A voice for
herbal medicine

We share traditional, scientific and practical insights written by experienced herbalists and health experts from the world of herbal medicine and natural health

Propolis is useful as an all-purpose antimicrobial and antiseptic


Propolis Propolis is made by honey bees

Everywhere that humans have been in companionship with honey bees over the millennia, we have used this wonderful substance to treat a wide range of ailments, from wounds and acute infections, to long-term chronic conditions.

Sustainability Status

Sustainability status

At risk from overharvesting and habitat loss. Read more about our sustainability guide.

Key benefits
  • Antiseptic
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidant
  • Antibacterial
  • Anti-fungal
  • Anti-cancer
  • Immunomodulatory
  • How does it feel?

    The propolis itself starts off crunchy, and quickly changes to waxy and a little sticky as you chew it. While each colony produces propolis with its own unique character, it will always have faint but noticeable floral notes, followed by a very apparent medicinal quality, a bit like TCP.

    It is slightly astringent, and usually tingly on the tongue. Because it is a resin, tinctures are made with high strength alcohol (70% or higher), so the floral notes are normally lost in the end product, while the tingly medicinal quality is stronger.

  • What can I use it for?

    Popolis and bees wax
    Propolis and bees wax

    Propolis is an excellent addition to the First Aid cabinet. The powdered resin can be used directly on open wounds, mouth ulcers, cold sores or any open infection (using the tincture is also good but the 70% alcohol will sting!). It has an affinity for the mouth and gums, and is thus very useful for gingivitis and other dental issues (3). As an internal medicine it can be used alone or in conjunction with other herbs to treat respiratory tract infections, food poisoning, and other acute infections. It has shown good protective effects against coronaviruses, including Covid, both in the acute phase and during recovery (4).

    For more long-term issues, such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer and other degenerative disease, propolis helps to normalise the issues at hand. While the mechanisms of action are not well understood, propolis can help to lower blood glucose levels, support and normalise cardiovascular issues, and some studies on cells have shown it to have protective effects against cancer, though clinical trials are needed (5–7).

     As an immunomodulatory and anti inflammatory, propolis is particularly useful as an adjuvant treatment for autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, coeliac disease, and even multiple sclerosis (8–11).

    As a nasal spray, it can be useful for problems associated with the nasal passages such as sinusitis and hayfever (12). Yet, be cautious about the preparation: a 70% tincture will aggravate more than it will help!

    Because it is so rich in vitamins and minerals, propolis is also used as an ingredient for skin care preparations. Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties can help to alleviate all kinds of skin issues, and because it doesn’t clog the pores it is a good medicine for problems ranging from acne to rosacea (13).

  • Into the heart of propolis

    Propolis and bee honey
    Propolis and bee honey

    Propolis is a profound medicine. Hundreds, even thousands, of bees have devoted their precious time and energy to make this substance by dint of hard work, their body fluids, and community spirit. While they do this work by instinct, we humans harvest it with specific intention, and in hope of help.

    Because honey bees live in community and embedded in their local area, the propolis harvested from a particular hive carries the characteristics of the local environment, and the qualities of clan and kinship. The flowers, weather, mood, climate and energy around the hive imprints on the honey, and also the propolis. The long and deep connection between honey bees and humans, which speaks to comradeship, mutual respect, and guardianship, is also present in propolis medicine. 

    When we use propolis as medicine, we are accessing the energy and kinship of the hive. Think of the medicine inherent in the bread you make, the food you share, or in any gift you give to others: propolis similarly holds the impressions of the making, as well as the inherent medicinal properties.

  • Traditional uses

    Bees make propolis
    Bees make propolis

    In Ancient Egypt, propolis was used in the embalming process to prepare the dead for their onward journey. In Ancient Greece, propolis was valued by Hippocrates and his followers for its medicinal properties and while records are scanty, we can be certain that the Melissae — the bee priestesses — had knowledge of propolis and used it in their practices. Propolis can be shaped into cones and burned as incense, clearing the air for ritual purposes.

    In traditional Chinese medicine, propolis is believed to hold “yang” properties, meaning it is warming and invigorating. Similarly, in Ayurvedic medicine, propolis is considered to be supportive and balancing for kapha due to its warming and drying properties.

    Throughout history, propolis has been associated with protection and preservation. It was used to seal and reinforce all kinds of structures, including hives, boats, and musical instruments. In folklore, propolis has been linked to generosity, vitality, protection, and longevity.

