What is propolis?

Honeybees make propolis using resins they gather from plants. They chew the resins, drawing out beneficial plant extracts and mix them with their saliva, which they then combine with wax produced from glands on their abdomens. This results in the production of propolis, which contains a concentrated mixture of polyphenols and flavonoids.

Bees use this antimicrobial substance to line the entrance and their egg-laying chambers deeper within the hive. This forms a protective barrier against viruses and other harmful bacteria which could infect the colony when the insects return from gathering plant matter outside.

In addition to this, insects and small mammals preserved in propolis have been discovered inside beehives. It is thought that animals which attack a bee colony and are killed by sting venom are embalmed in propolis if the bees find it too difficult to carry the creature out of the hive. Covering the corpses in antimicrobial matter prevents bacteria from infecting the bees as the body decomposes.

Bees make unique trips to collect plant resins, separately from pollen and nectar, and, depending which plants they harvest from, the resulting propolis can be brown, green, red, or black. This substance is 100% natural and, although it is tough and easily broken into pieces below 20-25 degrees Celsius, it becomes very tacky above this temperature.

Also known as ‘hive dross’ or ‘bee glue’, propolis holds a range of health benefits which have been recognised by human civilisations as early as 3000 BC, and one area in which it has been put to good use is in the treatment of cold sores.

The properties of propolis

Hippocrates (460-377 BC), who is widely considered to be the founder of modern medicine, wrote about the useful properties of propolis and often treated his patients with the substance, discovering that it could be used to reduce pain and swelling, with the ability to heal ulcers and sores.

Propolis is known to be:

  • Antimicrobial – kills microbes, or inhibits their development and ability to cause disease;
  • Antiviral – kills viruses, or inhibits their development and ability to spread;
  • Antibacterial – kills bacteria, or inhibits their development and ability to reproduce;
  • Anti-inflammatory – reduces inflammation/swelling and redness;
  • Anaesthetic – reduces sensations of pain;
  • Regenerative – heals wounds.

These properties are ideal in the treatment of cold sores. This condition is caused by the HSV-1 virus and currently there is no cure. However, since propolis is an antiviral, it can hinder HSV-1′s ability to replicate when it reaches the surface of an individual’s skin, reducing the length of an outbreak.

As well as this, the anti-inflammatory and regenerative properties of propolis can ease unpleasant cold sore symptoms such as redness and swelling, and also help to heal broken skin caused by blisters.

The uses of propolis

In the modern developed world, propolis is used in a range of different medicinal and cosmetic products. Ointments and creams to reduce inflammation or ease cold sore symptoms, nasal sprays, cough lozenges and syrup, lip balms, and toothpaste, are just some of the items in which you can find propolis as an ingredient.

Some people even believe it has the potential to improve cancer treatments. Although this has not yet been proven, it seems likely that as technology improves and we increase our scientific knowledge, exciting new uses for propolis will present themselves.

Given that the substance is made from plant resins and there are so many different species of tree and flower in the world, as well as varying soil compositions for them to grow in, it has been estimated that there are about 20 million unique possible chemical combinations for propolis.

Treating your cold sore using propolis

Herstat, a propolis-based product for the treatment of cold sores is now available in the UK. More than four million tubes of this ointment have already been sold worldwide.

Herstat propolis cold sore care range

Herstat propolis cold sore care range

The propolis used in Herstat – a branded version called Propolis ACF® – undergoes a rigorous purification process during which the polyphenols and flavonoids that the bees have concentrated are further intensified to enhance the substance’s beneficial properties.

Effective in relieving the symptoms of cold sores, such as pain, redness, swelling, and dry or cracked skin, Herstat has been clinically proven to speed healing, reducing the length of outbreaks by an average of 3.5 days.

Pleasant tasting and virtually invisible, this topical treatment can be applied at any point during an outbreak and still have positive effects – unlike many other products which need to be applied at the first sign of tingling or redness.

Herstat can be bought direct from http://www.herstat.com – as a 2g tube of ointment, which can be used while suffering from a cold sore, or as a 3g LipCare Stick for protection between outbreaks.

Please click here to read more about propolis on the Herstat website.



An allergy and health writer and freelance copywriter, Ruth is passionate about helping those with allergies and food intolerances take control, embrace their condition, and learn to live with and love who they are. It can be very lonely finding you have allergies and discovering what helps you can be a life long journey. What works for one person won't work for another, so after trying nearly every allergy treatment under the sun and finding hours of research necessary to keep abreast of what's going on, Ruth started writing her blog, What Allergy? in April 2009. Ruth has life threatening allergies herself to all nuts, all diary, tomatoes and celery and knows first-hand what it's like to have an anaphylactic attack. Voted in the Top 5 UK allergy blogs by Cision UK in 2011, What Allergy is packed full of interesting articles, hints and tips and product reviews which are a must read for anyone with allergies, food intolerances or sensitivities, asthma and eczema. From subjects such as "What is celery allergy?" to "Surviving a holiday abroad with allergies", it's packed with useful and interesting information. You can register free for a weekly newsletter by visiting her website http://whatallergy.com/ and also keep in touch by following her on Facebook and Twitter.

Add a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *