Honey is the beekeeper's main product, but there are several other useful substances produced by bees. Apitherapy is the practice of using bee products for therapeutic purposes. Propolis and royal jelly are two of apitherapy's most widely used substances. Various forms of royal jelly and propolis are widely available at natural foods retailers.
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The harvesting of bee products dates back to prehistoric times. Early Paleolithic hunters portrayed their raids on honeybee hives in early cave paintings, according to Alex Poplawsky of Emory University. Apiculture, also known as beekeeping, was practiced by the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks, who regarded honey as a medicinal and antiseptic elixir. Among their other treasures, Egyptologists have discovered still edible containers of honey in ancient tombs.
Propolis is collected by honeybees from poplar, birch and other trees. It is a complex resin that gathers on their hind legs. Bees use it as an aid in building their hives, to seal cracks and to line cavities, according to Mike Simone of the University of Minnesota's Bee Lab.
Worker bees produce royal jelly in their pharyngeal glands and feed it to growiing larvae. Bees that are fed exclusively on large doses of royal jelly develop into queen bees, which grow up to 40 percent larger and live much longer than other bees.
Royal jelly and propolis have been shown to have antimicrobial properties, and as a result, the "Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine" states that consumption of honey with honeycomb lids could prove to be a helpful nutritional supplement.
Royal jelly is a rich source of nutrients, containing vitamin B complex; vitamins C, D and E; minerals; enzymes; hormones; and amino acids, according to BetterNutrition.com.
New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center reports that propolis has antibacterial and antiviral properties, can speed healing of genital herpes, shorten healing time after oral surgery, and work as effectively as drug therapies in fighting giardiasis. Its use has been tested as a treatment for eye and vaginal infections. One study found it to be a fertility aid, leading to a 40 percent increase in pregnancy rates in propolis users compared with a placebo group. Further research is needed to corroborate these findings and to explore the mechanisms by which propolis seems to achieve beneficial effects.
Those allergic to bee venom should avoid propolis, royal jelly and bee-related products. Some severe allergic reactions to royal jelly have been reported, as have asthma and anaphylactic shock, according to NYU Langone Medical Center.
Young children, pregnant women, and liver or kidney disease patients are advised not to take propolis and royal jelly, as no safe dosage levels have been established.