  • Traditional actions

  • Traditional energetic actions

    Herbal energetics are the descriptions Herbalists have given to plants, mushrooms, lichens, foods, and some minerals based on the direct experience of how they taste, feel, and work in the body. All traditional health systems use these principles to explain how the environment we live in and absorb, impacts our health. Find out more about traditional energetic actions in our article “An introduction to herbal energetics“.

  • What practitioners say

    Propolis in a spoon
    Propolis in a spoon

    Propolis can be used as a simple (meaning a single ingredient) or as part of a medicine mix. It can be used as a powder, or as a tincture. It can be incorporated into topical medicines for skin problems, added to snuff mixes for sinus and nasal problems, and sprays for throat and mouth issues.

    It is a powerful medicine for acute problems like wounds and infections, and as such is a very useful addition to the First Aid kit and the traveller’s kit. 

    It’s particularly useful for people who have long-term issues that put them at increased risk of acute infections, such as those with autoimmune conditions, and those with compromised immunity. 

    Propolis has a nourishing tonic aspect that makes it beneficial for people in need of ongoing support, for example those with autoimmune conditions, a cancer diagnosis, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and other long-term degenerative conditions. Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are especially useful here.

  • Research

    Propolis with honeycomb
    Propolis with honeycomb

    There have been several interesting studies exploring the properties and potential therapeutic applications of propolis. Here are some areas that have particularly attracted research interest:

    Antimicrobial activity

    Numerous in vitro studies have shown that propolis has broad spectrum antimicrobial properties against various bacteria, fungi, and viruses, as well as antibiotic-resistant bacteria. (14)

    Anti-inflammatory effects

    Propolis has been found to possess significant anti-inflammatory properties, which may be beneficial for reducing inflammation associated with conditions such as arthritis, gastritis, and skin disorders. (15,16)

    Antioxidant capacity

    Propolis is rich in antioxidants, which help protect cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Several clinical studies have confirmed the antioxidant capacity of propolis and its potential role in mitigating oxidative stress-related damage in cardiovascular disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer. (11,16) The antioxidant properties of propolis have also proven it a useful remedy to support type 2 diabetes (T2DM) patients. In an 8-week randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial T2DM patients were given 1500 mg of propolis or placebo.

    Results found fasting blood sugar, two-hour postprandial glucose, insulin, insulin resistance and haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) to significantly decrease in propolis-treated patients, along with an increase in total antioxidant capacity — an indication of improvement of glycemic status, reduction in insulin resistance and amelioration in antioxidant status. (17) These promising clinical outcomes in T2DM populations were replicated in other randomised placebo-controlled trials. (18,19)

    Wound healing

    Research has shown that propolis can accelerate the wound healing process due to its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and tissue-regenerating properties. Studies have demonstrated that propolis-based formulations can enhance wound closure, reduce inflammation, and promote tissue regeneration. Clinical trials have supported this, particularly in diabetic foot wounds, with a study finding a decrease in wound area and increased levels of the anti-inflammatory IL-10 with adjunctive propolis spray (3%) treatment over an 8-week period. Another study on the use of propolis for diabetic leg ulcers support its tolerability and improvement in healing vs control. (20, 21)

    Dental health

    Propolis has been investigated for its potential applications in dental care, particularly for its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects. Clinical and in vitro studies have shown that propolis-containing mouthwashes, toothpaste, and dental materials can help prevent dental caries, gingivitis, and other oral infections while promoting overall oral health (3). Propolis exerted antibacterial effects in vivo and in vitro in a human study as a mouthwash, which positively impacted the control of dental plaque. Furthermore, propolis extract in the form of dental varnish demonstrated antimicrobial activity against S. mutans and constituted a possible alternative in the prevention of tooth decay in a randomised control study in children and other studies. (22, 23)

    Bees make propolis
    Bees make propolis

    Cancer research

    Some research suggests that propolis may have anticancer properties, although more studies are needed to fully understand its mechanisms of action and potential therapeutic applications. (7) Preliminary studies have shown that propolis extracts may inhibit the growth of cancer cells and induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in various cancer types. In a clinical study in patients diagnosed with breast cancer receiving chemotherapy, propolis was found to safely and efficaciously improve the nutritional status and quality of life — specifically with improved energy intake and emotional functioning. (24) We strongly advise when treating cancer to work with an integrative specialist who can guide you on the safest steps to take. You can read more about this topic in our article “Mushrooms for cancer care

