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The history of propolis

According to records that date back centuries, propolis treatment has many benefits. Ancient civilisations employed this resinous substance to fulfil a number of different roles – and might have even mentioned it in one or two legends...

A certain Roman tale suggests this. According to the story, the god Jupiter – who is frequently associated with elements of the sky and has the ability to send rain or strike objects with lightning – once had the desire to reap the healing benefits of propolis. In order to do this, the deity used his powers to transform a beautiful maiden, named Melissa, into a bee.

An ancient Greek legend seems to share these similarities. Although there are a number of tales surrounding the character "Melissa", one claims that she helped the god Zeus – a similar deity to Jupiter – hide from his murderous father, Cronus.

Whilst hiding the infant from his father, Melissa fed Zeus a combination of goat's milk and honey. However, when Cronus found out about Melissa's actions, he was furious and transformed her into an earthworm. Fortunately this tale has a happy ending as, although Melissa was unable to return to her human form, Zeus took pity on her and changed her into a bee.

These stories, although entertaining, illustrate a point. It appears a number of civilisations, including the Chinese and Egyptians, revered and recognised the benefits of propolis. However, this wasn't the case for other parts of the world. It seems that it wasn't until a more recent reference in 1597, with the arrival of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, that the benefits were recognised in Europe.

In this document, Gerard seems truly interested in propolis, describing it as a material which can "provide swift and effective healing for many conditions". Therefore, his findings likely sparked interest throughout Europe, perhaps leading to the success of propolis today.

So, the next time you use propolis, perhaps in a cold sore treatment, you can rest assured knowing that you're using a product with a varied and interesting pedigree – and one with a history which is still being written.