How to Harvest Royal Jelly – Beginner’s Guide

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Royal jelly is one of the products derived from the honey bee. Research has shown some of its key ingredients are beneficial for our health. It is highly nutritious and boasts antibacterial and antioxidant properties. It is also one of the best products to use against inflammation. You can ingest royal jelly or apply it to the affected area of your skin. The key components of royal jelly include: 50 to 60% water, 18% proteins, 15% carbohydrates, 3 to 6% lipids, and 1.5% mineral salts. It also contains traces of vitamins, which include Vitamin B. Its antioxidant properties can be linked to its plant-based chemical referred to as polyphenols. In this article, we shall discuss how to harvest royal jelly.

How Royal Jelly is Made

Royal jelly is normally secreted by the young worker bees in the colony. It is used for feeding the larvae and the queen bee. All bee larvae are fed with royal jelly within the first days of their lives, but only the larva that becomes the queen will continue to be fed on royal jelly after this period elapses. The other larvae will then be fed on honey and pollen for the rest of their developmental stages.

Unlike other products such as honey and propolis, royal jelly is quite different in the sense that it is a milky-creamy white substance that is secreted from the bodies of worker bees. The glands that produce royal jelly are located above the pharynx. It is used for feeding the young and is comparable to breast milk in mammals.

Other names used to describe royal jelly include: honey bee milk, bee saliva, or bee spit. Since this is a special product, it is unique in terms of efficacy when compared to raw honey, pollen, or even propolis. Honey is used as a source of vitamins and energy and propolis helps prevent viruses, microorganisms, and bacteria.

Why Bees Need Royal Jelly

Royal jelly is the first food fed to the larvae and affects the biological and physiological development of the bees. The queen bee will consume royal jelly for the rest of its life, whereas the other bees are denied the substance once their first week of development is completed.

What makes royal jelly so special is the fact that it is rich in nutrients. It makes the queen bee grow two times bigger than a worker bee. It also extends its lifetime when compared to other bees. The queen bee can live for between 6 to 7 years whereas the worker bee lives for 4 to 7 weeks, not even years.

A queen bee also relies on royal jelly since it boosts its fertility. It has a direct benefit on the reproductive system making the queen bee the most productive insect. A single queen bee will lay 2000 eggs every day, making it possible for the bee colony to grow.

Royal jelly can be likened to a white thick liquid such as curd or fresh yogurt.

Physical Properties of Royal Jelly

Royal jelly appears as a yellow to white jelly that can change in color to dark based on the storage conditions and time. When fresh, it looks like dense milk. It can however change over time, varying in color from brown to bone color. It has its unique smell and a sour taste. Improper storage of royal jelly results in a dark and smelly product.

Royal jelly easily mixes and foams in water. The main components in royal jelly include: protein, minerals, various fats, vitamin B, fibers, and sodium. The protein takes up a larger proportion of royal jelly.

The bioactive components of royal jelly include the following:

  • Water – 50 to 60%
  • Protein – 12-15%
  • Carbohydrates – 15%
  • Lipids – 3-6%
  • Vitamins – 2-3% (Vitamin B1 to B6)
  • Amino acids and mineral salts – 1.5% (sodium, calcium, iron, manganese, copper, potassium, and zinc)

Royal jelly is rich with polyphenols associated with antioxidant properties. However, the main source of its potent properties is attributable to fatty acids, proteins, and vitamin contents. The 10-HAD fatty acid is only found in royal jelly and is considered when ascertaining the royal jelly quality. The value of 10-HDA fatty acids increases in bee colonies with access to high-quality nectar and pollen. Conversely, the quality of royal jelly will decline during low seasons when nectar and pollen are scarce. The quality of royal jelly also varies depending on climate and geography.

When compared to honey, royal jelly tends to be milky white, whereas honey tends to be a liquid or crystal mixture of solid and liquid that has a sweet taste and an enjoyable aroma. Royal jelly has a bitter taste and does not have a pleasant aroma but a unique smell.

How to Harvest Royal Jelly

It takes skill and experience to harvest royal jelly. Generally, the beekeeper sets aside some honey  bee colonies that will be dedicated to royal jelly production. The colonies are manipulated so that the honey bees begin to prepare queen cells in great numbers. Under natural conditions, worker bees will develop at least one queen cell or cup, which is normally a large cell. The royal jelly is deposited into this cell in huge amounts, thus accelerating the development of the queen bee.

Under human-control, bee colonies designed for the production of royal jelly will comprise a huge number of queen cells. Worker bees will then produce a large amounts of royal jelly to be deposited into the queen cells. The beekeeper then removes the queen larvae and the royal jelly is harvested.

Royal jelly production requires several bee colonies and trained personnel. It also requires intensive time-keeping while manipulating bee colonies. Hygiene is also required when harvesting royal jelly. You will also need a freezer or refrigerator for the storage of royal jelly.

