Royal Jelly: Benefits, Uses, and How It’s Made

October 11, 2022

glass jar of royal jelly

Contents:

If you’ve ever been near a honey bee hive (or happen to host one yourself), then you likely know that these pollinators are often seen together in and around their home. Since honey bees are social insects, this means that they work together and depend on each other to survive, while also performing daily essential functions for the rest of the colony. 

In addition to pollinating flowers and creating honey, the honey bee is also responsible for caring for young bees as well as the queen bee, who is known as the “mother” of all of the bees in one hive. One important duty of the worker honey bee involves creating something called “royal jelly”, which plays a large role in their physiology and status within the hive. 

 

What is Royal Jelly?

 

royal jelly in an uncapped queen brood cell
Photo courtesy of Beeopic.

 

Royal jelly is often referred to as a honey bee’s version of “a mother’s milk” and is a protein-rich secretion produced by worker bees. This milky substance is fed to all larvae for a short period of time during the honey bee life cycle, and is also fed to the developing queen bee in extra amounts.  

 

What is Royal Jelly Made of?

 

Since royal jelly is fed to the bees inside of a honey bee hive, it’s important to understand the composition of this protein-packed liquid. According to ScienceDirect.com, royal jelly is a complex compound consisting of water (50-60%), proteins (18%), carbohydrates (15%), trace minerals, free amino acids, and other smaller compounds. It is also noted that royal jelly is one of the richest natural products in free amino acids, and contains at least eight essential amino acids. 

 

Common Names for Royal Jelly

 

If you’re unfamiliar with the term “royal jelly”, it’s likely that you may have heard of this substance by a different name! Common names for royal jelly include: 

  • Bee Saliva
  • Bee Spit
  • Honey Bee Milk
  • Royal Bee Jelly
  • Gelée royale
  • Lait des abeilles

 

Royal Jelly vs. Propolis

 

propolis on the edge of a frame
Photo courtesy of Premier Bee Products

 

It’s no surprise that honey bees are fascinating creatures that we can learn and benefit from. When hosting a beehive, people can enjoy the excess honey in a warm cup of tea, and even beeswax is widely used for candles, lip balms, and other products. But what about propolis? 

Propolis differs from royal jelly in the sense that, although it is produced by worker bees, its purpose is much different. Propolis is used to seal and protect the hive from any threats or bacteria. Because of its antibiotic properties, propolis is often added to health products and is commonly used to treat diabetes and cold sores (although additional evidence to confirm its efficacy is still needed). 

 

How Royal Jelly is Made and its Uses within a Beehive

 

Nurse bee attending a queen brood cell full of royal jelly
Photo courtesy of Inside Science.

 

Honey bees are incredibly fascinating and resourceful creatures, and the production of royal jelly is just one of the many awe-inspiring things that a worker bee can do. Royal jelly is something that is naturally produced by nurse bees that are six to 14 days old, and looks sticky, white, but sometimes with a gray cast (similar to condensed milk, according to Cebelarstvo Luzar, which is where the name “mother’s milk” stems from). 

According to Emily O’Neil, the Staff Scientist at The Best Bees Company, worker and drone larvae receive royal jelly the first two to three days of their larval development, while developing queens receive it their entire larval stage. O’Neil also notes that the amount of royal jelly within a beehive is extremely dependent on the amount of pollen in the hive, because nurse bees will consume pollen to help continue the development and activation of their  hypopharyngeal glands in order to produce royal jelly. 

“You can often tell if a colony has adequate amounts of pollen/bee bread by looking at the larvae in a hive. If the larvae are ‘swimming’ in pools of royal jelly, this indicates that there is enough pollen for nurse bees to consume to produce royal jelly.”

– Emily O’Neil 

Although it has been believed in the past that the feeding of royal jelly to the queen is what makes her royal, that could very well not be the case. According to recent research, it’s actually about how the activated genes differ between a worker bee and a queen. Although the queen bee undoubtedly has an integral role inside the hive, Dr. Ryszard Maleszka at Australian National University notes that there is still so much more we have yet to discover and learn about this insect. 

“With our current knowledge we only scratch the surface of biological systems, and honey bee biology is no exception.” – Dr. Ryszard Maleszka via WIRED. 

 

Properties of Royal Jelly

 

We already know that royal jelly is incredibly nutritious because of its nutritional composition, but research also suggests that it can have properties that support many of the health benefit claims made by humans. Although there is little evidence that confirms that certain benefits come directly from royal jelly, this substance created by honey bees may have the following properties: 

  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antibacterial
  • Antimicrobial
  • Antifungal
  • Anti-lipidemic

 

Royal Jelly Benefits and Uses for Humans

 

white dropper bottle on white background
Royal Jelly is commonly used in skincare, lotions, and other beauty products.

