There’s More to the Honeybee Than Honey: What Exactly Are Bee Pollen, Royal Jelly, and Propolis?

Most of us are no stranger to honey. Bees make the delicious, thick, golden liquid from the sugary secretions of plants or other insects, and people serve it up as a sweet ingredient for breakfasts, beverages, and desserts. 

Fewer people realize that bees make so much more than honey. (The phrase “busy as a bee” exists for good reason!) Not only do they produce the popular sweetener, but they also make several other compounds including bee pollen, royal jelly, and propolis. Research suggests these substances may have a lot to offer in the health department. Let’s take a close look at each of these bee products, plus their potential health benefits. 

What Is Bee Pollen? 

Bee pollen consists of a mixture of pollen, bee saliva, enzymes, and occasionally honey and nectar. The bees pack all these substances together into granules. That may not sound particularly appealing, but there are many reasons to embrace bee pollen. It contains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, flavonoids, and antifungal and antimicrobial compounds that may offer several health benefits.  

The Potential Health Benefits of Bee Pollen 

There are a lot of claims about the benefits of bee pollen, and some are more sound than others. Here’s a look at the potential benefits of these multifaceted granules. 

  • Working as an antioxidant. Research from 2005 and 2017 found that bee pollen boasts strong antioxidant properties thanks to compounds including flavonoids, lycopene, resveratrol, and vitamins A, C, and E. These compounds combat damaging free radicals and contribute to overall wellbeing. 
  • Reducing stress. There’s some evidence that bee pollen may increase circulation to the body’s nervous system. By better regulating the nervous system, this substance could help lower stress. 
  • Speeding healing. Research from 2015 suggests bee pollen’s antibacterial, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties can speed up the healing of abrasions, burns, cuts, and scrapes. 
  • Improving liver health. Several animal studies have found bee pollen might support the liver in removing waste products from the body; others suggest bee pollen’s antioxidants could protect the liver from damage.
  • Boosting the immune system. Once you know that bee pollen contains antioxidant, antiviral, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties, it’s easy to understand why this substance might boost immune system function. In the process, bee pollen could aid the body in fighting off all kinds of nefarious agents. 
  • Easing premenstrual and menopausal symptoms. Per Kaiser Permanente, one study found that taking a dietary supplement with bee pollen extract and royal jelly might help minimize PMS symptoms, including water retention and irritability. Another study, which was conducted in women with breast cancer, found that bee pollen supplements could reduce the number and intensity of menopausal symptoms. 
  • Reducing seasonal allergy symptoms. Some herbalists recommend bee pollen for managing seasonal allergies. However, more research is needed to determine whether bee pollen is truly useful in this way.
There’s More to the Honeybee Than Honey

What Is Royal Jelly? 

Royal jelly is a milky, gelatinous substance that’s secreted by worker bees for the purpose of supporting the queen bee’s development. It contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidant compounds. Research suggests royal jelly is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antimicrobial. 

The Potential Health Benefits of Royal Jelly 

As with bee pollen, there are a lot of claims about royal jelly buzzing around. Let’s take a look at the potential benefits of royal jelly and the current research into these claims. 

  • Easing menopausal symptoms. There’s promising research that suggests royal jelly might help relieve menopausal symptoms, including depression, anxiety, poor memory, and back pain. 
  • Relieving hay fever. Per the University of Michigan, royal jelly is sometimes used as an alternative treatment for hay fever. However, formal research into royal jelly’s efficacy in this regard is inconclusive. 
  • Minimizing PMS. According to a 2014 clinical trial, which was conducted on Iranian medical sciences students, royal jelly could minimize the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Study participants took royal jelly in capsule form every day for two full menstrual cycles. 
  • Reducing high cholesterol. A study from 2014 found that royal jelly can help lower levels of “bad” cholesterol. As a result, it might support cardiovascular wellbeing and could even reduce the risk of heart disease. More research is needed to determine the extent of royal jelly’s effect on heart health. 
  • Lowering blood pressure. Test tube studies suggest royal jelly could help relax the smooth cell muscles in human veins and arteries. This can allow blood to flow more easily, thereby lowering blood pressure.
  • Speeding up wound healing. Research from 2020 suggests royal jelly’s anti-inflammatory activity can support wound healing, including the treatment of burns, cuts, bed sores, and ulcers. Royal jelly could also speed up the regenerative processes of body tissue and is very moisturizing. 

What Is Propolis? 

Bees make propolis from the buds of poplar trees and other cone-bearing trees. The bees use this resin-like material to build their hives. Propolis is often harvested by people for its potential health properties. Like bee pollen and royal jelly, propolis has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. 

The Potential Health Benefits of Propolis

Here’s a quick look at the current research into propolis’s potential health benefits. It’s possible propolis could help with the following. 

  • Managing diabetes. Propolis may assist with managing diabetes by helping to control blood sugar. 
  • Relieving GI disorders. A 2017 review found propolis can help relieve infections of the GI tract and related symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and nausea. Because of its antiviral properties, propolis may help treat viral GI disorders at the source. 
  • Treating burns. A research review from 2020 suggests that a particular propolis preparation, dubbed Propol T, is a very effective treatment for skin burns. This is partly because it is anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, and helps reduce pain. It can also support the production of collagen, which further assists skin healing. 
  • Minimizing oral swelling and sores. Propolis might improve oral health in a number of ways. For instance, its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties help minimize oral swelling and sores. There’s even some evidence that adding propolis to toothpaste can reduce dental plaque. 
  • Combatting herpes. The same 2020 review cited above found that propolis’ antiviral compounds can help combat herpes simplex virus type 1 as well as cold sores caused by the herpes simplex virus. 


While more conclusive or human-based research is needed, there’s strong evidence to suggest that bee products — including bee pollen, royal jelly, and propolis — could offer people a number of health benefits. 

Of course, it’s always a good idea to chat with your doctor about starting new supplements. They can help you determine whether you need to be concerned about side effects, allergies, and/or interactions with medications.Also, be sure to use supplements that are sourced responsibly. Honeybees are already under stress, and we don’t need to add more to their plates. Thank the bees for their busyness — it serves all of us well!

By Laura Newcomer

Laura Newcomer is a writer, editor, and educator with several years of experience working in the health and wellness space. Formerly Senior Editor at the health site Greatist, Laura is now a professional freelance writer and editor based in Pennsylvania. Her writing has been published on Washington Post, TIME Healthland, Greatist, DailyBurn, Lifehacker, and Business Insider, among others. She's covered a wide variety of topics related to sex and relationships, from open relationships, to the pros and cons of being "friends with benefits," to sex positivity. A former counselor for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, she is a strong advocate for cultivating healthy and fulfilling relationships and sexuality at every age.