Chapter 68 Bee Products—Pollen, Propolis, and Royal Jelly
Historically, one of the most valued groups of natural medicines is that of bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly.
Bee pollen comes from the male germ cell of flowering plants. As the honeybee travels from flower to flower, it fertilizes the female germ cell. Honeybees enable the reproduction of more than 80% of the world’s grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. The pollen is collected and brought to the hive, where the bees add enzymes and nectar to the pollen.
Propolis is the resinous substance collected by bees from the leaf buds and barks of trees, especially poplar and conifer trees. The bees use the propolis, along with beeswax, to construct the hive. Propolis has antimicrobial activities that help the hive block out viruses, bacteria, and other organisms.
Royal jelly is a thick, milky substance produced by worker bees to feed the queen bee. The worker bees mix honey and bee pollen with enzymes in the glands of their throats to produce royal jelly. Royal jelly is believed to be a useful nutritional supplement because of the queen bee’s superior size, strength, stamina, and longevity compared with other bees.
Honey is composed primarily (roughly 70%) of simple sugars (mainly fructose, glucose, and maltose), but it also contains minerals including manganese, calcium, iron, and sodium; organic acids; amino acids; vitamins; and enzymes.
Bee pollen is often referred to as “nature’s most perfect food” because it is a complete protein (typically containing 10% to 35% total protein), meaning it contains all eight essential amino acids, and also provides B vitamins, vitamin C, carotenes, minerals, DNA, RNA, numerous flavonoid molecules, and plant hormones.
Propolis and royal jelly have similar nutritional qualities to pollen but considerably higher levels of different biologically active compounds.1,2 Royal jelly contains approximately 12% protein, 5% to 6% lipids, and 12% to 15% carbohydrates.
History and Folk Use
The use of bee products for medicinal purposes is as old as beekeeping itself. Chinese texts more than 2000 years old include many mentions of bee products. Hippocrates also wrote about them. Honey was so valued during Roman times that it was often used instead of gold to pay taxes.
Of the bee products, propolis was the most valued as a medicinal agent. Hippocrates prescribed propolis to help heal sores, as well as external and internal ulcers. Propolis-making bees were also depicted on vases from ancient Egypt, where the sign of the bee was often interwoven with the titles of the kings and used as the motif on ornaments presented as rewards for valor. The ancient Egyptians looked upon bees and their propolis as the source of eternal health and life. In the seventeenth century, propolis was a major ingredient of healing ointments in the European pharmacopoeia.
Pharmacology and Clinical Applications
The health benefits of bee products are much heralded but insufficiently researched. Some overlap exists in the clinical uses of pollen, propolis, and royal jelly. Following is a list of the principal uses for each of these bee products as shown in Box 68-1. This list is likely to grow with continued research.
BOX 68-1 Clinical Applications for Bee Products