Bees and honey are inseparably linked – it’s well known that bees create honey out of the nectar they gather from plants and flowers, using it to feed and sustain their hive. While it gets far less time in the spotlight, bees also use and make another amazing product – albeit in exponentially smaller amounts per hive.
Royal jelly, in addition to having an impressive name, also has an impressive list of reported benefits and an absolutely fascinating origin story. Created deep in the hive, this protein-rich substance is typically reserved for the queen, though clever beekeepers can carefully harvest it for humans to consume and discover the many ways to use royal jelly.
What Does Royal Jelly Do to Bees?
While the popular condiment jelly is made from fruit and sugar, royal jelly is secreted by worker bees for a very specific task: raising and keeping a queen bee. Amazingly, a worker bee and a queen bee are genetically the same insects, save for a diet of strict fresh royal jelly for her majesty. This protein, vitamin, and mineral-packed secretion is so powerful in bee hierarchy, it literally transforms her into the ruler of her hive. A larvae, or pupae that would otherwise be a sterile worker bee becomes a queen, complete with pheromones, fertility to lay eggs, and command over the hive.
While all bee pupae – baby bees – are fed fresh royal jelly for the first three days of their existence in their egg cells, the pupae chosen by nurse bees to be future queens are bathed in it. Their special elongated queen cells are filled with the substance, giving them a huge leg up on the social ladder of bee hierarchy. While this technique would normally produce several queens, a true queen permits no rivals: the first and strongest jelly-bathed pupae to emerge will eradicate her rivals by stinging them in their cells. Through this efficient and admittedly merciless process, only the strongest jelly-fed queen survives to take control of the hive.
How is Royal Jelly Harvested?
While a great deal of the octagonal beeswax cells in a hive are filled with honey, far fewer are filled with royal jelly. This makes the substance a precious and usually expensive one, driven partly by scarcity and partly by how difficult it is to extract without harming the hive or collapsing the colony. The trick to harvesting royal jelly from a beehive involves a smart beekeeper, a little ingenuity, and some sleight of hand.
To harvest royal jelly, a beekeeper will find or create a bee colony that does not have a queen. They will place a row of fake queen cells inside the hive, each with a honey bee egg placed inside. Instinctually driven to create a queen, the worker bees will begin filling the faux queen cells with royal jelly, intending to nurture the egg inside to queenhood. The beekeeper will return at a precise point in larval development and remove the royal jelly filling the cup around the would-be future queen. The worker bees may or may not refill the jelly once it’s gone missing, and lucky (and steady-handed) beekeepers can harvest a few times this way, garnering up to 500 grams of royal jelly per season, per hive.
Is Royal Jelly Good For You? Are There Royal Jelly Benefits?
You may know the benefits of honeycomb, but what about royal jelly? Like many of nature’s most innovative products, further research is needed to support the benefits of royal jelly, but legions of fans – including the Queen of England! – swear by its healing effects and energetic properties (not to mention some love the mild royal jelly taste). Because royal jelly is, by nature, created for bees and not humans, it is best when taken as a dietary supplement: some proponents suggest taking it along with honey for a bee-powered boost to the immune system.
Royal jelly contains:
- Fatty Acids
- B Vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B8 & B9)
The jelly is often added to other products or mixed with other vitamins to ensure good biocompatibility; capsules or an edible jelly-like liquid are the most common commercial formats. As a note of caution, any individual that has a sensitivity to bees, pollen, or bee stings should avoid eating royal jelly in any form: there is a chance it may aggravate these allergies and cause a serious allergic reaction in the body.
How to Buy Royal Jelly
When purchasing royal jelly, the best way to make sure the product is genuine is to purchase it from a company specializing in bee products. These sellers will offer items such as honey, edible honeycomb, or beeswax-related items such as candles in addition to the royal jelly supplement. Like most natural products, the jelly should be kept out of direct sunlight, moisture, and excessive heat – if the directions suggest it, storage in the refrigerator is usually a good idea.
Finding, using, and enjoying royal jelly and its natural effects isn’t an experience reserved for bee royalty only: supplementing your diet with this nutrient-dense treat can help you improve your health, wellness, and bond with the bees.
- “Royal Jelly.” WebMD.com, (no publish date), https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-503/royal-jelly. Accessed June 26, 2019.
- “Royal jelly.” Wikpedia.org, (no publish date), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_jelly. Accessed June 26, 2019.
- Hill, Ansley. “12 Potential Health Benefits of Royal Jelly.” Healthline.com, October 3, 2018, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/royal-jelly. Accessed June 26, 2019.