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Both honey and propolis are produced by bees for use in the hive but propolis is a kind of sealant or caulk that eliminates small gaps or open holes that measure approximately 0.2 inches (six millimeters) or less with beeswax used to fill larger openings. Bees collect resinous sap from trees or other sources and mix it with wax to make propolis, which is typically dark brown and tacky but can harden in cold temperatures.
In contrast to propolis, honey is a liquid bee food source made from flower nectar via regurgitation that is stored in the hive’s wax honeycombs. Honey is commonly consumed by humans and is sweet. Both byproducts are known to have antibiotic properties and serve various medicinal purposes.
Although it was initially assumed that bees made and used propolis to protect the hive from exposure to rain and cold, it is now known that the sealant serves a series of purposes. Propolis can make a hive more sound and stable as a structure, prevent excess vibration within it, reduce the number of entrances thus making it easier to secure the colony, and prevent bacterial and fungal growth. In addition, bees use propolis to safely seal away any waste products, dead insects or small animals that cannot be removed via the hive entrances. Bees produce honey to be consumed as food when the weather is cold and other food sources become scarce.
Honey and propolis are often used and marketed as traditional or alternative medicines, but the former is believed to have antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. The composition and properties of honey and propolis depend on the geographic location of the hive, the species of bee, and the types of trees and flowers from which the bees collect the resin and nectar. Honey is often consumed in liquid form while propolis can be taken in liquid form when a few drops are added to a glass of water or other beverage, as a chewing gum, lozenge, cream, tincture or solid piece that can be dissolved in the mouth. Individuals who are allergic to bees should not consume honey and propolis without speaking to a medical professional beforehand.
Practitioners of alternative or natural medicine may prescribe honey and propolis for a variety of reasons. Honey, when dissolved in tea or warm water, is considered by many to be an effective remedy for sore throat and cough. Propolis is believed to be an effective treatment for skin burns and inflammation and has shown potential as an inhibitor of tumor growth. Some studies have demonstrated that propolis can be effective against certain herpes viruses, parasitic infections, canker sores, colds, stomach ulcers and rheumatic diseases.
Propolis has been of great interest to those in the dental industry due to some studies that suggest that it can inhibit some oral diseases and infections and reduce plaque and dental pain when used as a mouthwash. In general, the scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of propolis is considered to be unclear by many mainstream medical professionals.