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Apitherapy – bee-therapy – is treatment with bees and their products. It has ancient origins: the first known prescription using honey was written on a clay tablet, found in the Euphrates valley and dating from somewhere between 2100 and 2000 BC. There are records from ancient Egypt and ancient India of using honey in treating wounds. Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician and ‘father of medicine’ listed the physical effects of honey: “It causes heat, cleans sores and ulcers, softens hard ulcers of the lips, and heals carbuncles and running sores” . Important religious texts all refer to honey and its healing powers. For Jewish people the Promised Land is described as "a country which abounds in olive oil and in honey" (Deuteronomy 8:8). In the Sanskrit Veda of ancient India, honey is a remedy for many disorders. For Christians, the Bible has many references, and in Islam, honey is a precious medicine. Sura 16 of the Koran mentions the origin of honey and its therapeutic qualities, "It comes forth from their bellies: a liquid of various colors, with healing for mankind". Therefore, honey and bee products have a heritage of use as medicine. Today, the virtues of bee products are extolled by some, especially those interested in alternative and complementary medicines, who describe the use of honey, pollen, propolis, wax, royal jelly and venom for medicinal purposes as apitherapy. Others will say that claims for the therapeutic benefits of bee products have not been subject to critical, scientific scrutiny. The Apimondia Standing Commission for Apitherapy works to promote the use of bee products for apitherapy and proposes the following definition: ‘Apitherapy is a medical concept, based on scientific foundations corroborating traditional knowledge, including:

Bee production procedures aimed at medical development;

Transformation of hive product procedures, alone, or in association with medicinal plants and their derivatives (api-pharmacopoeia);  

Clinical protocols incorporating the use of the api-pharmacopoeia and/or of the bees (api-medicine).’

Much has been written about apitherapy and a number of organizations exist to promote this cause: see Further Information in Chapter 16 for details. This Chapter gives a brief outline of the bee products used within apitherapy.

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