Propolis vs Covid

Bernie wears his Covid mask while I prepare to open my hive.

I think propolis is the most underrated product of the hive. Bee stings can be a wonderful therapy for autoimmune disorders while honey and pollen are wholesome foods with strong and vocal advocates. Meanwhile, I think that royal jelly is much over-rated – it does not extend human longevity and it can only be produced by murdering future queens.

The sticky stuff ringing the hive cover’s feeding hole is propolis. I had a small cover over the drilled-out hole and bees glued it in place.

That leaves propolis, the underrated sibling of hive products. I have seen it cure mouth sores, skin disorders, and reduce the annoyances of colds.

Honey bees gather propolis resin from the buds of poplars and coniferous trees. Honey bees gather the tacky stuff to seal cracks and holes in their hive, especially in preparation for winter. Greeks named it ‘propolis’ as they noticed that it was found ‘pro’ (before) a ‘polis’ (city) of bees. But bees may also smear a thin veneer of propolis over foreign intruders inside the hive. If, or example, a grasshopper enters the hive, dies, and can’t be removed, bees entomb the dead body in  propolis, which limits the spread of bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Propolis has strong antibiotic properties, so it’s not surprising that scientists have tested its efficacy against Covid-19. A January 2021 paper – not yet peer-reviewed –  reports the results of treating three randomized groups of 120 hospitalized patients: using a placebo, a 400-mg/day dose, and an 800-mg dose/day of propolis. There was little difference between the propolis dosage levels tested, but both significantly outperformed the placebo. People treated with propolis recovered and left the hospital several days earlier. Here’s the paper’s abstract, published January 8, 2021:

Among candidate treatment options for COVID-19, propolis, produced by honey bees from bioactive plant exudates, has shown potential against viral targets and has demonstrated immunoregulatory properties. We conducted a randomized, controlled, open-label, single center trial, with a standardized propolis product (EPP-AF) on hospitalized adult COVID-19 patients.

Patients received standard care plus propolis at an oral dose of 400mg/day (n=40) or 800mg/day (n=42) for seven days, or standard care alone (n=42). Standard care included all necessary interventions, as determined by the attending physician. The primary end point was the time to clinical improvement defined as the length of hospital stay or oxygen therapy dependency. Secondary outcomes included acute kidney injury and need for intensive care or vasoactive drugs.

Time in the hospital after intervention was significantly shortened in both propolis groups compared to the controls; median 7 days with 400mg/day and 6 days with 800mg/day, versus 12 days for standard care alone. Propolis did not significantly affect the need for oxygen supplementation. With the higher dose, significantly fewer patients developed acute kidney injury than in the controls (2 versus 10 of 42 patients). Propolis as an adjunct treatment was safe and reduced hospitalization time. The registration number for this clinical trial is: NCT04480593 (20/07/2020).

Although the paper is not peer reviewed, it’s worth a view and may be solid. One of the authors is David De Jong, whom I respect. The paper will likely be peer-reviewed, but that could take months. Promulgating potential treatments now seems reasonable – especially when the curative agent has been used for generations to reduce cold and flu effects.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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16 Responses to Propolis vs Covid

  1. Erik says:

    Nice use of the Bernie!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing this Ron! Dad always called propolis ‘bee medicine’.
    And those are a really nice pair of Moccasins too by the way!♥️

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This may be an incentive for more beekeepers to save the propolis from their hives.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Anonymous says:

    I really don’t think that this belongs under bad bee keeping. I eat raw Propolis straight from hive when ever II get A lump about size of half chicklet, don’t chew it because you cannot remove stain from your teeth. Good for lots of ails probably more than we think.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Make an extract in high proof alcohol. air for at least 10% propolis in the “tincture”, then put about 30 drops in a little water – 100 mL, or about half a cup, and gargle and then swallow. Start with 10 drops if you are not used to the taste. can add honey to help get it down. – check out:
    Berretta, Andresa Aparecida; Silveira, Marcelo Augusto Duarte; Capcha José Manuel Cóndor; De Jong, David (2020). Propolis and its potential against SARS-CoV-2 infection mechanisms and COVID-19 disease. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy 131: 110622.


    • Ron Miksha says:

      Hi David,
      It sounds easy enough. Most of us have high-proof alcohol on hand (for medicinal purposes), but how do we know when it’s reached >10%?
      Many thanks for the paper you and your colleagues wrote.


      • David De Jong says:

        Ron 10-11% is the most common tincture concentration here. If you weigh the propolis, calibrate to the amount of ethanol you dissolve it in, taking into account how much material is left that does not get dissolved, you should be OK. Does not have to be exact. Try to use propolis as clean as possible, break it down as fine as you can before dissolving – freezing before can help to make it easier to break into a fine “powder”. If done that way, normally would let it sit and stir every day for a week – sealed to not evaporate the alcohol. That is how it was done 40 years ago here, when I first arrived. Now it is done by numerous companies and the products found in every pharmacy in the country – Brazil. Here companies can evaporate the alcohol and then make an aqueous solution mixed with honey, convenient for mouth sprays. Some propolis types are superior. Our most famous is Brazilian green propolis from Baccharis dracunculifolia. More than 12 types of propolis documented here. From a backyard made in the kitchen product, graduated to a commercial good for health bee product (though not officially a medicine). In some regions the main hive product is propolis, and honey a long second.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ron Miksha says:

        Hi David,

        This is fascinating. Thank you for the background. Your method of preparing this natural “medication” is quite clear and could be employed by many beekeepers. I did not see mention of any observed allergic reactions, though the paper notes that potential subjects with known hypersensitivity to propolis were removed from the study. I mention this as a reminder to beekeepers, who may be thinking of making this product, to exercise caution.

        I am quite surprised to learn that “In some regions the main hive product is propolis, and honey a long second.” Certainly, propolis has more medicinal value than honey (though I hasten to add that I love honey). The importance of propolis in Brazil is extremely interesting. It makes me wonder if some species of native bees, which produce little honey, also gather propolis in some regions. I imagine that propolis has been produced by indigenous people as a medicine in Brazil for centuries, or at least since the arrival of the western honey bee.

        You addressed an important question that I wanted to ask: is there an effectiveness variation among propolis resins gathered from various plant sources? You indicate that there indeed is a difference, with members of Baccharis producing particularly potent propolis. I have no idea how many different types of propolis are here in western Canada, nor do I know their relative effectiveness. I do know that a tincture which I made some years ago successfully treated an extremely stubborn and painful case of eczema for a child of ten when his mother applied my propolis for several days to the child’s affected skin.

        Finally, I’d like to note that if any readers would like to see an example of packaged propolis tinctures and sprays, they may investigate the website of Apis Floris, which is located in Brazil.

        Thanks again for providing these details, Dr DeJong!
        – Ron


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