I always found it fascinating that queen bees are genetically identical to worker bees. However, because of their different diets, their physiology and behavior become completely different. It is all due to an amazing substance – royal jelly.
Royal jelly is produced by worker bees. It is a food source for the queen bee and young larvae, and it is even harvested and used by humans. But how do bees make royal jelly?
What is Royal Jelly?
Royal jelly is a very important substance that is made by worker bees – nurse bees, in particular. This milky white secretion is fed to the queen bee throughout her life. As a result of this diet, she becomes larger than other bees, has a longer lifespan, and most importantly, she develops the ovaries needed to lay eggs.
All honey bee larvae – including drones and workers, also eat royal jelly for the first three days of their life, however, this doesn’t last long and they quickly transition to a diet of pollen and nectar.
Royal jelly contains 67% water, 12.5% protein, 11% simple sugars, 6% fatty acids and 3.5% 10-hydroxy-2-decenoic acid (10-HDA). Trace amounts of minerals, vitamins, and antibacterial and antibiotic components are also found in royal jelly.
How do Bees Make Royal Jelly?
Royal jelly is secreted from the glands in the hypopharynx, which is in the head of nurse bees. Nurse bees have an important job in the colony. They are charged with caring for the brood – the larvae and the pupae in the hive. This included feeding them and secreting royal jelly for the larvae and of course, the queen.
It has been found that the amount of pollen in the hive relates to the amount of royal jelly being produced. That’s because nurse bees consume pollen in order to develop and activate the glands that secrete royal jelly.
Nurse bees mix some royal jelly into bee bread to feed brood, but when it comes to the queen’s larvae, they practically bathe her in it. Queen cells are filled with royal jelly, and even after the queen emerges, she is exclusively fed royal jelly for the rest of her life.
How is Royal Jelly Harvested?
Humans have found health and wellness uses for royal jelly, adding it skincare, health, and beauty products. However, harvesting it is not easy, which is why royal jelly products are not cheap.
To harvest royal jelly, a special colony must be made, consisting of young nurse bees and no queen. The beekeeper will hand graft a honey bee egg into several fake queen cups and add them to the hive.
Instinctively, the nurse bees will try to raise a queen bee by filling the queen cups with royal jelly. Before the larvae are fully developed, the beekeeper will remove the royal jelly with a special suction tool.
As you can tell, it is a highly specialized and skilled job to harvest royal jelly. A beekeeper can expect to yield up to 17 oz of royal jelly each season.
How is Royal Jelly Used?
Royal jelly has been used for health, wellness, and beauty purposes around the world for a very long time. Historically, the use of royal jelly was reserved for royalty – being called “food for emperors” in Chinese culture, and being given as gifts to Egyptian Pharaohs.
Nowadays, you don’t need to be royalty to use royal jelly, as it is widely available for anyone to purchase.
Royal Jelly supplements are used for diabetes management, menopause support, collagen production, wound healing, and for its antiviral properties. These supplements may also reduce the risk of heart disease by positively impacting cholesterol levels.
People with skin conditions use royal jelly both topically and orally to help with wound healing and skin repair. Royal jelly’s antibacterial properties help to prevent infection and also aid in tissue repair.
It is also believed that royal jelly can support healthy brain function. A study showed that royal jelly can improve memory, decrease symptoms of depression and lower stress hormones.
Royal jelly is a desirable ingredient in many beauty and skincare products. Its antibacterial properties help with acne and help the skin maintain its microbiome. However, a major reason why royal jelly is used in skincare is because it boosts collagen production.
Collagen is a protein that maintains the skin’s structure. Over time, the fibers in the skin begin to break down and sag. By using products containing royal jelly, there may be a boost in collagen production, which promotes firmer and smoother skin.
In addition, there is an acid in royal jelly called 10-HDA that can help brighten dark spots on skin. It does this by inhibiting the growth of melanin cells that cause pigment in skin. Royal jelly can help to prevent hyperpigmentation cells from becoming darker and also fade existing dark spots.
Potential Risks of Using Royal Jelly
While royal jelly is generally safe and non-irritating it could pose a risk to some people. It is an animal by-product, therefore, those with bee or pollen allergies should not use royal jelly due to risk of an allergic reaction.
Royal jelly is a substance bees make to feed young larvae and the queen. Bees make royal jelly by secreting it from glands near their head. Royal jelly can be harvested and used in health supplements and beauty products.