If you’re like us, you’ve been hearing about the benefits of honey—and more specifically, propolis—for awhile. And who isn’t always looking for ways to keep their family healthy? We spoke to Carly Stein, who created Beekeeper’s Naturals, about her new brand, which includes innovative products like throat spray, raw honey blended with hemp oil, and raw bee pollen. She shares the story behind Beekeeper’s, the benefits of propolis and more.
How did you decide to start Beekeeper’s Naturals?
Beekeeper’s Naturals evolved organically out of my need to solve my own health issues. I struggled with a weak immune system most of my life, thanks to an autoimmune condition that makes me allergic to most strains of antibiotics. So whenever I got sick, I got really sick. When I was studying abroad during college, I came down with a particularly severe case of tonsillitis in Italy. My tonsils ballooned to the size of golf balls and it seemed like I was going to have to head home early and have surgery. I stumbled into an Italian pharmacy in search of an alternative. After deciphering my garbled Italian, the pharmacist handed me a small bottle of sticky brown stuff to take—bee propolis. A few days later, I was shocked to discover that my health was actually improving. Within a week, I was feeling better than ever. That’s when I realized that this bee stuff was magic. Once I found my own solution, it was only a matter of time before I wanted to share it with the world. When I got home, I couldn’t find propolis anywhere at home, so I took up beekeeping and started formulating my own propolis product.
Such a great story. So for people who aren’t familiar, what is propolis?
Propolis is amazing! I like to call it ‘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 a diverse array of beneficial 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 almost functions as an immune system. For example, if a mouse gets inside the hive, the bees will defend their home by stinging it to death. But 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!)
How else does it benefit your health?
In study after study, it demonstrates powerful antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, 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, 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. But it has other uses, too. I apply it topically on minor scrapes and burns to add an extra layer of protection and promote healing. It even helps to hydrate and heal chapped lips. There have also been studies linking propolis to dental health and cavity prevention. It really is this incredible healer—nature’s bee-osporin!
Ha! So what should people look for in propolis-enriched products?
To be propolis specific, some propolis extracts are in a base of alcohol while others are in a base of water and vegetable glycerin—so if you’re alcohol-sensitive, be aware of that. On a more macro level, the most important thing to be aware of when buying any bee product is the company’s sourcing practices. Bee populations are struggling, thanks to habitat loss, rampant pesticide use, and climate change. And yet, our global food system would crumble without them (they pollinate ⅓ of our food supply). So you want to make sure you’re supporting the bees rather than contributing to the problem, which is why any bee product you buy should absolutely be sustainably-sourced. What does sustainability look like in beekeeping? It means looking for companies that work small-scale so they can give their bees the attention they deserve. It means avoiding the use of chemicals and keeping bees far away from pesticides. (This is easier said than done, because bees will forage up to 5 miles in any direction from their hive. Finding that much untainted open land around an apiary can be hard to come by.) It means never overharvesting and leaving the bees plenty of their own products to allow their hives to thrive. If a company is not up front about their sourcing practices, opt for a company who is. (Plus, sustainable bee products tend to be purer, more potent, and better quality, so it’s a win-win for everyone!)
How has the honey and propolis industry changed since you launched just a few years ago?
I’m seeing more bee wellness products on the market, but the industry has become so trendy. What that really means is we have an inflow of well-branded, beautiful products, but the quality doesn’t always line up—which is sad to me. However, the positive flip is that more and more people are starting to get interested in propolis, royal jelly and the suite of hive healers, which really excites me.
What separates your brand from others on the shelf?
When it comes to bee products, we are the only brand who commits to 3rd party pesticide testing. This means that we regularly have an outside lab test for pesticide contamination in our hives and our products. Pesticides are one of the leading causes of bee decline, not to mention they are massive endocrine disruptors, so we don’t want them anywhere near our bees or our wellness products. On that note, we use exclusively top quality ingredients and take our sourcing practices seriously. We are highly selective about our hive standards. We never overharvest from our hives and work only with remote, sustainable apiaries to ensure our bees are happy and able to forage in clean spaces. Of course, we also go extra lengths to help our ingredients live up to their fullest potential. Our tagline is “naturally sourced, obsessively tested” for a reason. We create science backed formulations to make remedies that actually work. We always test for bioavailability to ensure that your body will absorb as much goodness as possible from our products.
Why is it important to know where your propolis is being sourced from?
Bees travel surprisingly far from their hives as they collect pollen and nectar—their average foraging radius is 5 miles in any direction. That’s broader than the range of clean space required for bee products to be certified organic, meaning that the bees who produce certified organic honey might still be foraging on chemically-tainted grounds. So just because your honey or propolis says ‘organic’, that doesn’t always mean it is pesticide-free.
What are your personal favorite products from your line?
Obviously our Propolis Throat Spray has a special place in my heart. It was our flagship product and the one that started this crazy adventure! I use it daily for immune support, throat soothing, and as a germ-fighting balm on minor scrapes. I like to think of it as nature’s bee-osporin! Speaking of propolis, I don’t have kids yet, but my friends do and I am so in love with our Propolis Throat Spray for Kids, which is just like our adult spray, but with the addition of buckwheat honey for a little extra sweetness. Most kids’ remedies are full of unhealthy junk like refined sugars and artificial colors and flavors. Giving parents a cleaner option is so important, and it makes me so happy to see parents and their kids enjoying this hive alternative. I’m also really obsessed with our nootropic, B.LXR Brain Fuel. Each vial contains this powerful combination of royal jelly and adaptogens—ginkgo biloba and bacopa monnieri. There is a lot of research out there about the impressive focus and memory benefits of bacopa and ginkgo. Meanwhile, royal jelly contain these ultra-unique compounds that are so great for brain health. The coolest part is that these three natural ingredients all work synergistically to provide a brain boost while actually nourishing your brain and making it healthier. Since B.LXR is caffeine-free, I use it regularly to improve my productivity or to help me get back in the zone after a long flight. I travel a lot, so B.LXR is my ultimate jet lag hack.