Royal jelly is basically a bees milk that is produced by worker bees to feed developing bee larvae (grubs) in a honey bee colony.
All bee colonies are headed up by a single queen bee and she is served by100s of male drones and tens of thousands (20,000-80,000) of female, worker bees. The queen bee is the mother of the colony and is the only only fertile female, laying as many as 2,000 eggs a day. She lives for up to five years and mates early in life, storing millions of sperm in her body. The worker bees, work; foraging for pollen and nectar, defending the colony and feeding the developing bee larvae; they live for about six weeks. Drones exist only to fertilize new queens and die soon after mating.
Bee colonies also house cells of fertilised eggs, the bee larvae and pupae. The larvae feed on honey, nectar, pollen and the royal jelly, all supplied by the worker bees. As they grow larger they shed their skin, several times, before they enter the pupal stage and finally become adult honey bees. All bee lavae receive royal jelly early in their development; but the worker and drone larvae only receive a small amounts and only for 3 days.
When the queen bee begins to age, the worker bees select several, small, larvae and feed them with very large amounts of royal jelly and this triggers the development of new queen bees. The cells of queen larvae are packed full of royal jelly, as it is fed to them faster than the larvae can consume it. This abundant supply of royal jelly triggers a cascade of molecular events resulting in development of a queen. The component of royal jelly that causes a female larvae to develop into a queen, rather than a worker, is a protein known as royalactin.
Worker and queen bees have identical DNA (genotypes) but they have very different physical characteristics (phenotypes); the queen is large, long lived and fertile; the female worker bee is small, short lived and infertile. The queen/worker developmental divide is due to the activation or deactivation (epigenetic modification) of bits of DNA and is caused by the differential feeding of royal jelly. Its no wonder, then, that royal jelly is prized as a powerful, quasi-magical, compound, with trans-formative properties.
Royal jelly, a white, somewhat slimy substance is composed mostly of water (70%). It is about 13% protein (including small amounts of free amino acids (like royalactin), 11% sugars and (5%) fatty acids. The main fatty acid is 10-hydroxy-2-decenoic acid (10-HDA) (about 2 – 3%). It also contains a some trace minerals, enzymes, antibacterial components and a couple of B vitamins (pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) & pyridoxine (vitamin B5)) and tiny amounts of vitamin C.
It is produced, commercially, by stimulating mature bee colonies to ‘swarm’ and establish new colonies and is collected from queen cells when the queen larvae are about four days old. A well-managed hive, during a season of 5–6 months, produces about 500 g of royal jelly. As royal jelly is perishable it is frozen or refrigerated immediately after collection and some times honey or beeswax is added to aid preservation.