Nature, quite simply, is amazing, especially when it comes to how nature survives and protects itself. Read on to find out how our precious bees have tapped into the defence system produced by plant life to create Propolis.
It all starts with trees and plants. When there’s a breach in the outer cells of a tree or plant, the tree quickly reacts to cover the wound, similar to the way our bodies produce a scab when our skin is damaged to defend themselves from viruses, bacteria, fungus to insects. The tree has evolved to further defend itself from the tiny microbes that find their way through, and so it also produces a resin to combat them before they can cause an infection. Something similar occurs in humans and we call it our immune system.
Bees are complex creatures and choose to harvest this plant resin, despite it not being a food source, for which they have nectar and pollen. The resin produced by trees is seen as so valuable that the bees painstakingly collect it directly from the bark of conifer trees (ones which do not shed their leaves) and from the buds of emerging leaves to create the Propolis that we use today. Worker bees take the Propolis and store it in their pollen baskets located on their hind legs. When they bring the sticky resin to the hive, mason bees take it and immediately start to work. The plant resin is then mixed with wax and other natural substances to make it more malleable. The Propolis is used as a building material to prevent intruders from entering the hive by filling any cracks, holes or gaps in the hive structure and to prevent bacterial, viral and parasitic infections from spreading inside the hive. The bees are smart and also place the Propolis at the entrance to the hive, using it to disinfect the base of their legs, a bit like a doormat, so that any bees which enter the hive brush over the Propolis and do not bring infections into the hive.
Interestingly, Honey bees also appear to increase the collection of resin to create Propolis when there is more disease present in the colony, in order to self-medicate.