Royal jelly is a nourishing secretion produced exclusively by the bees for use as food for their queens and larvae. Like an essential oil, its powerful effects come from a combination of multiple active principles. If you were to take one of these elements, and isolate it apart from all the others it is found with in royal jelly, the effects would be next to nothing. The plural action of the different parts of a product is called synergy.
In the case of royal jelly, this synergy most notably promotes the function of the natural defences of the bees (the hive immune system).
For the queen, it also acts as a sexual stimulant, aiding with the production of new bees. This is not insignificant, given that a queen lays up to 2000 eggs per day and lives thirty times as long as the average worker bee.
On the other hand, royal jelly is an extremely fragile product, despite its robust effects. It can quickly lose its benefits and become toxic if treated without proper care. Depending on its manner of harvest and conservation, royal jelly can be a marvellous boost for the body, or a dubious substance that can provoke stomach aches and asthma attacks. It is therefore necessary to carefully choose a “natural” royal jelly, and not a product which has been altered.
The Origin of French Royal Jelly
When the population of a beehive passes 60 000 bees, one queen is not enough to keep the colony together. At this point, the bees begin to raise a new queen. This one will be grown to maturity in only 13 days. The old queen then leaves the hive with a swarm, to relocate and start a new home in an empty hive, a tree trunk, or (unfortunately) your chimney.
How is a New Queen Elected and Raised?
Young bees of about 5 to 15 days old, aptly named “nannies”, secrete a “magic milk” from special glands near their mandibles and at the back of their heads.
Careful though, this milk is almost entirely reserved for the queen! Apart from her, only the youngest of larvae have the right to taste it, during the first three days of their development and before they begin their boring “worker” diet (pollen and honey). Because of this magic milk (or, as you will have guessed, royal jelly), the queen will become two times larger than the workers. As well, her ovaries will be completely developed and she will live to about 5 years in age, not just the several weeks generally counted for the worker. This substance differentiates the queen, the hive mother, constantly active and indefatigable, from the workers, little female bees with inactive ovaries.
Par ailleurs, ses ovaires vont se développer totalement et, fait unique parmi les abeilles, elle vivra cinq ans alors qu’une simple ouvrière ne vit que quelques semaines. Cette substance porte ainsi à elle seule toute la capacité de différenciation entre la reine, mère de la ruche, très active, pondeuse infatigable, et les ouvrières, petites abeilles femelles aux ovaires inactifs.
The Composition of French Royal Jelly
Royal jelly is one of the richest substances we can find in nature. It contains an incredible amount of active principles :
- Active water
- Proteins, nucleic acids (DNA, RNA), and amino acids or the 8 essential acids, aka the building blocks of life; these proteins are what form our muscles, for example, and are extremely important parts of personal nutrition.
- des glucides (glucose et fructose principalement) qui donnent de l’énergie ;
- Fatty acids, including 10-HDA acid, or “queen bee acid”, which is strongly antibacterial (it acts against bacteria such as e. Coli, staphilococcus, and others), but also antifungal and anti-germinal, with some evidence of being anti-tumoral as well.
- Numerous minerals and trace elements that maintain good body functionality
- A concentration of vitamins, especially B group vitamins, with a large dose of B5 which acts as a strong antioxidant, regenerating cells and slowing aging
- Natural acetylcholine, an adrenal stimulant and tonifier for the nervous system
- Sex hormones
- A protein called gammaglobuline, which is an immune system stimulant
- Royalisine, an antibacterial and antibiotic protein substance
- Neopterine, which fights against infectious diseases
- Gelatin, which softens skin and helps with the healing of cutaneous and bone injuries
Royal jelly also possess a number of other attributes: antiviral, enyzme facilitating, blood-producing, cholesterol reducing, analgesic, prebiotic… in short it is the ultimate superfood.
Harvesting Royal Jelly
If you want bees to make royal jelly for harvest, you need to put special hives in place
Intensive cultivation, used in particular in China, involves continuously killing the queen and raising permenantly orphaned bees to produce and give royal jelly all season long, while feeding the larvae artificially (refined sugars and proteins)
Not very sporting, nor ethical…
What’s more, this method cannot give the same quality results as more natural procedures. Don’t forget how fragile the royal jelly is, and how it is notably sensitive to the stresses of the “nanny” bees.
For practitioners of Gentle Beekeeping, we keep track of the quality of what is fed to the bees, and, of course, their well being. Our bees forage freely amongst the flowers and consume only honey and pollen.
In short, they live the normal life of a bee. And this positively influences (is it really surprising?) the composition and quality of the harvested royal jelly.
Our practitioners equally respect the life and role of the queen at the heart of her hive: she is always left with her hive. The raising of new queens is done in another part of the hive, where a special hive frame has been introduced for the nanny bees to raise the young ones and continue their nutritious secretion, milligram by milligram, of royal jelly. This is the jelly that will eventually be harvested, generally during a 3 day period between April and July. The moment of harvest corresponds to a natural period in the raising of bees. Words do not suffice to explain the extremely precise process, which demands an incredible amount of know-how. To add to the difficulty, royal jelly must be harvested in perfectly hygienic conditions, on account of its fragility. We have seen how royal jelly is made in China. To avoid unethical products, we want to educate you about the manner royal jelly from Asia is cultivated and conditioned, and comes to rest on the shelves of stores and pharmacies.
When royal jelly is bought in Asia, the companies will buy it frozen (generally because it is coming from far away rural areas) that is thawed before being put into jars. For its preservation, they inject it with an inert gas that blocks any change in the product? This technique, highly consumptive of energy, is not the most appropriate (a soft way to put it!) way to conserve royal jelly’s extraordinary living quality.
We consider what we offer to be a much better way of consuming a freely harvested, direct from the beekeeper royal jelly, or at most conserved for 1 year in a refrigerator, to be able to benefit from all of its properties.
Mixing honey with 2% fresh royal jelly is also an excellent way of preserving and consuming this delicate product. This mixture is absolutely recommended for people with sensitivities.
How to Assure the Quality of French Royal Jelly
The first prerequisite is having no doubts about its freshness. Avoid choosing frozen products shipped via long haul transport. Equally avoid any manner of artificial transformation: freeze-dryed, gas-injected, pill-forms, etc. The vital elements of royal jelly are fragile, they cannot survive the duress of these processes! If you have already tasted the real thing, you know the flavor of royal jelly is intense: it is honey-like but less sugary and more acidic. A royal jelly with a terrible taste, bland or very spicy, should be put where it deserves to be - the trash!
There are many producers of royal jelly in France and Europe. The French Royal Jelly Producers Group (GPGR) does great work to develop and maintain its quality, and train new, young producers. Think of them next time you buy this extraordinary product!
Good to Know
The organic label AB often found on royal jelly does not mention the origin of the product, and as well, despite being organic certified, it can come from China, having been frozen and unfrozen many times, with a high carbon footprint, underpaid workers...