While we all probably love honey, what many people don’t know is that honey isn’t the only thing bees produce. There are many amazing things bees can do, and making royal jelly is certainly one of them.
So what is royal jelly? Royal jelly is a substance that worker bees produce using a special gland located in their head. This substance is used to feed the larvae in the earliest stage of development. The amount of royal jelly fed to the larvae also determines whether they will grow up to be worker bees or queens. Royal jelly is a milky-white gelatinous liquid of a slightly bitter taste, and it is also commonly consumed by humans.
So, what are the benefits of royal jelly for humans? Is it safe to consume it? Why do bees make royal jelly, why is it so important for queen bees and how do bees produce royal jelly? These are some of the questions we will answer today.
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What is Royal Jelly?
Royal jelly is one of several substances that honey bees produce. Royal jelly is the substance that allows some of the female larvae to develop into queen bees instead of worker bees. The other substances produced by honey bees include honey, beeswax, and propolis, but royal jelly has a special role both for the honey bees and in traditional medicine.
We’ll get into this process in more detail in the next section but for now, let’s focus on what royal jelly is.
Where does royal jelly come from?
Worker bees are the ones who make it. More specifically, it is produced by a specialized gland in the head of the worker bee, called the hypopharyngeal gland. In normal conditions, worker bees will produce royal jelly between the sixth and the twelfth day of their life.
What does royal jelly look like?
It is essentially a white, gelatinous substance. It has been described as having a texture similar to plain yogurt and that is a fair comparison. The largest constituent part of royal jelly is actually water – it contains anywhere from 60 to 70 percent of water. When you take out the water, the remaining substance is comprised of proteins, sugars and lipids. Moreover, royal jelly also contains a small percentage of vitamins, mainly B-group vitamins and minerals, and a very small amount of substances that have not yet been identified.
The Role of Royal Jelly in the Development of Queen Bees
As we already mentioned, a special gland in the heads of the worker bees allows them to produce royal jelly. Worker bees will feed royal jelly to all larvae during the first three days of development, regardless of which caste they belong to – drones, workers, or queens. However, there is a big difference in the way in which royal jelly is fed to queen larvae as opposed to worker bee and drone larvae. When nursing bees feed the worker larvae, they feed royal jelly directly to them (only during the first three days) and the larvae consume it immediately. On the other hand, when it comes to queen larvae, which also grow in larger cells, the nursing bees will deposit large amounts of royal jelly into the cell. They basically completely fill the cell with royal jelly, which is the reason why queen bees grow up to be much larger than worker bees.
Now, worker bees and queen bees actually have the same genetic makeup – they start out as exactly the same organism. However, they acquire different traits during development thanks largely to the difference in food they consume. For a female larva, the amount of royal jelly it consumes determines whether it will become a worker bee or a queen bee. The saying “you are what you eat” is true in quite a literal sense in this case.
The queen bee is actually the only female bee whose reproductive system is fully developed. While the worker bees have a reproductive system, it is never fully developed which is why they don’t lay eggs. The queen bee, on the other hand, lays thousands of eggs and is responsible for the reproduction of the whole colony. Queen bees also grow much larger than worker bees, and their lifespan is much longer. While the worker bees live only several weeks, the queen bee can live for four to five years.
What Are the Health Benefits of Royal Jelly for Humans?
Royal jelly has been used for centuries in many cultures as a traditional remedy. It was used in ancient Greece, Egypt, and China. In Asia, for example, royal jelly still has an important role in traditional medicine as part of apitherapy, a tradition that focuses only on the use of bee products for maintaining health.
Today, many people consume royal jelly and there are plenty of testimonials claiming that royal jelly has various positive effects on the human body. Reported effects of royal jelly include boosting the immune system, easing the menopausal and postmenopausal symptoms, as well as helping with symptoms of PMS. It has also been said that royal jelly can help with wounds to heal faster, help people with type 2 diabetes, and it even offer some benefits to mental health. A whole lot of positive effects from one substance, right? However, not all of these effects have been scientifically proven and such claims should always be taken with a grain of salt.
