Solution strength and the type of liquid base are two of the factors that consumers must take into consideration when deciding on the best brand of propolis tincture. Where the hive originates and the time of year when the beekeepers collect the resin also contribute to the quality of the tincture. Considered a homeopathic treatment, propolis tinctures are not regulated by federal drug agencies, so consumers have no way of knowing the purity of the product.
When building or repairing beehives, honeybees gather sap and resin from flower buds, leaf buds, and the bark of various trees. They return to the hive and mix these substances with saliva and wax. The mixture, now known as propolis, serves as caulk to fortify the structure of the beehive. The propolis hardens to the consistency of hard candy and may appear in varying shades of brown. Depending on where bees gather resin, propolis might also be clear, black, white, or have a red or green coloration.
Beekeepers scrape the propolis from the hive. The fresher the resin, the less likelihood the substance contains wax, wood, or other contaminants. Making the propolis tincture requires dissolving chunks of the resin in grain alcohol. This process may take up to two weeks for completion. Manufacturers then drain the liquid, which is called the extract.
Formulating different solution strengths requires allowing the alcohol in the mixture to evaporate. The more alcohol that is removed from the solution, the stronger the final tincture. Manufacturers typically sell propolis tinctures in strengths ranging from 25% to 80%. The higher the concentration of propolis, the thicker the tincture, which is usually consumed orally. Some propolis manufacturers mix highly concentrated levels of the resin with distilled water.
The strength of water based propolis tincture solutions may be around 25%. These solutions dissolve more readily in liquid and have a milder flavor. Studies indicate that propolis contains anywhere from 50 to 100 separate chemical components, including caffeic acid, cinnamic acid, and sinapinic acid. The resin also typically contains flavonoids.
Consumers use propolis tinctures because it exhibits antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-tumor properties. Studies indicate that the effectiveness of the tincture depends on where the bees gather the sap or resin. Propolis types vary from hive to hive even within the same colony. Resin from one flower may have more antimicrobial properties than another species, and properties also vary between flowers and trees and between tree species.
Having proven effectiveness against certain microbes, a propolis tincture might only be available in one particular country or during certain months of the year. During spring or fall, when frequently chosen plants do not contain resin, bees may substitute inorganic substances for making the caulk. Beekeepers have no control over where bees collect resin and cannot ensure the effectiveness or quality of the propolis tincture.