    Relating to both cancer and dental care, studies have also found propolis to be an effective treatment for radiotherapy-induced mucositis in patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma and chemotherapy-induced mucositis in head and neck cancer patients. (25)


    Research on the effects of propolis on fertility is relatively limited compared to other areas of study. However, some preliminary research suggests that propolis may have potential benefits for reproductive health, particularly in the context of male fertility. Here are a few studies that have explored this topic:

    Sperm quality

    An in vitro study  investigated the effects of propolis on sperm mitochondrial function and motility in human ejaculate. Results found propolis to improve mitochondrial respiratory efficiency in the human spermatozoa thereby having potential to improve sperm motility. (26)

    Oxidative stress

    High levels of reactive oxygen species is associated with low quality of sperm and male infertility. Pre-clinical studies have investigated propolis, partially owing to its antioxidant properties, and found higher sperm production. Furthermore, an in vitro human studies found a propolis extract to exert protective effects on human sperm against induced oxidative stress. Therefore, the antioxidant properties of propolis may have potential benefits for improving male fertility by reducing oxidative stress in the reproductive system.(27,28) Further human studies are required to support this use of propolis clinically.

    Reproductive disorders

    There is limited research on the effects of propolis on female fertility or reproductive disorders. However, some studies have explored the potential therapeutic effects of propolis in conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). A randomized, triple-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial where supplementation with propolis elicited positive effects on fasting insulin and insulin resistance, in addition to reducing the testosterone level, and LDL/HDL ratio in PCOS women. (29) An in silico study also found propolis to possess strong binding potential with receptors related to reproductive function, apoptotic reactions and inflammatory processes, significant factors associated with the pathogenesis of endometriosis, which shows promise for future clinical investigations for propolis’ application for this reproductive condition. (30)

    These studies highlight the diverse range of potential health benefits associated with propolis and provide valuable insights into its pharmacological properties and therapeutic applications. Further research is needed to elucidate the mechanisms of action underlying these effects and to explore additional potential uses of propolis in medicine and healthcare.

  • Did you know?

    The composition of propolis can vary widely from region to region, and even from hive to hive, depending on factors such as climate, weather, local plants, and the health of the hive.

    Propolis feels brittle and fixed when you handle it, but over a period of time it flows slowly, like lava, to find its own level. If you’re storing it for a long time, make sure to put it into a container with a wide opening so you can prise it out when you’re ready to use it.

Additional information

  • Botanical description

    Bees make propolis by collecting resins from native trees and other plants and carry it back to the hive in their pollen baskets, where worker bees mix it with pollen, beeswax, and the enzymes in their saliva to create a shiny, black, waxy, resinous substance. The bees use this to line the inside walls of their hive, and also to stop up any gaps and cracks in the outer wall in order to protect their home from all kinds of invaders, from infective agents like bacteria, to predators like other insects and even snakes. Propolis literally means defender of the city (from the Greek pro- (defence) and -polis (city). (1)

    Propolis can vary in colour from dark brown to reddish-brown or even greenish-brown, depending on its botanical sources and age. It can be shiny or dull, and it looks like it could be brittle, but it’s also sticky and slightly tacky. Propolis is often found in irregularly shaped clusters or fragments, ranging in size from small granules to larger chunks.

    While some propolis is clean and clear, sometimes it still holds visible plant resins, beeswax, and other debris. It may contain small particles of pollen, bee parts, and other organic materials collected by bees during foraging.

    Propolis is aromatic, smelling balsamic, and resinous, with hints of floral, woody, and herbal notes. The scent is often reminiscent of the plant resins from which it is derived, along with a subtle sweetness from the beeswax and honey components.

  • Common names

    • Bee glue
    • Bee putty
    • Hive dross
  • Safety

    People with allergies to bee products should always avoid propolis. 

    Propolis is generally considered safe to use while breastfeeding and during pregnancy.

    People using blood thinners should use propolis with caution.

  • Interactions

    While propolis has no known strong interactions with pharmaceutical drugs, it has some blood thinning properties and so should be avoided when using blood thinners such as warfarin and heparin.

  • Contraindications

    Propolis is best avoided by people with allergic or atopic tendencies, at least until a patch test indicates that the individual doesn’t have a reaction.

  • Preparation

    Propolis is usually prepared as a tincture made with 70% grain alcohol. Glycerin can be used instead of alcohol. Propolis is also used as a fine powder, which can be applied directly to open wounds, and to the gums for oral health.

  • Dosage

    The appropriate dose for propolis tincture can vary depending on factors such as the individual’s age, health status, and the specific condition being treated.