 

Currently, there is not enough evidence to support the claims of royal jelly’s benefits, although research has been conducted. In a 2012 study published in the Nutrition Journal, 61 healthy volunteers were given royal jelly to ingest for six months to evaluate its long-term effects. Half of the volunteers ingested royal jelly, while the other half received a placebo – this study concluded that during these six months, the volunteers experienced “improved erythropoiesis, glucose tolerance and mental health.” While these outcomes were positive, researchers noted that an additional study with a larger number of subjects is necessary to truly verify the effects of royal jelly on humans. 

Even though we do not have enough concrete evidence to confirm royal jelly’s effects on humans, this substance is still used by humans today (and can be very costly to get your hands on). When ingested, royal jelly may be helpful in alleviating symptoms relating to menopause (according to WebMD.com). Preclinical findings in research conducted by Amira Mohammed Ali and Hiroshi Kunugi revealed that royal jelly acts as a multidomain cognitive enhancer that can restore cognitive performance in aged individuals and people with Alzheimer’s Disease. 

Royal jelly is also used topically by humans for a variety of potential health benefits. Since royal jelly is rich in proteins, lipids, amino acids, minerals, and vitamins, there is a widespread interest in utilizing royal jelly in skincare products. In this sense, royal jelly can be used as an ingredient in skincare products, or used directly on the skin in its purest form. According to some skin experts and dermatologists, royal jelly can promote skin hydration, elasticity, fight inflammation, encourage collagen production, and even speed up the healing of acne or other wounds (among others). 

 

Side Effects of Royal Jelly Use on Humans

 

While our knowledge of the benefits of royal jelly is continuing to evolve, so is our current understanding of its impact. According to medical professionals, ingesting or applying royal jelly in safe amounts short-term is possibly safe, but people with allergies or asthma should steer clear as it could cause an allergic reaction via skin irritation or rashes.   

 

Harvesting Royal Jelly and Increasing Royal Jelly Production

 

Cluster of nurse bees attending queen brood cells full of royal jelly
Photo courtesy of Bees4Life.

 

The best time to harvest royal jelly occurs three-to-four days after grafting a worker larva in a queen cup, or when the queen larva is fully grown. Emily O’Neil notes that royal jelly is often collected by beekeepers with a vacuum device or small syringe after the removal of the queen larva and strained to remove wax and old larval skins. According to O’Neil, it takes 125 or more queen cells to yield an ounce (28g) of jelly and royal jelly is stored under refrigeration or in the freezer before formulation in honey, in a lotion, or in a capsule for consumption.

For beekeepers who want to help increase the amount of royal jelly that is being produced within their hive, O’Neil recommends beekeepers first ensure the following:

  • The colony is finding/foraging enough pollen
  • The are enough nurse bees to take care of the brood

Since nurse bees are the only bees that have hypopharyngeal glands and are the only ones that can feed the broods, their role in the developmental phase of new bees is crucial. The other extremely important part of royal jelly production is pollen, as this is the food source nurse bees are feeding on to help develop their hypopharyngeal glands to produce this royal jelly for the brood. 

In order to help improve royal jelly levels, or if you are seeing low levels of royal jelly in your hives, O’Neil says that you can add a pollen supplement or feed pollen to your colonies. Secondly, it’s important to make sure that there are enough nurse bees in your colony. To do this, take note of if the queen is laying eggs, and if there are enough broods to replace the current generation of bees – but it’s equally important that there are not any diseases inhibiting the population of the workers in your hive. 

 

FAQs

 

Q: What is royal jelly?

A: Royal jelly is a protein-rich secretion produced by the hypopharyngeal glands of nurse bees in a honey bee hive.  that is fed to all larvae for a short period of time during the honey bee life cycle

Q: Why do bees need royal jelly?

A: Once produced by nurse bees, royal jelly is then fed to all larvae for a short period of time, and is also fed to the developing queen bee in larger amounts. This highly nutritious substance also helps anchor a queen cell to the hive so it can hang while she develops.  

Q: Does royal jelly have health benefits?

A: Although there is not enough evidence to support health benefit claims of royal jelly, this substance can be ingested by humans or applied topically because of its antibacterial, anti-aging, and anti-inflammatory properties.

bee_trail_divider_long
bee_trail_divider_small_horizontal_2
More Stories

Cambridge’s PARKing Day!

Friday was a blast as we participated in Cambridge’s PARKing day! First founded in San Fransisco, PARKing Day…

HUBweek 2016-Liquid Gold with Best Bees

HUBweek, which ran from September 24th to October 1st, wrapped up earlier this month. This marks the second…

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top