Propolis of stingless bees: A phytochemist's guide through the jungle of tropical biodiversity

Phytomedicine. 2021 Jun;86:153098. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2019.153098. Epub 2019 Sep 27.


Background: Stingless bees (Meliponini), like honeybees Apis mellifera, collect plant resins in order to produce propolis (cerumen, geopropolis). This type of propolis has long been used in traditional medicine in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, India, and Vietnam, as a remedy for improving health and treating various diseases. The scientific and commercial interest in stingless bee propolis has been steadily increasing over the last few years. The new and growing knowledge in this field requires systematising, as a basis for further work. Recent reviews of Meliponini propolis deal only with the South American and Mesoamerican species, while reviews of the Asian, Australian and African species are missing. Furthermore, the chemical composition has not been thoroughly reviewed since 2007.

Purpose: This review summarises and discusses the available data about the chemical composition of propolis from the stingless bee species (Meliponinae) of the Americas, Asia and Australia, published after 2007. The published information on the biological action of chemically characterised Meliponini propolis, and of individual constituents, is addressed. The plant sources of this propolis are also considered.

Conclusion and perspectives: Chemical studies of Meliponini propolis has resulted in the discovery of new natural molecules, some of them with valuable bioactivity. Moreover, finding known molecules in propolis stimulates the study of their pharmacological properties. The enormous chemical variability of stingless bee propolis is a challenge to chemists, entomologists and pharmacologists. It is essential to perform pharmacological studies with only chemically characterised propolis of stingless bees. Further studies are required to chemically characterise and scientifically support the medicinal properties of stingless bee propolis and to clarify the potential for its commercial use. This could lead to increased prices for Meliponinae propolis and provide an additional source of income for farmers in rural communities with most serious social needs.

Keywords: Botanical sources; Chemical composition; Geopropolis; Meliponini; Pharmacological activity; Propolis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / chemistry*
  • Medicine, Traditional
  • Propolis / pharmacology*
  • Resins, Plant / chemistry


  • Resins, Plant
  • Propolis