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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Medicinal uses of bee products

The use of all honeybee products, from all honeybee species, for therapeutic purposes is well established. The medicinal properties of unheated honey are widely known, but propolis, royal jelly and bee venom are also frequently used therapeutically. Beeswax has unique characteristics as an inert coating for certain pharmaceutical preparations or as an ingredient to stabilise ointments and creams, while pollen is used as a protein-rich nutritional supplement.  In addition the honey from stingless bees is of high medicinal value. Some products have a much greater, proven or unproven, medicinal reputation than others. For instance, biologically active manuka honey has been shown to have greater medicinal activity than other honeys, even though all honey is a useful medicine. Where it is available, people much prefer honey from stingless bees of the order Meliponia (Meliponine honey) over honey bee honey because they believe that it has special medicinal properties. Consequently, the price obtained for Meliponine honey is several times that for honey bee honey, and sale of this honey increases a family's income and social status.

Honey is excellent when used for burns and deep wounds because of its high concentration of sugars and natural antibiotic activity that kill bacteria. It is also used to soothe external sores, sore throats and gastric inflammation. It has a debriding effect, softening and removing dead skin and allowing a deep wound to heal naturally from the bottom upwards. Because it dissolves quickly it can be used to ameliorate conjunctivitis - two drops of pure, unheated, liquid honey in the eye twice daily will kill the bacteria causing the infection. The hygroscopic action of honey absorbs pus and smells from unpleasant infections and is also used to heal bedsores and leg ulcers.

Propolis has been shown to have strong antibiotic, antiviral, antihelmintic, antifungal and painkilling activity. It is frequently used for toothache and gum disease, sore throats, chest infections and for stimulating the immune system. It can be used for certain veterinary treatments and works synergistically with other antibiotics. Propolis is the bee product that is most likely to cause allergies.

Royal jelly is credited, without much scientific proof, with conferring long life and having aphrodisiac qualities.

Used in small doses, bees venom can be useful for treating a number of ailments.  At least 18 pharmacologically active components have been described in venom and some people swear by it for relief of rheumatism and arthritis. It may be one of the few compensations of getting stung that it may reduce or prevent the effects of these diseases later in life. However, honeybee venom is lethal to humans in high doses (around 600 stings for an adult or 90 for a child) while for those who are allergic to bee stings even a single sting can be fatal.


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