Alternative remedies: Propolis

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PROPOLIS is the rather unattractive-sounding name for the rather unattractive-looking resin usually found oozing from young tree buds or conifer bark. However, once you realise that this waxy substance - which is used by bees to seal their hives - is said to be one of nature's most powerful cure-alls, you might look upon it in a more favourable light.

Egyptian priest-doctors used propolis in the mummification process and, in the modern land of the living, advocates of complementary medicine recommend sucking on a piece of propolis to ease a sore throat, among its other applications.

It is said that thanks to potent antiviral and antibiotic properties, it can do much more than soothe those tonsils, however. Not only is it believed to kill strains of bacteria resistant to conventional antibiotics, but thanks to its high content of antioxidant flavonoids, it is also though to bolster the immune system, strengthening the body's own defences.

The medical establishment is generally wary of claims regarding a plant's curative powers. But after a recent German study reported that propolis may be effective in treating neurofibromatosis - a little-known and unpredictable genetic condition causing non-cancerous tumours to grow around the body - it is even gaining favour with doctors.

Using Propolis Liquid Bio30 from Antipodean natural health specialists Manuka Health, the waxy substance was found to be 90 per cent effective in suppressing the development of tumorous growths after it was fed to mice for 100 days. It is now being tested on human sufferers in Japan and is predicted to appear on prescription pads in future.

However, there is no need to wait if you want to try the substance for yourself. Produced by British company Bee Health, BEE PROPOLIS CAPSULES (11.49 for 90, 0845 838 6263, are said to be powerful immune boosters.

For those looking to treat chronic skin conditions without steroids, Honeycomb Skincare has HONEY AND PROPOLIS CREAM (4.95 for 30ml, 01747 838055, , which helps reduce itching and irritation.

The must-pack essential of the summer is, however, their new TINCTURE OF PROPOLIS (5.20 for 30ml). Just a few drops will calm sunburnt skin and - when diluted in warm water and gargled - it targets mouth ulcers, toothache and sore throats. Now that's multitasking.