    Oral use: For general immune support or maintenance, a typical dosage of propolis tincture is 10–20 drops taken orally, one to three times per day.

    Acute conditions: In cases of acute illness or infection, such as colds, flu, or sore throat, take 20–40 drops at frequent intervals.

    Topical use: For topical application, propolis tincture can be applied directly to the affected area using a dropper, or clean fingertips. The dosage will vary depending on the size of the area being treated and the specific condition. It’s advisable to start with a small amount and apply as needed, monitoring for any skin reactions or irritation. Be aware that if using the tincture, the alcohol will sting, but that will wear off quite quickly.

    Allergic reactions: If you experience any allergic reactions or adverse effects after taking propolis tincture, discontinue use immediately and seek medical attention if necessary.

  • Plant parts used

    The resin

  • Constituents

    Propolis is a complex compound, and its chemical composition can vary depending on factors such as geographic location, plant sources, and bee species. However, some of the main constituents commonly found in propolis include:

    • Flavonoids (antioxidant, anti-inflammatory). Common flavonoids found in propolis include quercetin, kaempferol, and galangin.
    • Phenolic acids (antioxidant, antimicrobial). Examples of phenolic acids in propolis include caffeic acid, ferulic acid, and p-coumaric acid
    • Aromatic compounds including aromatic acids, aldehydes, and esters (antimicrobial)
    • Terpenes (antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, analgesic): Propolis contains terpenes such as β-caryophyllene, β-pinene, and limonene
    • Polysaccharides: Complex carbohydrates that have immune-modulating properties
    • Vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B, C, and E, as well as zinc, magnesium, and calcium. These nutrients contribute to the overall health-promoting properties of propolis

    Overall, propolis is a complex mixture of bioactive compounds with diverse pharmacological activities. The synergistic interactions between these constituents contribute to the therapeutic properties of propolis and its wide range of traditional and modern medicinal uses. (31, 32)

Propolis made by bees
  • Habitat

    Propolis is found everywhere that honey bees forage and build their hives.

  • Sustainability

    The sustainability of propolis depends absolutely on the sustainability of the bees. Bees are increasingly threatened by the modern world, and therefore so is propolis. However, wherever bees and their hives are protected and preserved, we will have access to propolis. The bees need and use propolis for their own purposes, so it’s important that beekeepers don’t take all the propolis from the hive. 

    Interestingly propolis has shown some promise as a potential natural tool for agriculture to help reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides (33).

  • Quality control

    Bees conduct quality control on their own propolis, and as a general rule, all propolis is good quality. However, if the health of the hive is compromised, the propolis may be inferior.

  • How to grow

    To nurture your own local supply of propolis, join a local beekeeping group or find a good book to guide you to learn the craft of beekeeping and ways in which you can support bee populations in your area.

  • Recipe

    Propolis tincture
    Propolis tincture

    Propolis tincture

    Here’s a simple recipe for making propolis tincture at home:


    • Raw propolis (you can obtain propolis from beekeepers or purchase it from health food stores)
    • High-proof alcohol (at least 70%)


    1. Start by cleaning the raw propolis to remove any debris or impurities. You can do this by gently washing it with water or scraping off any excess wax.
    2. Once cleaned, place the propolis in a clean glass jar or container with a tight-fitting lid.
    3. Pour enough high-proof alcohol over the propolis to fully cover it. The alcohol will extract the beneficial compounds from the propolis.
    4. Seal the jar tightly with a lid and shake it well.
    5. Store the jar in a cool, dark place for at least 2–4 weeks to allow the propolis to infuse into the alcohol. You can shake the jar gently every few days to help the extraction process.
    6. After the infusion period, strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth to remove the solid propolis particles. These can be used with more alcohol to make another tincture. Or, just leave the propolis to tincture for longer, until as much as possible of it is dissolved into the alcohol.
    7. Transfer the strained tincture into a clean amber glass bottle for storage. Remember to label it. A glass dropper bottle is useful for applying propolis directly to a wound or the back of the throat.
    8. Your propolis tincture is now ready to use. Store it in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight.

    To use the propolis tincture, you can take a few drops orally by diluting it in water or juice, or apply it topically to the skin as needed. Keep in mind that propolis tincture is highly concentrated, so it’s best to start with a small dose and gradually increase if needed. Additionally, if you have any allergies or sensitivities to bee products or alcohol, consult with a healthcare professional before using propolis tincture.

