Propolis, a multifunctional substance used by bees to maintain the safety of their hives, is popular for its therapeutic potential against some micro-organisms. Ethanolic extracts of two propolis specimens, collected from different areas within a region in the north-west of Italy, were examined to evaluate their antimicrobial activity against 46 Streptococcus pyogenes strains. By both agar dilution and agar diffusion methods, the minimal inhibitory concentration (MIC) and minimal bactericidal concentration (MBC) were </= 234 microg ml-1, corresponding to a one in 512 dilution of the 12% (w/v) extracts. One of the two propolis samples was more active and this extract was shown to be richer in the flavonoids pinocembrin and galangin using HPLC. Therefore, with a simple microbiological assay technique, in particular the agar dilution method, it was possible to standardize the analysis of propolis samples to identify the quality parameters of this natural product before use for medical treatment.