Royal jelly is a natural substance that can only be produced by the flying insects commonly known by many as the “Bees” (the scientific name is “Anthophila”). This natural product of the bees has the physical attribute of being a thick white colored substance. In short, it is a “white milky substance”. Hence, royal jelly is also called as “Bee Milk”.
Bee milk or royal jelly is a very special type of food that provides nutrition for the larvae (baby bees), drones (workers), and queens. Since the bees considered it as their special type of food, many researchers had drawn more curiosity where they have conducted various forms of studies.
For several years of scientific studies, dedicated researchers have discovered a remarkable total number of 185 nutritious elements from the royal jelly. This explains the reason why there are so many health benefits that the royal jelly can offer not just to the bees, but also to the other consumers which includes us humans.
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How exactly do the bees naturally produce royal jelly? Are there any specific types of bees from the colony that are responsible in producing this milky substance?
The worker type of bees is responsible for producing their colony’s crucial needs of royal jelly. Through their mouth and throat glands (more specifically referred as “Brood Food Glands” or “Hypopharyngeal Glands”), they are able to process it and produce the substance right out through the portion of their heads.
What exactly is the function of the Hypopharyngeal gland?
If you are going to closely examine the head of a worker bee, you should be able to notice a long pair of glands that are coiled on each side of the insect’s head. This is exactly the Hypopharyngeal gland of the worker bee. What’s really interesting about it is that, it consists of thousands of cell units which are amazingly composed of secretory cell and duct cell.
Through all those complicated cells of the bees’ hypopharyngeal glands, their main function is to produce and secrete the components of the royal jelly.
Young and Old Bees
Worker bees can be classified into two categories which is according to their age. Thus, we have the “Young Workers” and the “Old Workers”.
The young worker bees are more specifically referred as the “nurse bees”. It’s because it is their main job to take care of their larvae so as the queens of their colony. This is due to the reason that their brood food glands are much more efficient in the production of the royal jelly substance.
As the young worker bees grow old, their protein producing glands will change. Thus, their brood food proteins are transformed into alpha-glucosidase. Since old worker bees are now incapable of producing bees’ milk, they will become “foragers”. They are the bees that you normally see around gathering nectars from various flowers where they process it into delicious honey.
However, the transformation of the bees’ hypopharyngeal glands seems to have nothing to do with their age but more about adaptability. This means that it is dependent on the needs or food supply of their colony.
Let’s take for example a hopeless and queenless colony. On such kind of situation, there will be less number of young worker bees where they won’t be able to produce enough royal jelly for their colony to thrive. So the older worker bees will adapt to their current situation where they will re-develop their brood food glands.
So who has the right to eat the colony’s royal jelly?
Royal jelly is the most precious type of food that the bees can have in their entire lives. So yes, everybody in the colony can get a taste of this nutritious substance which seems to be fair enough as it sounds. However, there are actually some limitations.
Every larva in the colony has the right to be fed with the precious protein particularly after they hatched. These newly hatched bee larvae are fed for two to three days period to give some sort of boost and ensure their proper growth.
Majority of the larvae will become drones (males) and workers (sterile females). So after those two to three days period of only tasting the royal jelly, a new diet called “Bee Bread” is introduced. Its compositions are made from fermented mixtures of royal jelly, honey, and pollen.
Only few selected number of larvae destined to become queens of the colony have the rights to be fed with the royal jelly for their entire life time. Due to their different form of diet from the rest, they can grow larger in size, have a life expectancy of 20 to 40 times than the average bees, and they have the ability to lay a lot of eggs.
As an additional interesting fact, royal jelly is not stored by the nurse bees but directly consumed by the queen and larvae.
Many researchers have discovered that the royal jelly is composed of complex mixtures containing different forms of nutritional ingredients. Based on percentage, the milky bee substance consists of water (50 to 60 percent), protein (18 percent), carbohydrates (15 percent), fats (3 to 6 percent), and mineral salt (1.5 percent). Other nutrients include potassium, calcium, sodium, iron, manganese, and vitamins.
Researchers are still conducting further research about the contents of the bees’ milk. You may be surprised to know that recent studies claim that they have found a total of 185 nutritious elements that are present from this precious substance.
Among all the nutritious elements contained by the royal jelly, the protein called “Royalactin” is what’s gaining the most attention. It is also referred as “Major Royal Jelly Protein” or MRJPs which is categorized with a number of 1 to 5. The MRJP1 is the pure royalactin itself while the MRJP2 to MRJP5 are royalactin that are present in the royal jelly being produced by the worker bees. What’s interesting about these five major royal jelly proteins is that, they are comprise of 83 to 90 percent of all total proteins of the natural bee substance.
Royal jelly can be harvested manually where you have to remove only those that are one to three days old larvae out from their brood cells. Then, you can collect the milky substance by using tools like pipette or small spatula. It does sound like too easy as described but there are actually some necessary preparations and proper instructions that you need to follow. The complete and detailed steps are covered on a separate blog post.
Anyway, the most important aspect to keep in-mind while harvesting bees’ milk is to be aware that it can be quickly spoiled within just a couple of hours when left unrefrigerated. So the trick is to only collect a small amount at a time which will allow you to store it inside a refrigerator.
Most producers do actually have immediate access to proper cold storages. On some cases, they also add honey or beeswax to the royal jelly in which they believe that it can help with the preservation of the milky substance.
Royal Jelly Farm
Maintaining a bee farm is called “Beekeeping” or “Apiculture”. Beekeepers are able to farm the bees by using man-made hives which are designed with movable frames. Thus, they are able to collect not just the royal jelly substance but also other natural bee products that the bees produce.
When it comes to the royal jelly, the way how the beekeepers determine the hives to harvest the bees’ milks is to identify the cells of the larvae queen. It’s because these cells consists of large amount of deposits as compared to the worker larvae cells.
You have to know that the royal jelly being fed to the worker larvae cells are directly consumed by them. This means that there is no bees’ milk that can be harvest out from their cells.
On the other hand, cells of the larvae queens are pretty much prioritized by the nursing bees where they often fill them up with more than enough bees’ milk that the larvae cannot consume.
According to the most recent survey result, a well maintained and managed bee hives for around 5 to 6 monthly season can yield an approximate 500 grams of royal jelly product.
The main reason why royal jelly is being harvested by humans is because it offers a wide range of many different uses. Among all the uses, this natural bee substance has the highest demand in medicine and cosmetic industries.
In terms of medicinal applications, the substance can be mixed into the food or directly consumed. For those who have issues with the taste and odor, they are now made into various forms of supplements which can also be taken in the form of tablet or liquid. As for the cosmetic applications, most manufacturing companies have turned them into skin or facial creams, bath soap, and etc…
Other uses that you might never expect is that, some people use royal jelly to fed them to their racehorses and various insects as pets.
Harmful Side Effects
Unfortunately, royal jelly is not meant for everyone. Some individuals just happen to be allergic to this white milky bee substance. If accidentally consumed or ingested it while not being aware that you are allergic to it, you could suffer severe side effects.
The common side effects to an allergic individual that can be observed are itching, irritation or rashes especially when applied to the skin or scalp. When orally taken, it can cause stomach pain, wheezing, tightening of the chest, and trouble breathing air.
There is actually a long list of allergic side effects of the royal jelly product. But what’s really important is that, when you suddenly felt something wrong with your body particularly after taking the bee product, then it is highly advisable that you should immediately seek help from your doctor.