An Unexpected Gift From Grief & Death
Grief work happens. It needs to and it's not about comfort, at first. We're beekeepers now through deep love and desire, through honoring the harsh conditions bee are seeking to survive in, through being gifted bees unexpectedly while helping a friend through death and grief, through knowing that receiving such a gift means stepping up in way we haven't before, and through tending in a way that will include death and grief. No life exists without this. We lost two hives this year, alive in February, that died during the long and cold March of this year of 2018.
To make it that long and die happens. I walked wide around these hives for several weeks before stepping in closer, knowing full well death had come. It was silent. It felt silent too. No, I'm new to death but each time we dance uniquely with each other and I watch myself closely as I learn more about death, grief, and myself. I finally scooped dead carcasses up bare handed for honoring on our communal grief altar. It’s bigger than these little hives for bees. And it's bigger for me or my little life too.
Many bees come from southern farms and can struggle with these harsh NY winters and we help them get through. We weren't going to get southern bees again and so had shelved the whole thing as we each grieved this death in our little tribe here. Accepting and working this perceived lose is good medicine for us.
Bees change your property. They do this fast too. And it's incredibly apparent when they leave too. You just feel it. Within the very same day of placing these dead bees on the altar and facing the feelings of it all, a call came in near sunset. We received a connection thru our friend to a local young man who quietly and steadily loves the bees and has bees to share that made it through this hard winter. Considered a hardy community of bees that know the NY cold well with a seasoned more than 20 years bee keeper too, it was one of those serendipitous big blessings really to find each other and for us to try again. I have my thoughts on how it's larger than that too when life jumps up again. The new hives are thriving and very different. Death and grief in flow has taught us to walk differently and it may just be part of the purpose of it all.
So we're excited and busy preparing, again, to receive. This means cleaning the hives. And they were so full of honey, beeswax, and propolis. Nope, we didn't plan on such bounty for we had our course set on success which meant these gorgeous bee products from all their hard work would be theirs, not ours. We hoped for a little extra only with them thriving among all the gardens we already have here. And we hoped in a year or two as well.
I watched myself closely as I learned how to harvest this bounty. In the wake of death we move differently. And it's so astoundingly unique each time which amazes me still. What bubbled up for me? Humor at how clumsy I am in this equation for I've never done this and have no idea what I'm doing harvesting honey. What a delicious mess! There's the bittersweet, the reverence, the acceptance, the honoring, a deeper commitment to lean in and listen more closely to them as we walk together through hard times. Yeah, let's lighten this up now because we can laugh and rejoice in the wake of death and grief too.
What I was most unfamiliar with and most excited about was getting to know propolis better. Until now I've shied away from this as medicine in hopes of helping them survive by reducing demand for their products. I laugh at myself because there is a surplus of this from them thriving with humans. Honey companies would never exist if they received propolis through the way I did here. It comes from finding a way to thrive with them too. As we switch out frames with other hives and negotiate for their needs first which includes scraping hives and frames of propolis just so the parts will fit back together, we receive this amazing substance.
Now let's talk about what propolis is, how to make this medicine yourself, plus the circumstances where it thrives in support of healing.
Making Medicine with Raw Bee Propolis
So first what is bee propolis? It’s a resinous substance that bees gather from trees and flowers. Just like honey, propolis varies from hive to hive. It’s used for many things inside the hive, including patching holes and air leaks so they can regulate temperature and air flow while keeping opportunistic ones out. Propolis inhibits bacterial and fungal growth, and prevents putrefaction when large intruders crawl into the hive and die. once brood/baby bees are hatched, they line these cells with propolis to sterilize them for receiving honey or packing with pollen, their food and medicine. This is how wax gets the different hues as it gets used over time. The broad make-up of propolis is “primarily resins and vegetable balsams (50%), waxes (30%), essential oils (10%), and pollen (5%)”, with a thank you to our scientists for analyzing propolis for us.
Bee propolis at room temp is sort of sticky and can be pressed together like this ball my friend gifted me. You can pull it apart with your fingers too into small chunks. For tincture making I break into small pieces, freeze these chunks for a few hours and then powder it in a standard dedicated to herbs coffee grinder. (pics below) This prevents you from getting a sticky impossible-to-work-with goo from the generated heat in the grinder. Being powdered increases the surface area exposed to the alcohol for easier more efficient, waste nothing, get all the medicine kind of tincturing I love.
