Copper Bee Apiary

A garden apiary in Whittlesford, Cambridge, UK - honey bees and their beekeeper Hilary van der Hoff.


Propolis is the reddish brown sticky resin that bees stick things together with, bung up gaps with, and strengthen wax with. Apparently they collect it from trees. I have seen propolis foragers in the hive - on their rear legs where the pollen basket is they have a dollop of propolis like a bead of glue.

One of the wonderful things about propolis is its scent. It is ylang ylang, vanilla, a pine forest on a hot day, and a glass of mulled wine. And it emits a toasted version of these scents when burnt with a blowtorch, which enlivens the task of sterilising a second hand hive or flame-cleaning a queen excluder.

Propolis is said to have antiseptic qualities. So when cleaning the Smith Hive in preparation for storage, I decided to "harvest" the propolis off it and make a tincture.

Except, I didn't get round to it for a couple of weeks. The propolis scratchings stayed in their jug at the back of the fridge, covered in cling film. Today I went back to it. In the history of science, this is how serendipitous discoveries are made. What I discovered is: propolis doesn't smell so good after it's been in the fridge for a couple of weeks. The heady and complex scent that I raved about above had changed - vanilla was still there, perhaps more so, but now it had taken on a sickly creaminess. My nose was disappointed.

Anyway, this meant there was less to lose by experimenting with tinctures. I poured vodka (40 % abv) into the jug. Not much happened. The propolis didn't dissolve. A few bits of dried grass and beeswax separated out and floated to the top. The propolis stayed at the bottom. The vodka turned slightly yellow.

A cautious sip...the taste is initially earthy, and there's the ylang ylang, then an after-taste reminiscent of plasticine. Not as bad as I feared. I shall leave it to develop in the jug for another couple of weeks and we'll see what happens.

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