Honey bees are best known for making honey, and to a lesser degree, for making beeswax. But honey bees also make another product – bee propolis. Just what is bee propolis?
Bee propolis is a sticky, brown substance sometimes known as bee glue. The honey bees gather tree resin, the main ingredient in propolis, from buds and cracks in the bark. The bees add salivary secretions to the resin by chewing on it, and add beeswax to the mix. Propolis has a little pollen in it, too. When analyzed, propolis contains about 50% resin, 30% wax and oils, 10% salivary secretions, 5% pollen, and 5% amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.
The honey bee workers use propolis as a construction material, similar to plaster or caulk. They cover the interior surfaces of the hive with it, and fill any gaps and cracks. Bees also use it to strengthen their honeycomb. In a man-made hive box, the bees will use propolis to seal the lid and hive boxes together. The beekeeper uses a special hive tool to break the propolis seal and remove the lid.
Propolis is known to have antimicrobial properties, and many scientists are studying the potential uses of propolis as a therapy for certain diseases. Propolis is particularly effective at killing the microorganisms that cause gum disease. It has also been shown to be effective at inhibiting the growth of certain cancers.