With that being said, there are actually many studies that suggest that royal jelly might be beneficial for our health in various ways. Some studies have shown that the protein contained in royal jelly does indeed have antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. Moreover, it might even be effective in fighting against some multi-drug resistant bacteria, such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which is a pressing issue today in many hospitals.
Experiments conducted with animals (typically rats) have shown that royal jelly can have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anti-allergic properties. It has even proven effective in lowering blood pressure and increasing collagen production in the skin which reduces the effects of aging.
A study conducted by Japanese scientists in 2012 checked the effects of royal jelly on 61 volunteers who consumed the substance on a regular basis for 6 months. At the end of the experiments, the volunteers had higher levels of red blood cells, better glucose tolerance, and even reported some improvements in mental health. The results of another study conducted in Japan and published last year showed that royal jelly can, in fact, be helpful for menopausal women.
Finally, at least one thing we know for certain is that royal jelly is full of nutrients. It contains high levels of protein and some natural sugars which are all good for you. Moreover, royal jelly is also very abundant in B group vitamins, mainly vitamin B5 followed by vitamins B1, B2, B6, B8, B9 and B12.
So there is no reason not give it a go, right? Well, in most cases this is true, but there are a couple of things you should keep in mind, especially if you have never tried royal jelly before. First of all, although this kind of reaction is rare, royal jelly can cause very serious allergic reactions in some people. Therefore, everyone should exercise caution when trying royal jelly for the first time. The best way is to try with a very small dose and wait to see if there are any unwanted effects. People who have severe allergic reactions to bee venom should be extra careful. Always remember, no one ever sold a product by telling you how bad it was. Always question the legitimacy of any revolutionary claims, especially when it comes to your health.
How to Use Royal Jelly?
Royal jelly can be consumed fresh, by taking ¼ to ½ of a teaspoon on a daily basis. Royal jelly is quite bitter and slightly sour, but it can easily be incorporated in a morning smoothie or oatmeal, for example.
However, there is one thing to keep in mind with fresh royal jelly: the way it is stored is highly important. Royal jelly is prone to oxidation, which means it shouldn’t be exposed to air too much. It should also be kept away from strong light and heat, so storing it in a closed container in a cool and dark place is necessary. Fresh royal jelly might be hard to come by, too, but there are also many supplements in the form of powder or in capsules that contain royal jelly.
Another way to use royal jelly is by applying it directly to the skin. It stimulates the production of collagen which creates an anti-aging effect and it might also be effective in fighting acne and giving the skin a more even tone.
How is royal jelly harvested?
Beekeepers harvest royal jelly from the cells in which larvae destined to become queens grow. These cells are larger than regular cells, and the worker bees flood them with royal jelly in order to provide nourishment for the queen larva. Harvesting is done by removing the frame with the honeycomb from the beehive and collecting the royal jelly from each individual cell. Around 500g of royal jelly can be harvested from a single beehive during a 6-month season.
What products do honey bees provide for humans?
Even though it is the most abundant product of bees, honey is not the only substance beekeepers can harvest from a beehive. In addition to honey, harvesting beeswax, propolis, royal jelly, and bee pollen is also quite common.
Medical News Today: What are the benefits of royal jelly?
Fratini et al. Royal Jelly: An ancient remedy with remarkable antibacterial properties. 2016.
Hiroyuki et al. Effect of royal jelly ingestion for six months on healthy volunteers. 2012.
Takashi et al. Royal Jelly Supplementation Improves Menopausal Symptoms Such as Backache, Low Back Pain, and Anxiety in Postmenopausal Japanese Women. 2018.
Evans, Elizabeth, and Carol A. Butler. Why Do Bees Buzz?: Fascinating Answers to Questions about Bees. Rutgers University Press, 2010.