Steps To You Making a Great Propolis Tincture
A Few Notes:
Now What? How do we support healing with this?
I'm doing my best to distill it here or there's a threat of falling into a dissertation abyss! My focus is not to comb the scientific research for you. Other herbalist data collectors do this. I already know and trust what is now being 'proven' so my focus is on testimonials and experience I've witnessed among my tribe, herbal friends, and now being among bee keepers. This not complete but good enough for you get the idea on how potent and versatile Propolis is.
Health Benefits Of Propolis:
1. Propolis Kills Bacteria, Mold, and Viruses:
This is one of the reasons the bees make it and it's part of their apothecary in the hive. They are astounding herbalists and combine, mix, and transform plant parts into medicine to keep themselves strong and well. Consider internal treatment during any active infection, cold, flu, or mysterious malaise while you seek answers to why. Propolis has a long, long traditional story upon story of treatment among people for treating colds, flus, and infection anywhere in and on the body. Works great as a throat spray too for sore throats when tincture is mixed with honey.
2. Propolis Protects Injured and Decaying Teeth:
Traumatic injuries and decay to the teeth present challenging situations for the clinician because of pre and post-treatment complications that include excessive inflammation. Propolis is potent for anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory capabilities in the mouth, and especially with regard to needing root canals. You'll see it in well-made tooth pastes. I add the tincture to my water-pic water on occasion. With any dental trouble, I'd increase to 1-2x daily. I often recommend pre and post dental visit treatment due to all the scrapping and prodding can bust bacteria deep below the gum line and cause issue. Sea salt and water gargles help too.
3. Propolis Helps Lowers Blood Pressure - Honey too in small daily doses:
Okay so I did a little research and got disturbed by the rat studies, again. I hear both sides and I am a trained scientist but we have historical information so I'm not one for animal studies at all. Anyway, this holds a bit of interest for me. Nitric oxide is a very important substance for healthy hearts. The inner lining of our blood vessels use nitric oxide to signal the surrounding smooth muscles to relax, thus resulting in vasodilation (the widening of blood vessels) and increased blood flow. Reduction in the bioavailability of nitric oxide plays a significant role in the development of high blood pressure. And without it, you’d have a heart attack. There is an enzyme called Tyrosine hydroxylase (or TH for short) that limits that amount of nitric oxide you can produce. Propolis has TH and so helps provide the enzyme for regulating our nitric oxide levels.
If you struggle with hypertension, you may want to consider taking raw honey, which contains propolis, as it has been proven to lower blood pressure. Consider two tablespoons per day. Or take doses of propolis tincture 30-60 drops per day. Please refrain from thinking you can replace your BP medications today with either of these. A weaning trial would be a better experiment, along with other changes in lifestyle, additions of other herbal remedies, spiritual work and support, creative pursuits, and dietary considerations. Being safe is the goal. No one walks to hypertension overnight, or from it either.
4. Propolis Helps Treat Some Bone Diseases:
It's in the inflammatory process that we loose bone density over time. Inflammation is a healing response within the body. Inflammation is needed sometimes to begin the healing process. Gone unchecked or never reigned in so the body can never truly rest and recover nudges us into a chronic inflammatory state of being. This feeds all disease. Period. I feel we're in a chronic inflammatory state as a whole culturally, and even at large for humanity. But we don't have to walk in this state all the time within our bodies, or outside our bodies either.
If you’re working with bone density loss taking a daily dose of propolis could be a very wise thing to consider, along with exercise, good sleep, dietary support, and... and.. and... you get my drift here. It's not just "take propolis" and carry on as you are. People recovering from critical illness requiring ICU hospitalization would do well to take propolis for at least 6 months after such an event. The bone loss in just two weeks in bed is astounding and measurable. Some loose 30% of their jaw bone in this time due to the mouth has so many opportunistic bacteria. Consider propolis for recovery.
