Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Other products from bees

In addition to honey and wax, bees will produce a number of other products all of which enjoy commercial markets. These include pollen, propo-lis and royal jelly.


Pollen is valued as a health food; some people believe that it can help to combat allergies. It contains 30 percent protein, 30 percent carbohydrate, 5percent fat and many minor constituents, so it is a potentially useful source of nutrition. Pollen is relatively simple to harvest from frame hives using a trap fitted to the hive entrance. When the bees pass through the trap, a grid knocks the pollen out of the pollen baskets on their back legs and it falls into a tray, from which it is collected. Pollen prices are high in Europe and East Asia.

FIGURE 15 Pollen ready for harvest.


Honeybees collect resins and gums from buds or injured areas of plants. This glue-like substance, usually dark brown in colour, is called propolis. As with honey, propolis differs in composition according to the plants from which bees have been collecting. Honeybees use propolis to keep their homes dry, draught proof, secure and hygienic. Propolis is used to seal up any cracks where micro-organisms could flourish; its volatile oils must serve as a kind of antiseptic air-freshener. Bees use propolis:

· as building material to decrease the size of nest entrances and to make the surface smooth for passing bee traffic;

· to varnish inside brood cells before a queen lays eggs in them, providing a strong, waterproof and hygienic unit for developing larvae;

· to embalm the bodies of mice or other predators too large for bees to eject from the nest, which would otherwise decay and be a source of infection.

The Apis florea, one of the Asian honeybee species, uses rings of propolis like bands of grease to coat the branch from which its single-comb nest is suspended as a protection from predators. Propolis has long been used as a medicine; it has been proved scientifically that propolis kills bacteria. It is a common ingredient in toothpaste, soaps and ointments. Dissolving propolis in alcohol makes a tincture with many claimed medicinal properties. Propolis can be a useful income source: its current world price is about US$10 per kg. For beekeepers in remote areas, access to markets is more of a problem than harvesting the product.

Royal jelly

Royal jelly is the food that worker bees give to freshly hatched larvae. It contains many insect growth hormones and is valued as a medicine, tonic or aphrodisiac in various parts of the world. Royal jelly has many different components including proteins, sugars, fats, minerals and vitamins.

FIGURE 16 Since the 1970s, royal jelly harvested from European races of honeybees has been an export crop for beekeepers in Thailand.

Under natural conditions, a larva destined to become a queen bee develops in a special large wax cell, inside which worker bees place large amounts of royal jelly. Honeybee colonies can be manipulated by beekeepers to start producing great numbers of queens, perhaps 50 or more, specifically to produce royal jelly for harvest. Worker bees produce vast amounts of royal jelly -extra sugar must be fed to the colony to achieve this - and place it in the queen cells. Instead of feeding on it and developing into queen bees, the larvae are removed and the royal jelly is harvested by beekeepers.

Harvesting royal jelly and its subsequent processing and packaging call for skilled techniques of honeybee colony manipulation and sophisticated technology. Royal jelly deteriorates quickly after harvest and must be kept frozen or freeze-dried during handling, storage, transport and marketing. The main countries harvesting royal jelly commercially are China, Taiwan and Thailand. The main market for royal jelly is Japan; relatively small amounts are imported by other industrialized countries.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page