The Do’s and Don’t’s of Propolis

I say, what’s this? A rare post? These are becoming as elusive as the Dryococolis australis (one of the world’s rarest insects), although not nearly as precious and hopefully, not as gross. Well, as long as we’re on the topic of insects…

Rare but really, really gross.

Dryococelas australis. Rare but really, really gross.

In the spirit of keeping my beloved blog on life support, we’ll visit a talking point from the title. Bees, baseball and bicycles were my inspirations in starting this blog and today’s topic is that of the honey bee–specifically OUR honey bees. It is fall and according to all resources and my favorite beekeeping poster, fall is the time to feed, medicate and inspect.

  • Feed: check! They are taking plenty of sugar syrup.
  • Medicate: check! They’ve been medicated for dysentery and mites.
  • Inspect: check! Last Sunday I pulled apart the hive to gage their honey store (plenty), kill moths–those dreadful larva eaters! (Thankfully there were no moths, strong hives usually kill off all invaders) and look for anything else that seems out of the ordinary.

The bees look great, they are strong, numerous and feisty when disturbed–all good signs for lasting through the winter. One of the characteristics of this particular hive is they make a lot of propolis. What the heck is propolis? you ask. It is made by the bees using sap, bee spit and magic. It is bee glue which they use to seal off cracks, reduce vibration and secure the comb. The amount of propolis bees make varies among species and individual hives.

Propolis is believed to have medicinal properties among some naturalists. It has been used by various cultures as an anti inflammatory, as an anti infective and in salves for skin infections and burns. My first bee mentor was actually collecting propolis to send to Mass General Hospital for a research project that was studying its effects on mega-resistant bacterial skin infections. He also informed me that he chews propolis whenever he gets a sore throat and he hasn’t had a cold since he started the practice.

Wouldn’t you know I had a sore throat last Sunday? It wasn’t bad, in fact, I barely noticed it until I started prying apart the hive and happened upon the abundance propolis our bees made to glue EVERYTHING together. I was able to scrape up quite a good sized wad, bigger than a walnut from the inner cover and top frames. As I got into the second box and started a second walnut-sized propolis ball, I decided to test the sore throat theory. I undid my bee veil and popped the propolis ball into my mouth.

There are times in life when you know you’ve made a bad decision. Sometimes it takes years, other times it takes a bit of thought and self reflection and sometimes you instantly know.

Popping that propolis ball was an action of Instant Regret.

I expected it to be sweet and flowery, like summer time. It wasn’t. Propolis is bitter and sharp, almost anesthetizing. It tastes like pine tree sap mixed with dental lidocaine and crushed aspirin. Propolis is the industrial-strength equivalent of bitter.

I decided to spit it out and that is when I discovered the magic.

That propolis wasn’t going anywhere. In a matter of nanoseconds, the gluey ball was stuck to my teeth, gums and the roof of my mouth. I tried to scrape the wad out with my gloved hand which only pushed the propolis ball further back, onto my back teeth. Once I realized what I had done, my mouth instantly filled with thin pre-vomit saliva which, if I did vomit, was sure to make a bad situation a lot worse.

There I was: in full beekeeping regalia with a hive pulled apart, the smoker puffing away, angry bees pinging off me, and drool running down my chin as I tried to talk myself out of throwing up. I had to reassembled the hive while the left side of my mouth started going numb before I could run inside to assess the damage.

The view of the mess in my mouth was pretty bad. It looked like I had chewed an entire bottle of carpenter’s glue. I had effectively and efficiently caulked every tooth gap and crevice on the left side of my mouth. It was stuck to my gums and the roof of my mouth. I was looking at a dental horror in the mirror.

Now I will tell you removes propolis if you ever find yourself in this unfortunate situation. By process of elimination, I can attest it’s not toothpaste! I went through all my toothbrushes–my regular good toothbrush, the crappy travel one and several cheap-o’s I got from the dentist, only to have them look like mushed Q-tips after a few seconds of brushing with NO effect on the propolis. Sadly, mouth wash doesn’t work either! Mouth wash seemed to thin the stuff but didn’t take it off. Flossing? Forget it! Floss just got stuck in the goop. The secret is CRACKERS!

The wretched bitterness in my mouth became intolerable after what seemed like hours of brushing, flossing and mouthwash. I felt like I was developing a chemical burn under the propolis. I was ready to call my dentist and have every tooth in my head yanked out. It really seemed like the only solution. But I need sustenance as well as something that could possibly stop my mouth from gluing itself shut as I had to make myself understood to my dentist. I went for the saltines–and crammed about half a sleeve. To my tremendous astonishment and relief, the scummy propolis came off my teeth, gums and the roof of my mouth and formed a disgusting cracker/propolis clump that I was able to spit out. I made a special mental note to myself to leave the propolis for the bees.

Now wouldn’t you know that my sore throat has disappeared entirely? I am going to chalk this up to yet another valuable lesson in beekeeping.

Keep the propolis to yourself, honey bee.

Keep the propolis to yourself, honey bee.

About EF Sweetman

bees, baseball, beverly, ma, culture, manners, society, writing
This entry was posted in blogging, cautionary tales, essay, humor, Observations, writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Do’s and Don’t’s of Propolis

  1. That is crazy! What a story! So glad you and your teeth are ok.

  2. chlost says:

    I’ve never heard of it, but it sounds horrible. I hope that the research is more successful than your experiment. I thought of you when I was stung by a bee this past week. The first time since I was a kid. I still have a welt the size of a cracker, ironically enough!

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