  • References

    1. Wagh VD. Propolis: a wonder bees product and its pharmacological potentials. Adv Pharmacol Sci. 2013;2013:308249. doi:10.1155/2013/308249
    2. Kuropatnicki AK, Szliszka E, Krol W. Historical aspects of propolis research in modern times. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:964149. doi:10.1155/2013/964149
    3. Bretz WA, Paulino N, Nör JE, Moreira A. The effectiveness of propolis on gingivitis: a randomized controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2014;20(12):943-948. doi:10.1089/acm.2013.0431
    4. Berretta AA, Silveira MAD, Cóndor Capcha JM, De Jong D. Propolis and its potential against SARS-CoV-2 infection mechanisms and COVID-19 disease: Running title: Propolis against SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19. Biomed Pharmacother. 2020;131:110622. doi:10.1016/j.biopha.2020.110622
    5. Alassaf FA, Jasim MHM, Alfahad M, Qazzaz ME, Abed MN, Thanoon IA. Effects of Bee Propolis on FBG, HbA1c, and Insulin Resistance in Healthy Volunteers. Turk J Pharm Sci. 2021;18(4):405-409. doi:10.4274/tjps.galenos.2020.50024
    6. Silva H, Francisco R, Saraiva A, Francisco S, Carrascosa C, Raposo A. The Cardiovascular Therapeutic Potential of Propolis-A Comprehensive Review. Biology (Basel). 2021;10(1):27. Published 2021 Jan 4. doi:10.3390/biology10010027
    7. Altabbal S, Athamnah K, Rahma A, et al. Propolis: A Detailed Insight of Its Anticancer Molecular Mechanisms. Pharmaceuticals (Basel). 2023;16(3):450. Published 2023 Mar 16. doi:10.3390/ph16030450
    8. Al-Hariri M. Immune’s-boosting agent: Immunomodulation potentials of propolis. J Family Community Med. 2019;26(1):57-60. doi:10.4103/jfcm.JFCM_46_18
    9. Nattagh‐Eshtivani E, Pahlavani N, Ranjbar G, et al. Does propolis have any effect on rheumatoid arthritis? A review study. Food Science & Nutrition. 2022;10(4):1003-1020. 
    10. Medjeber O, Touri K, Rafa H, et al. Ex vivo immunomodulatory effect of ethanolic extract of propolis during Celiac Disease: involvement of nitric oxide pathway. Inflammopharmacology. 2018;26(6):1469-1481. doi:10.1007/s10787-018-0460-6
    11. Farhadifard G, Haddadi R, Sanemar K, Farhadifard H, Mohammadi M. Protective effects of propolis on behavioral and stress oxidative changes in cuprizone-induced demyelination model. Current Drug Therapy. 2024;19(2):226-232. 
    12. El-Anwar MW, Abdelmonem S, Abdelsameea AA, AlShawadfy M, El-Kashishy K. The Effect of Propolis in Healing Injured Nasal Mucosa: An Experimental Study. Int Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2016;20(3):222-225. doi:10.1055/s-0036-1579664
    13. Kurek-Górecka A, Górecki M, Rzepecka-Stojko A, Balwierz R, Stojko J. Bee Products in Dermatology and Skin Care. Molecules. 2020;25(3):556. Published 2020 Jan 28. Doi:10.3390/molecules25030556
    14. Bryan J, Redden P, Traba C. The mechanism of action of Russian propolis ethanol extracts against two antibiotic-resistant biofilm-forming bacteria. Lett Appl Microbiol. 2016;62(2):192-198. doi:10.1111/lam.12532
    15. da Silva LM, de Souza P, Jaouni SKA, Harakeh S, Golbabapour S, de Andrade SF. Propolis and Its Potential to Treat Gastrointestinal Disorders. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018;2018:2035820. Published 2018 Mar 15. doi:10.1155/2018/2035820
    16. Maddahi M, Nattagh-Eshtivani E, Jokar M, et al. The effect of propolis supplementation on cardiovascular risk factors in women with rheumatoid arthritis: A double-blind, placebo, controlled randomized clinical trial. Phytother Res. 2023;37(12):5424-5434. doi:10.1002/ptr.7996
    17. Afsharpour F, Javadi M, Hashemipour S, Koushan Y, Haghighian HK. Propolis supplementation improves glycemic and antioxidant status in patients with type 2 diabetes: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Complement Ther Med. 2019;43:283-288. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2019.03.001
    18. Zhao L, Pu L, Wei J, et al. Brazilian Green Propolis Improves Antioxidant Function in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2016;13(5):498. Published 2016 May 13. doi:10.3390/ijerph13050498
