer rotting and do not gangrene the colony! This shows the extraordinary potential of this outstanding product. The waxy cells in which the queen will lay its eggs are also lined with a layer of propolis to form a sterile environment for the harmonious development of the egg.
  • Embalming: a mouse has just entered the hive, probably attracted by the sweet smell of honey or just by the warmth of a shelter. Anyway the rodent has not made the right choice and ends up in a few seconds, attacked by dozens of bees on alert and ready to leave their lives to save the colony. Less than a minute will be enough to paralyze and kill the intruder, but the excitement in the hive is not declining either. The mouse is too imposing to be moved, but we have to eliminate all potential infectious hazards that may or may bring during its decomposition. Then bees establish a method of embalming with propolis on foreign body in order to completely isolate the internal environment of the hive. In an Egyptian mummy style, the mouse will gradually be dehydrated without decomposition and could cross through the ages without presenting any evidence of modification!

In conclusion, propolis ensures the health of the bee.

What are the active ingredients in propolis?

The chemical composition of propolis can vary depending on a number of factors, such as the geographical region, the plant species available and the season. Propolis is a complex substance containing almost 400 compounds, many of which act in a complementary (synergistic) manner.

Here are the main chemical components generally found in propolis:

  • VEGETABLE RESINS: Bees collect resins from different plants, such as conifers, poplars, birches, willows, etc.
  • BEESWAX: Bees add beeswax to propolis to make it more malleable.
  • POLYPHENOLS: These are chemical compounds present in propolis that have antioxidant properties. Flavonoids, in particular, are polyphenols commonly found in propolis. They represent the large family of plant pigments. The main flavonoids found in propolis are chrysin, pinocembrin, galangin, quercetin and pinobanskin, all of which have broad-spectrum anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial action. They act on a systemic level to combat pathogens. These molecules protect against oxidative stress by preventing damage from singulated oxygen. They are excellent antifungal and antispasmodic agents!
  • PHENOLIC COMPOUNDS AND AROMATIC ACIDS: Each of these compounds and acids has a very specific therapeutic activity. These include caffeic, ferulic, benzoic, cinnamic and coumaric acids, etc. These in particular are recognised for their antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory effectiveness.
  • TERPENES: Anethol, eugenol, alpha-pinene, geraniol, etc. are terpene derivatives of plant origin and have much the same properties, mainly antiseptic and aromatic.
  • ESSENTIAL OILS: Propolis contains essential oils from the plants it collects, giving it its characteristic aroma. Pinene, eugenol, guiaol and others are well known for their antiseptic power.
  • VITAMINS AND OLIGO-ELEMENTS: Almost all the trace elements that are essential for good health are represented. There are even traces of gold, and more commonly magnesium, zinc, aluminium, iron, copper, silicon, strontium, nickel, etc.

It is important to note that the specific chemical composition of propolis can vary from one region to another, and can have different effects on health. The beneficial properties of propolis are attributed to the synergy of the different compounds present in its composition.

What does propolis taste like?

A spicy flavour

Compared with honey, propolis may seem less pleasant to the palate because it is not sweet. However, the taste of propolis is no less bad: natural, it is very fragrant and woody.

Numerous products presenting propolis as an active ingredient are available on the market (notably sprays, lozenges or syrups for the throat), and these may have a very mild taste. If this is the case, don’t attribute this smoothness to propolis! What you should know first and foremost is the good, effective propolis is spicy in the mouth – this attests to its action!

What are the different types of propolis?


We often talk about THE propolis, but this is not quite true! There are a large number of specific varieties determined by the botanical origin of the plants foraged. Each propolis chemotype has a particular composition that gives it predominant characteristics. To facilitate classification, a colour code is commonly used.

  • Brown propolis : particularly active for bacterial, parasitic and fungal infections, originating in Europe.
  • Red propolis, with specific antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, which finds its geobotanical origin in
  • Green propolis found in Brazil offers very powerful antioxidant properties.

Despite the purification processes, a propolis extract retains its colour, as with certain essential oils. It is therefore quite normal for a product containing propolis to be tinted, rather than white or transparent!.


Come and visit La Miellerie du Salagou

Near Lake Salagou in Occitanie, stop off to discover the world of bees and the virtues of propolis in particular!

You’ll also have the opportunity to taste a wide range of honeys and discover their diversity!