[Propolis. The bee glue as presented by the Graeco-Roman literature]

Wurzbg Medizinhist Mitt. 2004:23:133-45.
[Article in German]


The bee glue, commonly known as propolis, has been employed for medical purposes already in teh ancient world. More than 15 Greek and Roman authors report on the preparation and application of the so-called third natural product of the bees (besides honey and wax). Aristoteles described the fundamental issues of its biology in his 'Historia Animalium' correctly. The bulk of propolis is obtained from the barks of poplars. Once carried in the hives, the glue is used to stabilize the cells and honeycombs and to protect the bees against invaders and cold weather. Propolis has been chiefly employed for the preparation of ointment and plasters. For this purpose, the viscous raw material was purified, moulded and boiled. In most preparations, the bee glue was only one of many (up to 20) pharmacologically active constituents and came to five to 20% of the mixture. Only rarely, a single drug therapy was using propolis was carried out. The application of the glue was most successful in general surgery and casualties. In that respect, the ancient physicians took advantage of the anti-edematous and anti-infectious properties of the substance. Thus, it was used to treat bumps, indurations, and slow-healing wounds. Moreover, cataplasms against swollen cervical nodes and indurations of the female breast often contained propolis. Finally, bee glue proved successful for the treatment of chronic backache and pain in the hip as well as fresh injuries of muscles and tendons. In the sector of skin diseases, lichens and condylomata were found to respond well to propolis. ALl this indications have been a matter of several records. However, the successful use of propolis in diseases of the stomach and liver has ben reported solely by Alexander of Tralles (6th century AD). Not counting the internal diseases, the spectrum of indications for propolis has not substantially changed as compared to the classical antiquity. Interestingly, radiation therapists have adopted the ancient remedy and use propolis successfully for the treatment of actinic stomatitis and mucositis.

Publication types

  • English Abstract
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Greek World / history
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Propolis / history*
  • Propolis / therapeutic use
  • Roman World / history


  • Propolis