As someone who grew up with chronic sore throats and colds, Carly Stein found that propolis has been an absolute game-changer. Enter Beekeeper’s Naturals.
A chance visit to an Italian pharmacist in college changed Carly Stein’s life. Today, she is the founder of Beekeeper’s Naturals, a company dedicated to the sustainable care of bees and harvesting of its products’ star ingredient — propolis. Read on to learn more about Carly’s fantastic voyage, and that of her many buzzy team players:
Bee propolis saved you during a semester studying abroad. What happened, and what did propolis do to heal you?
As a college student, I struggled with a really weak immune system and recurring tonsillitis. During my semester abroad in Europe my tonsillitis got particularly severe. I am allergic to most antibiotics so, without a cure in sight, I was on the cusp of cutting my trip short and flying home for surgery. I was absolutely desperate, so when I was given a bottle of this strange stuff called bee propolis by an Italian pharmacist, my chipmunk cheeks and I figured we had nothing to lose and gave it a shot.
After barely one week of propolis, I was amazed that my tonsils actually returned to normal! No more pain and swelling — for the first time in my life, something had actually worked! I was able to fully recuperate and complete my time in Europe feeling healthier than ever. That’s when I realized that this bee stuff was magic.
So what exactly is bee propolis, and how is it harvested?
I like to call propolis ‘nature’s ultimate defender’. It’s a hive product, like honey. But while honey is the bees’ food, propolis is more like their medicine. Bees make it by collecting and processing various plant and tree resins. The sticky substance that results is used to line the entire interior of the hive—mainly to protect from bacteria, viruses, and foreign invaders. (They even have a propolis mat at the front door to ensure no one drags nasty germs in.)
In a way, propolis functions as the hive immune system. For example, if a mouse gets inside the hive, the bees will defend their home by stinging it to death. But then they’re faced with a new problem. Bees are small. They can’t possibly remove a big dead mouse from their home. And even though it’s dead, it still poses a major threat to the hive — it’s a breeding ground for disease. The bees’ solution? Mummify it with propolis! This effectively prevents any germs on the decaying mouse from infecting the rest of the hive and keeps everyone healthy. (Yes, it’s gross, but also pretty amazing!)
Propolis is really this natural wonder. Humans have been benefiting from the healing properties of bee propolis for millennia. In fact, the first recorded human use of propolis actually dates back earlier than 300 BC. Cleopatra used it in her beauty routine to keep her skin smooth and firm while Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, was a big fan of using it to help cure wounds. Modern research on propolis continually affirms its beneficial effects on the immune system. In study after study, it demonstrates powerful antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. Propolis is also rich in antioxidants and healthful compounds that help the body fight off germs and recover from environmental stress.
As someone who grew up with chronic sore throats and never-ending colds, I’ve found that propolis has been an absolute game-changer for my health. I now use our Propolis Spray daily for a natural immune boost and I rarely get sick, which is incredible considering all the traveling I do.
We make sure that we harvest our propolis sustainably and without harming the bees. Sheets with small holes (or sometimes sheets of mesh) are placed inside the top of the hive. The bees can’t resist patching up all the holes in their hive with propolis (they know how amazing it is), so the sheet will quickly fill up. When it’s full, the beekeeper will simply slide it out and scrape off the propolis — leaving the rest of the hive completely intact! This is our preferred technique, since it yields the highest quality propolis and keeps our bees happy.
Tell us what your first personal experience with bees was like. And did you get stung?
My first experience with the bees was captivating. I had recently returned from my semester abroad and, wanting to learn as much as I could about bees and propolis, had found a local beekeeper to apprentice with. His hives were located in the middle of all the gorgeous nature on Vancouver Island — it was really magical. Experiencing the bees like that for the first time was one of those special moments in my life where time slowed down and everything synced up.
Being around the bees that day was weirdly relaxing. I find listening to the steady drone of their hard work deeply meditative. I fell into a flow state pretty quickly as I observed these extraordinary creatures and tried to learn as much as I could about them.
I didn’t get stung (although I have been stung before). The thing about honeybees is that they don’t actually want to sting you. It’s a sacrificial last resort to protect their hive because they die as a result. So as long as you don’t stress them out and maintain a calm, serene energy and keep breathing, you’ll find that they won’t be too concerned about stinging you.
What did the beginning of Beekeeper’s Naturals look like? How many bees did you start out with? And what was your first product?
The beginning of BKN looked nothing like a business. It was a hobby and passion — something I was doing just for myself with no broader goal. I was authentically finding my purpose and doing the building something that I truly care about.
When I realized how important propolis was to my health, I started learning how to keep bees and sourced my own propolis from my friend’s apiary. I was still in college, so I wasn’t able to have any hives of my own. When I began sharing my first product that I developed for my own use (a prototype Propolis Spray for supporting immunity), I was just gifting it to friends and family at first. It was all about sharing my passion.
With the encouragement of my loved ones, I started doing one-off markets and sharing my product with strangers. It was their feedback that changed everything for me. People would come up to me with stories about how my product had drastically improved their health — it was incredible and a little unbelievable at first. But I love being able to help people and make a difference, so that drove me to start thinking about the bigger picture.
What sustainability measures do you utilize in your company, to ensure optimal health for your “employ-bees”?
Our biggest and most unique sustainability measure is that we are potentially the only bee product company to practice third-party pesticide testing. This isn’t just great for our product quality (nobody wants a natural remedy that’s hiding chemical nasties). It also ensures that our bees are safe and happy. Pesticides, like neonicotinoids, are one of the leading causes of global pollinator decline. While it can be hard to ensure that bees never come into contact with any pesticides (they’re everywhere, and bees can forage within a 5-mile radius from their hive), we have situated our hives in remote green locations, regularly audit our apiaries, and conduct this third-party testing to ensure that our buzzing friends are as safe and happy as possible.
(Fun fact — because of the wide radius of foraging grounds bees have, just because a honey is certified organic does not mean it’s actually pesticide-free. That’s why what we’re doing is so important and special. We are making sure our products and hives are free of these chemicals.)
Beyond that, we always put the health and happiness of our bees first, never over-harvesting their products and making sure they remain unstressed and healthy.
Bees’ greatest benefit?
I don’t even know where to start! Bees are so so important—not just for humans, but for all life on our planet! I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s true. Without bees, one out of every three bites of food we eat would disappear or become prohibitively expensive. That includes the likes of almonds, apples, berries, broccoli, avocados, and even coffee and chocolate! So that would make a pretty big dent in your diet. Then, factor in that grazing animals rely on pollinators for their food, too. Nutrient dense pastures of clover and alfalfa are hugely important to both wild and domesticated grazing species, so if we were to lose those plants due to lack of pollination, grazing animals would suffer, too. Whether you eat meat or not, I think we can agree that that’s not great.
Over 78% of the world’s flowering plants actually rely on animal pollination of one variety or another for survival. Keeping that in mind, losing the bees would be absolutely detrimental to not just humans, but our ecosystem at large.
Five flowers that your bees love the most!
Our bees love foraging in our pesticide-free fields. They feast on buckwheat blossoms, alfalfa, wild clover, raspberry blossoms, and lots of wildflowers!
“When you truly want something, the entire universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
That’s a quote from Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist.” It reminds me that if you can trust and believe and keep working, the things you want will come. You just need to accept that the road may not be smooth, but you’ll get there in the end.
Environment photos courtesy of Cat Davis, Beekeeper’s Naturals’ Creative Director.