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Wed, Nov 06, 2019

The History of Propolis

History of Beekeeping - History of Honey Bees

Before we begin to explain the history of propolis, a natural product produced by bees to protect their hives from negative external factors, it is useful to briefly mention the history of beekeeping and the history of honey bees.

According to limited information obtained as a result of excavations in different periods, the history of bees and bee products dates back to 13,000 BC. Bee hive depictions and cave paintings of that period are considered as proof of collecting honey from beehives ”, ie the first steps of beekeeping. Mankind's first beekeeping experience began when he domesticated wasps using hollow stumps, wooden containers, pots and wicker baskets. Some archaeological excavations in ancient Egypt show that honey was kept in simple wooden vessels.


Beekeeping in Ancient Period

When we come to 3100 BC, we see that the importance of apiculture in Ancient Egypt increased gradually and even reached a divine dimension. Honey bees began to be processed into hieroglyphs in the mentioned period. Even the bees were associated with the gods and the pharaohs were given the title of "Bee King". People of that period believed that the gods used bees for the production of honeys, medicines and ointments.

In ancient Egypt, propolis was used for embalming. The Egyptians surrounded the deads with propolis to prevent their body from being decayed.

When we look at ancient Greece, we see that apiculture gains a more divine dimension. According to the documents obtained about apiculture, the son of Cyrene, the god Apollon’s nymph, is considered the father of apiculture. Aristation, one of the most mysterious figures of ancient Greece, is believed to bestow humankind music and the art of beekeeping.


Propolis Usage in Ancient Civilizations

Propolis is a natural bee product known to humans for centuries and used for various purposes. Recently rediscovered propolis has been regarded as a natural source of healing for ancient civilizations for the treatment of various diseases.

When we look at the history of propolis, we see that this valuable bee product is used in a wide range from mummification to toothpaste. People have been looking for ways to take more advantage of propolis for centuries. Here are some of the prominent uses in the history of propolis.

The propolis of humans goes back to ancient times. Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire, which laid the foundations of today's civilizations, were aware of the properties of propolis and often used them as medicines. Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire, which laid the foundations of today's civilizations, were aware of the properties of propolis and often used them as medicines.

Ancient Egyptians used propolis both as embalming agents and as a sedative and curative.

After the ancient Greeks realized that propolis protected the beehive and the bees from infections, they called the product Pro (front) Polis (city), which means "defender of the city."

Having the largest armies in the world, the Roman Empire took advantage of the properties of propolis in military terms. Romans applied propolis cream to the wounds of the soldiers and gave their troops a tonic made from propolis and provided them with pre-war morale.


First Use of Propolis in Cosmetics

Roman women discovered the use of propolis in cosmetics. They used the creams from propolis to nourish their skin and body. They even called the propolis ‘woman-friendly’.

The Russians, like the Romans, used propolis in the military field.

During the First and Second World Wars, propolis was used to prevent wounds from becoming infected and to speed up the healing process. This was called ‘Russian Penicillin’.


Propolis is Now Rediscovered

Scientists have been intensifying their research on propolis since the beginning of the last century to see if it is as active and important as our ancestors thought it was.

Research on the chemical properties of propolis began at the beginning of the 20th century and continued increasingly after World War II. As a result of the researches, 180 different compounds have been identified so far.

Research on the components of propolis which are thought to be antibacterial, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antifungal and curative properties are ongoing.


Communities Using Propolis First

Propolis is at least as old as honey and has been used by people for centuries. We have mentioned that propolis is used for various purposes in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Persia and the Roman Empire. In this part of our article, we will take a closer look at the societies that first used propolis and talk about the purposes they used propolis for.

We explained that the ancient Egyptians carried the propolis to a divine dimension. Ancient Egyptians, who gave great value to bees and bee products, depicted bees producing propolis on vases and other ornaments. The process of propolis embalming is similar to the function in the hive. Bees cover the invaders, such as insects and mice, which they neutralize in the hive with propolis and wax. In this way, they prevent the deactivated invader to spread infection.

The Greek Cypriots are also among the beneficiaries of cosmetics in the field of propolis. The Greeks used propolis to form the contents of the perfume, which they obtained from various plants and called polyanthus.

It is mentioned that Hippocrates, the father of medicine, uses propolis to treat ulcers and internal-external wounds.


Treatment areas where propolis is first used 

Roman Pliny The Elder, who respects the propolis, refers to the propolis with the following words in his book “The Natural History”:

“Propolis is produced from sweet gum of vine or poplar tree and has a dense consistency. However, it cannot be called as wax. Rather, it is the basis of bee honeycombs. Propolis prevents the entrance of cold air into the beehive and prevent harmful effects by closing the inlets. It also has a strong and odor. ”

By the first century AD, Conelius wrote that Celsus used propolis to treat skin wounds and apse.

Propolis was a natural product that is well known and used in Arab geography. Avicenna (Ibn-i Sina) mentions two different waxes in his work, as one of them is clean and the other one is dark. Ibn-i Sina's mentioned dark was is thought to be propolis, the famous scientist used "it makes you sneeze with its strong odor smell" words to describe. He also wrote in his Persian manuscripts that propolis was good for eczema, myalgia and rheumatism.


Propolis in the Middle Ages

Propolis, which was extensively utilized during the Ancient Period/Age and after, lost its popularity to a great extent in the Middle Ages. In a limited number of studies made on propolis, it has been used for oral health and dental caries treatment.

In the book of “Karabadini” (Book of Treatment), written by the Georgian prince and politician in the year of 1486, the author mentions that propolis has a positive effect on the treatment of dental caries. Although the research on propolis in the Middle Ages was very limited, the use of this valuable bee product continued among the public. Propolis was especially known in Eastern European lands and was known as “Russian Penicillin” in these geographies.


Propolis in Early Modern Period

Scientists' interest in propolis has increased again with the Renaissance. Renaissance medics rediscovered and developed the old forgotten treatment methods such as propolis.

British botanist John Gerard, in his book "Generall of Plantes", published in 1597, mentioned that the healing effects of ointments are related to "resin material of black poplar tree buds". Pointing out propolis, Gerard suggested that the ointment made from poplar buds was good for all inflammations, mouth sores and similar ailments.


Propolis Discoveries Still in Progress

The discovery and use of propolis for various purposes dates back to the 300s BC. People who learned to tame bees subsequently discovered bee products and how to benefit from them.

After its discovery, propolis was used as a medicine, toothpaste, cream, ointment, drops and nutritional supplement in different societies. But the chemical content of propolis still remains much of its mystery.

What we have learned about propolis so far gives us an idea of how much potential the product has, but possible areas of application require further research.