5. Propolis Helps Treat Pollen Allergies
An amazing health benefit of propolis is its ability to calm the symptoms of seasonal allergies.
Scientists gave propolis to rats for two weeks and found that it significantly inhibited histamine release from the rats’ mast cells. Histamine is the compound that makes you sneeze, gives you watery eyes and a runny nose – generally making your life more difficult. Anti-histamines are the main allergy drugs sold over the counter.
Their results clearly demonstrated that propolis "may be effective" (we all have to say it this way for now) in the relief of symptoms of allergic rhinitis through inhibition of histamine release. So come allergy season, don’t only take your bee pollen but add a daily dose of propolis tincture 30 drops/day.
6. Cancer Cells in the Presence of Propolis:
Research continues. Prostate cancer cells become suppressed (at least in a test tube) in the presence of propolis. Colon cancer cells too. Scientists are finding that it causes the cancer cells to die by necrosis, which means that it interrupted the blood supply to the cell. This causes just the local cancer cells to die and NOT the healthy living cells.
Chemotherapy does the opposite of this – it kills both healthy living cells and the cancer cells and is the reason why chemo often has some violent and devastating side effects. We have choices. Ultimately, this research is very promising.
My suggestion to this is more complex than take propolis, but this will help if you get to know your local bee keeper who cares for the bees and their needs first, and support their work as you get to know and understand bee products that are ecologically harvested as best as possible.
7. Propolis and The Gut:
Research is underway and scientists have found that propolis inhibited the growth of Campylobacter jejuni, Enterobacter faecalis, and Staphylococcus aureus, the three germs that are commonly found in food poisoning cases.
They went on to say that propolis preparations "could be used as support to traditional therapy for infection, especially when antibiotics show no activity against these micro-organisms." And so we thankfully see more bridging happening between modern medicine and ancient practices.
In my house and my practice I am always suggesting honey water, 1 teaspoon in a warm cup of water sipped slowly, for stomach flus and GI disturbances with vomiting and/or diarrhea. The propolis is added if it doesn't resolve in 24 hours. Rarely do we need the propolis but I keep it close just in case.
8. Adapting to Stress & Propolis:
One of the reasons the health benefits of propolis are so vast is because it is so full of antioxidants. An active ingredient in propolis known as caffeic acid phenethyl ester, or CAPE, triggers a broad spectrum of biological activities including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiviral actions.
So let's look at once kind of stress. Heat stress is considered to be the main factor underlying the early fatigue and dehydration seen during prolonged exercise in the heat. Researchers examined blood from 30 competitive cyclists who engaged in endurance training for two to four years prior to the investigation.
The lead researcher stated at the conclusion of the study that CAPE, one of the powerful compounds in propolis, just might promote rapid recovery from such a stress. Knowing this I travel with propolis. Travel is a stress and one small bottle travels easy and addresses many issues while on the road, one being rapid recovery from stress. I like to take this intuitively while on the road, meaning I check-in with my body as I head to sleep and consider it then.
9. Propolis is Part of an Effective Treatment for Warts:
While this viral stimulated states happens often with children, it can happen at anytime in life. I take propolis internally 3-15 drops daily while dropping the tincture right on the warts. If plantar warts happen on the bottom of the feet or warts in other odd places, band-aid or tape a small piece of saturated cotton ball to it. I've seen successful treatment of many warts with internal immune support, apple cider vinegar soaks, beach trips (seriously, all warts among our tribe have shrunk to 1/2 in less than a week with ocean swimming), and topical applications of propolis ( taken internally daily too).
Thank you for traveling this far.
Here's a simple thing you can do for the bees that they'll so appreciate for they travel miles a day to harvest. Lay out a shallow bowl that's pie plate shaped with marbles or stones in it and fill with fresh water each day for them. They drown easy which is why they need the stones to walk on. Plant flowers for them. Find a good bee keeper who loves them and cares from that place.
And if you need some ElderMoon Propolis? Well we thank you for delegating to us to provide medicine for you and your family. Our stock ebbs and flows depending on the year. Much Love, Jen
Jennifer Costa, Herbalist, Teacher, BS, RN, CST, and Founder of ElderMoon School of Herbs & Earth Medicine