    19. Zakerkish M, Jenabi M, Zaeemzadeh N, Hemmati AA, Neisi N. The Effect of Iranian Propolis on Glucose Metabolism, Lipid Profile, Insulin Resistance, Renal Function and Inflammatory Biomarkers in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Randomized Double-Blind Clinical Trial. Sci Rep. 2019;9(1):7289. Published 2019 May 13. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-43838-8
    20. Mujica V, Orrego R, Fuentealba R, Leiva E, Zúñiga-Hernández J. Propolis as an Adjuvant in the Healing of Human Diabetic Foot Wounds Receiving Care in the Diagnostic and Treatment Centre from the Regional Hospital of Talca. J Diabetes Res. 2019;2019:2507578. Published 2019 Sep 12. doi:10.1155/2019/2507578
    21. Henshaw FR, Bolton T, Nube V, et al. Topical application of the bee hive protectant propolis is well tolerated and improves human diabetic foot ulcer healing in a prospective feasibility study. J Diabetes Complications. 2014;28(6):850-857. doi:10.1016/j.jdiacomp.2014.07.012
    22. Neto EMR, Valadas LAR, Lobo PLD, et al. Dose-response Evaluation of Propolis Dental Varnish in Children: A Randomized Control Study. Recent Pat Biotechnol. 2020;14(1):41-48. doi:10.2174/1872208313666190826145453 
    23. Mohsin S, Manohar B, Rajesh S, Asif Y. The effects of a dentifrice containing propolis on Mutans Streptococci: a clinico-microbiological study. Ethiop J Health Sci. 2015;25(1):9-16. doi:10.4314/ejhs.v25i1.3
    24. Davoodi SH, Yousefinejad V, Ghaderi B, et al. Oral Propolis, Nutritional Status and Quality of Life with Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer: A Randomized, Double-Blind Clinical Trial. Nutr Cancer. 2022;74(6):2029-2037. doi:10.1080/01635581.2021.1988118
    25. Hamzah MH, Mohamad I, Musa MY, Abd Mutalib NS, Siti-Azrin AH, Wan Omar WA. Propolis mouthwash for preventing radiotherapy-induced mucositis in patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Med J Malaysia. 2022;77(4):462-467.
    26. Cedikova M, Miklikova M, Stachova L, et al. Effects of the czech propolis on sperm mitochondrial function. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:248768. doi:10.1155/2014/248768
    27. Capucho C, Sette R, de Souza Predes F, et al. Green Brazilian propolis effects on sperm count and epididymis morphology and oxidative stress. Food Chem Toxicol. 2012;50(11):3956-3962. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2012.08.027
    28. Biagi M, Collodel G, Corsini M, Pascarelli NA, Moretti E. Protective effect of Propolfenol®on induced oxidative stress in human spermatozoa. Andrologia. 2018;50(1):10.1111/and.12807. doi:10.1111/and.12807
    29. Abbasi E, Bagherniya M, Soleimani D, et al. The effects of propolis supplementation on high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, testosterone hormone, and metabolic profile in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: A randomized, triple-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytother Res. 2023;37(11):5366-5377. doi:10.1002/ptr.7977
    30. Situmorang H, Hestiantoro A, Purbadi S, Flamandita D, Sahlan M. IN-SILICO dynamic analysis of Sulawesi propolis as anti-endometriosis drug: Interaction study with TNF alpha receptor, NF-kB, estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor and prostaglandin receptor. Ann Med Surg (Lond). 2021;67:102459. Published 2021 Jun 17. doi:10.1016/j.amsu.2021.102459
    31. Bankova V, Popova M, Trusheva B. Propolis volatile compounds: chemical diversity and biological activity: a review. Chem Cent J. 2014;8:28. Published 2014 May 2. doi:10.1186/1752-153X-8-28
    32. Sforcin JM, Bankova V. Propolis: is there a potential for the development of new drugs?. J Ethnopharmacol. 2011;133(2):253-260. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2010.10.032
    33. Bankova, V., & Popova, M. (2023). Propolis: Harnessing nature’s hidden treasure for sustainable agriculture. Agrochemicals, 2 (4), 581-597. https://doi.org/10.3390/agrochemicals2040033
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

Sign up to our Newsletter

Sign up to our newsletter to receive the very latest in herbal insights.

Sign up to our newsletter