What do bees give us? – rare high value products (Part 2)

Hello everyone, this is a follow up post on the part one of this topic that I provided in an earlier post.

Today we are going to briefly look at Propolis, and royal jelly as part of primary bee products. In an earlier post we looked at Honey, pollen and beeswax.

In laying foundation for further discussion about the bees it is important that fundamental basics are addressed to provide a foundation for further engagement.

The purpose of this post is therefore to bring to you a brief introduction of the primary bee products as they will be focused on more deeply going forward

so without any further delay lets get on with the topic of the day

Bee propolis

Bee propolis is the resinous/gummy substance found in a bee hive. This substance varies in color from dark to brown and sometimes even yellow.

The variation in color is based on the floral source and so this color variation should be expected across regions and seasons of the year owing to differences in floral resource bases.

Propolis has been shown to have many medicinal properties with some referring to the substance as natural wholesome medicine. Scientific studies have found that propolis is antibacterial, antiviral, antimicrobial, anti fungal and even anti parasitic (nematodicidal)

This has led to extensive use of propolis in alternative medicinal use throughout the centuries across many cultures. Various communities have found uses for propolis and have innovated many ways of its utilization

We will in this post give brief overview of some the sources of propolis, its components, and health properties.

Where do bee get propolis?

In their natural foraging, bees have been observed to scrap protective resins from the tender parts of flowers and buds of different plants.

They collect this resin and take it back to the hive to be used in various ways in the hive. Some uses to which bees put propolis in the hive are:

  • to line the nest cavities
  • to seal crack and loopholes in the hive
  • to reduce the hive entrances and keep away predators
  • to repair combs
  • to seal off in the hive any dead organism that is too heavy for them to carry out of the hive
  • they mix it with beeswax and use it to seal brood combs

These uses are of significant value to the bee colony as they leverage the antibacterial and anti fungal properties to protect the hive from infection.

During the collection of resins from plant parts, bees masticate the resins thus they get mixed with bee saliva. Propolis is thus partially digested which gives it some its unique properties.

What is important to note here is that some bees have better propolis collection disposition than others. Generally, Apis mellifera is the only known honey bee species that collect propolis, Apis cerana and other Asian bees do not collect propolis.

Even among the Apis mellifera, some colonies are more ardent at propolis collection than others making propolising quality a clear observable trait that can be use in selection

What is propolis made of?

There are several compounds in propolis, but these are variable depending on the type of tree bees source it from. It is therefore expected that the precise propolis chemistry will vary between different regions and across different seasons of the year.

However, as a general reference, scientific analysis of propolis reveal a number of compounds in various quantities in propolis:

  • Resins – flavonoids, phenolic acids and esters
  • waxes and fatty acids
  • Pollen
  • Other organic materials – ketones, lactones, quinones, steroids, benzoic acid, Vitamin B3 and sugars

Health benefits of bee propolis

Bee propolis has bee use over the centuries to mitigate myriad health conditions. Some effects of propolis on human health as demonstrated in various pieces of literature include:

  • anti-diabetic activity
  • anti-rheumatic effects
  • anti-asthmatic effect
  • tissue regeneration
  • support of the pulmonary system
  • inhibition of melanoma and carcinoma cells

Propolis also has a range of anti-oxidants and is though to be irradiation protective.

Royal jelly

So, what is royal jelly?

Royal jelly, sometimes referred to as the bee milk is a product of the bee and not the flower. It is secreted by the hypopharyngial glands of young worker bees and fed to the queen and young larvae three days and below.

Under normal circumstances in the hive, this product is fed directly to the queen and give in limited quantities to the young larvae and is not necessarily stored in the hive.

It is only under the circumstance of queen rearing that excess amounts of royal jelly are stored in queen cells for the growing queen larvae. This is the process beekeepers are able to exploit to harvest this rare product.

To give you a bit of background understanding of the effect of royal jelly on bees. Queen bees and worker bees are genetically similar, however they bear significant morphological, developmental, reproductive and behavioral differences. They also have significant difference in their lifespans and all this can be traced to their diet.

The worker bee larvae are fed on royal jelly only for three days of their lives while the queen larvae are fed on royal jelly throughout their lives.

This discovery illicited human interest on royal jelly with curiosity to find out if this product would have the same effect on humans. This led to the innovations of systems and procedures for production and unlimited trials and diversity in usage.

In the next few paragraphs I will explore some salient concepts about the royal including its composition and health benefits

What is in royal jelly?

Interest in royal jelly has seen many chemical analyses to try to demystify this unusual product.

From the documented literature, royal jelly contains water, protein, sugars, lipids and mineral salts. These may occur within some level of variation but generally the composition of royal jelly appears stable across regions and bee races.

In freshly harvested royal jelly, water makes up about two-thirds of the composition of royal jelly, however when considered on dry matter basis, proteins and sugars form the largest proportion.

Six major proteins, four of which are glycoproteisn, free amino acids and peptides of nitrogenous substances stand out.

All the 29 essential amino acids and their derivatives have been identified in royal jelly, the most important being aspartic acid and glutamic acids.

Free amino acids identified include proline and lysine

A number of enzymes are also present in royal jelly including glucose oxidase, phosphatase and cholinesterase

Sugars in royal jelly majorly consist of glucose and fructose as in the case of honey, other sugars available in trace quantities may include maltose, trehalose, melibiose, ribose and erlose

The lipid content of royal jelly is unique, it consists of a large percentage (up to 90%) of unusual fatty acids that do not conform to the carbon chain length of fatty acids from plant or animal origin.

The fatty acids in royal jelly have unusually short carbon chain – 8 to 10 carbon atoms (hydroxy fatty acids or dicarboxylic acids) in contrast to the usual 14 to 20 carbon atoms. These fatty acids are responsible in the main to the major documented biological properties of royal jelly

Royal jelly also contains minerals with some mineral salts are, in descending order: K, Ca, Na, Zn, Fe, Cu and Mn, with a strong prevalence of potassium (Benfenati et al., 1986).

Several vitamins have also been identified in royal jelly some of which are: thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, niacin, folic acid, inositol, and biotin.

The above highlight gives us the main constituents of royal jelly, several other compounds have been documented which are not covered here, there are other aspects of royal jelly that remain unknown to the analytical science.

Health benefits of royal jelly

  1. Skin tonic and anti wrinkle
  2. Stimulant for – physical performance, better memory, learning capacity and self-confidence
  3. Improves appetite
  4. Enhances sexual desire and performance
  5. Manages both high low blood pressure
  6. Enhances resistance to viral infection
  7. Manages anemia
  8. Manages arteriosclerosis
  9. Manages cholesterol level
  10. Manages influenza


Bee propolis and royal jelly as primary bee products have immense medicinal properties that could heal so many of the diseases we suffer today.

Science and technology has also availed capacity and means to accurately determine the composition of these products and to mix and manufacture high quality by products from them. This is a great opportunity therefore to take full advantage of the solutions nature provides to us and to explore new ways of alternative healthcare.

I invite you post comments or question below, and don’t fail to contact me should you require any further help with the content of this post or any issue concerning beekeeping.

Thanks you

David Palla