Preparation for Harvesting

You need to have protective gear while working on the beehive. Basic protective wear comprises the beekeeping suit, gloves, and a beekeeper’s veil. You should also wear a headcover. Ensure the veil is properly attached to the jacket leaving no gaps for bees to sneak in. Also, you should wear a ventilated suit if the weather is warmer to guarantee the best comfort under the hot weather.

Harvesting royal jelly involves the following:

1. Remove the Cells

The queen cells should be removed from the beehive before the royal jelly is harvested. Proper timing is required before royal jelly is harvested. The best time is when the queen larva is 3 days old. This is the time when the royal jelly supply is at its peak within the cells. The larva should be cautiously removed from the cells and the royal jelly extracted. You can then return the larva carefully without damaging it.

Gently brush away the bees from the frames that contain the royal jelly. Do this slowly and calmly to avoid provoking the bees. This may take some time since some of the bees cling to the bee brush whereas others fly right back to the cells.

The selected frames should be taken away from the hives, preferably indoors. This will make your work much easier.

2. Extraction

This is the final and the most crucial step of royal jelly harvesting. Required tools for the job include a sharp knife, small forceps/tweezers, and a pipette.

The sharp knife is used to cut the narrow edge of the queen cells where the larva and jelly are stored. The flat edge of the knife should be well-positioned while cutting these ends. You can focus on one cell at a time or cut a number of the cells at once.

Use the tweezers or small forceps to carefully pull out the tiny larva. The larva looks like a tiny fat worm, coiled at the center of the queen cell. When you remove the larva it helps keep the royal jelly pure. All larva removed should be kept in separate containers.

The pipette is used for sucking out the royal jelly from the cells. This is done one cell at a time and is a time-consuming process. The harvested royal jelly is stored temporarily in glass containers. It should then be transferred to the fridge or freezer. Any unrefrigerated jelly will spoil if left outside for a few hours. Therefore, be careful when harvesting. Collect small amounts of royal jelly each time and take it directly to the fridge.

Benefits of Royal Jelly

Royal jelly is recommended for daily consumption just like any other regular foodstuff. It can be applied to bread or consumed directly. You can take as much of royal jelly as you like since it is a natural product without any side effects. However, one should take at least 300 to 6,000 milligrams of the product per day.

Some of the benefits of royal jelly include the following: anti-inflammatory, immune booster, skin benefits, ease diabetes, energy-booster, boosts memory, supports the bones, improves the cardiovascular system, and promotes longevity. It also increases the number of red blood cells thus helps those with anemia. Royal jelly also helps common conditions such as skin disorders, high cholesterol, sleeping problems/insomnia, stomach ulcers, menopause symptoms, liver diseases, asthma, premenstrual syndrome, and pancreatitis.

Royal jelly is not recommended for those that have an allergy to bee products or bee venom. Pregnant women and those with underlying conditions should seek advice from their doctor before using royal jelly. You should also call your doctor if you experience any problem after taking royal jelly, for instance, diarrhea or stomach pain.

Storing Royal Jelly

Royal jelly should be stored properly. Poor storage will not only affect its quality but also its physical properties such as color and smell. The ideal storage container for royal jelly is dark glass jars. Keep it tightly closed and away from air and moisture. It should also be kept in the fridge or freezer.

You can use the pipette to fill the jars. Ensure the jars are tightly closed to extend its shelf life. If using a freezer for storage, use safe vials and provide a 0.5 inches space at the top of the vial to allow space for expansion during the freezing process. Royal jelly can remain in the fridge for up to 18 months. Lower temperature levels extend its shelf life.

Is Harvesting Royal Jelly Cruel?

Royal jelly should be harvested with the environment in mind. The beekeeper should engage in bee-friendly practices since this helps foster social responsibility and transparency when handling honey bee products. But is harvesting royal jelly cruel to the bees? Well, it is not.

The process of harvesting royal jelly is never cruel. Selected colonies with movable frames are used specifically for producing queen bees. The accumulated royal jelly will be collected when the larva is 4 days old. Unlike worker cells where the adult worker bees feed the larva directly with royal jelly, things are different with queen cells. The royal jelly is pumped in great quantities into these cells and therefore most of it is never required. In most cases, the queen larva will be floating on the royal jelly inside the cell. It therefore, makes perfect sense to harvest the royal jelly from queen cells.

On average, a well-managed hive is capable of producing 500g of royal jelly. This usually requires proper storage since royal jelly spoils easily when exposed to moisture, light, or air.

A Final Word

Royal jelly is an important honey bee product apart from honey, pollen, beeswax, and propolis. Its medicinal benefits are so many and hence its popularity. Sustainable ways of harvesting royal jelly are highly recommended, just like with the other beekeeping products. Remember the bees work so hard when secreting this special substance. The pollen and nectar availability affects its production and quality. This means that worker bees need to fly in search of these ingredients before they can even secrete any amount of the product. If you needed to find out how to harvest royal jelly then we hope this article has been helpful. You should however ensure you harvest sustainably.

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