How Royal Jelly is Made and its Uses within a Beehive

Royal jelly - Dr. Axe

Royal jelly sounds prestigious, stirring up curiosity, and for good reason. The name alone can draw you in, but what else makes it appealing? Well, for starters, it’s been reported to have antioxidant, anti-diabetic, antibacterial and wound-healing properties.

Can humans eat royal jelly? You bet. Just like some of the top uses for honey, royal jelly is used for a number of health reasons, such as an asthma natural remedy, healthy bone development, an age-defying treatment and to boost the immune system, to name a few. It’s even been noted as a possible way to inhibit cancer growth.

What Is Royal Jelly?

Royal jelly (RJ) is a nutritious substance produced by young nurse bees. It contains significant amounts of amino acids (the “building blocks of protein”) that are important for cell growth and reproduction.

As a honey bee secretion, the jelly is used in the nutrition of bee larvae and adult queen bees. This proteinaceous secretion is derived from the hypopharyngeal and mandibular glands of young worker bees. It’s the sole food fed to the queen by nurse/worker bees throughout her lifetime and is also fed to all young larvae for the first three days after hatching.

This “bee fuel” possesses various biological attributes beneficial for human health, such as antioxidant activities, antibacterial effects, enhancement of immune activity and anti-tumor effects.

What are the benefits of royal jelly? Compared to honey, this product has not been studied nearly as extensively. What we know from anecdotal evidence and limited studies is that benefits and uses may include:

  • Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects
  • Kidney, pancreatic and liver disease support
  • Healthy skin
  • Energy and vitality
  • Healing wounds
  • Fertility support
  • Digestive support
  • Bone support
  • Diabetic support
  • Cognitive support/protection against neurodegenerative disorders

Nutrition Facts

RJ contains proteins, carbohydrates, fats, free amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Ashfiat Alharamain

Touted as “the fountain of youth and beauty,” it’s a good source of  vitamin B5 and other B vitamins, biotin, inositol, folate, nucleic acids, gamma globulin and 17 different amino acids, including the eight essential amino acids that the human body cannot produce.

And there’s more. RJ also contains potassium, magnesium, calcium, copper, sulfur, zinc, iron and manganese.

According to studies, it contains about 60 percent to 70 percent water, 12 percent to 15 percent proteins, 10 percent to 16 percent sugar, 3 percent to 6 percent fats, and 2 percent to 3 percent vitamins, salts and amino acids. Its composition varies depending on geography and climate.

Honeybee (Apis mellifera) RJ has a long history in human medicine because of its health-protecting properties. The lipids (fat) it contains are composed of mostly (aliphatic) fatty acids, almost all of which are present as free fatty acids.

Most fatty acids in RJ are medium-chain fatty acids. There’s some evidence that these lipids are useful as preventive and supportive medicines with functionalities that include potential inhibitors of cancer growth, immune system modulators, alternative therapies for menopause, skin-aging protectors and more.

Related: Foods High in Sulfur and Their Benefits

Royal Jelly vs. Honey

Did you know that royal jelly is actually an important step in becoming a queen bee? Just like honey, RJ originates from beehives — however, bees produce these substances for very different reasons.

While honey provides energy for the worker bees, RJ acts as the main source of food for the colony’s queen. A royal treatment indeed, and likely how the name was derived.

Uniquely, RJ is the only determining factor in the development of a queen bee from an ordinary worker bee. The hive selects its next queen when she’s just a few days old. Once she’s been chosen, the queen bee to-be starts getting fed RJ and eats it for the rest of her life. And all those nutrients are what make her the biggest bee on the hive living longer than the other bees.

Both royal jelly and raw honey have been harvested for centuries for both similar and different reasons. RJ is typically used as a nutritional supplement, while we all know honey as a delicious natural sweetener for our morning toast or afternoon tea. There are numerous proven and potential health benefits of royal jelly and honey, many of which are similar.

Raw honey is 100 percent unprocessed, meaning it’s pure, natural, unpasteurized and unadulterated. It retains all the enzymes, pollen, royal jelly, propolis, rich vitamins, minerals and carbohydrate content in this form. Honey is known for benefits including:

  • Helping regulate insulin
  • Anti-inflammatory effects
  • Antibacterial power for the skin
  • Sore throat remedy
  • Building immunity to local allergens
  • Antioxidant effects
  • Healing wounds

Royal jelly vs. honey - Dr. Axe

Health Benefits

1. Counters Allergic Reactions

According to a 2011 study published in the journal International Immunopharmacology, royal jelly can help boost the immune system.

In the study, histamine response to allergens was immediately suppressed, showing that it may help relieve seasonal allergy symptoms.  However, more research is still needed to completely validate its allergen-suppressing abilities.

2. Supports Cognitive Function & May Help Alzheimer’s Patients

Royal jelly has been touted as brain food due to its ability to improve cognitive functions. While it’s not a magic bullet for becoming smarter, it improve your short-term memory, your ability to learn new things, and even your motor skills.

Recent research indicates royal jelly may improve short-term memory because it’s demonstrated to have a beneficial role on neural functions. We know that Alzheimer’s disease is associated with impairments of learning and memory, which is why this study published in Advanced Biomedical Research was designed to examine the effect of royal jelly on spatial learning and memory.

Because the brain tissue contains a lot of unsaturated fatty acids that are especially vulnerable for free radical attacks, the antioxidant substances found in royal jelly can play an important role in prevention and cure of neurodegenerative diseases. That includes working as a potential Alzheimer’s natural treatment.

3. Contains Beneficial Probiotics

Royal honey appears to have a valuable effect as a source of bifidobacteria, which is the beneficial bacteria that supports the health of the gastrointestinal tract, making it a useful probiotic.

Research demonstrates it may have other effects such as immune enhancement and anti-carcinogenicity, due to its ability to enhance the growth, activity and viability of bifidobacteria.

4. Eases Menopausal and Postmenopausal Symptoms

There’s evidence that taking royal jelly can help reduce menopausal symptoms and improve feelings of well-being in menopausal women.

The combination of royal jelly, evening primrose oildamiana, and ginseng are often used together to help decrease menopausal symptoms like fatigue and mood swings.

5. Improves Collagen Levels for Great Skin

Why use royal jelly for skin health? A study conducted at Kyung Hee University in Korea reports that royal jelly regulates skin photoaging following exposure to ultraviolet-B radiation. The anti-aging effects on the skin were assessed by determining the collagen content and epidermal thickness of skin tissue.

The level of procollagen type I protein was increased in the subjects that were fed with a dietary supplement containing 1 percent royal jelly extract. These findings indicate that royal jelly may protect against skin aging by enhancing collagen production.

Royal Jelly vs. Propolis


propolis on the edge of a frame


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 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 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

Harvesting Royal Jelly and Increasing Royal Jelly Production


Cluster of nurse bees attending queen brood cells full of royal jelly


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.

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