Traditional medicine



Street vendors, selling traditional medicine, Kathmandu, Nepal. Some of the ingredients are displayed, such as heads of hornbills and ibises, scorpions, and dried lizards. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)




Note. The contents on this page, regarding plants and fungi, has been transferred to the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.



The major part of the described animals have been transferred to other pages, deer to a separate page Animals – Mammals: Deer, geckos and cockroaches to the page Animals: Urban animal life,  the tiger to the page Folly of Man.




Chilopoda Centipedes
Distribution: Almost worldwide.
Medicinal usage: In traditional Chinese medicine, centipedes are called ’heavenly dragons’, and medicine made from them is used for various ailments, including tetanus, seizures, headache, cancer, and snakebite. It is also employed to treat wounds and serious skin problems. This medicine, however, is very poisonous and should be used with caution.



Centipede, c. 20 cm long, in a limestone cave, Niah National Park, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia. Skolopender, ca. 20 cm lang, i en kalkstenshule, Niah National Park, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia
This centipede, c. 20 cm long, was found in a limestone cave in Niah National Park, Sarawak, Borneo. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)






Cicadidae Cicadas
Distribution: Almost worldwide.
Medicinal usage: In Chinese traditional medicine, cicada moults are used for treatment of a number of ailments, including fever, swollen eyes, sore throat, measles, spasms, tetanus, itching caused by rubella, and also to remove nebula.



Taiwan 2009
Cicada, clinging to a tree trunk, Sun-Moon Lake, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Taiwan 2010
Cocoon, or moult, of a cicada, still clinging to the tree, Chingshuian Recreation Area, Taiwan. These moults are widely used in Chinese folk medicine. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)






Rhinocerotidae Rhinos
Distribution: East & South Africa, India, Southeast Asia, Indonesia.
Medicinal usage: Rhino parts have been used as ingredients in traditional Asian medicine for at least 2000 years. Virtually every part of the animal is used: the horn for reducing fever and spasms; the skin for skin diseases; the penis as an aphrodisiac; the bones to treat bone disorders; the blood “as a tonic for women who are suffering from menstrual problems.” – In China, powdered horn is regarded as an aphrodisiac. However, chemical analyses have not revealed any active ingredients to suggest that the remedy could be effective in this respect. (Source: J. Still, 2003: Use of animal products in traditional Chinese medicine. In: Complementary Therapies in Medicine). In fact, western medical experts tend to discount all claims of any curative power in rhino horn. It is well known that aspirin contains similar properties and produces many of the same results as rhino prescriptions in patients.
Other usage: Formerly, rhino horn was used for adorning dagger sheaths in Yemen – a practice which may still take place.
Notes: Asian rhino horns are more highly prized than African rhino horns, as consumers believe that their smaller size means that they are more concentrated, and therefore more potent.

All five species of rhino are critically endangered due to widespread poaching, in Asia also due to habitat loss.



Greater one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis), Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India Indisk pansernæsehorn (Rhinoceros unicornis), Kaziranga Nationalpark, Assam, Indien
Greater one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis), Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Tanzania 1989
This bull black rhino (Diceros bicornis) is sniffing a tuft of grass, into which a female has urinated, baring its lips in a posture, called flehmen. The inhaled air passes a special sensing organ, which is able to detect whether the female is in heat. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)






Ursidae Bears
Distribution: Europe, Asia, North and South America, Arctic.
Medicinal usage: Bear gall bladders are much utilized in Chinese traditional medicine for treatment of skin problems and severe cases of red and swollen eyes, and also for clearing the eyesight, removing toxins and parasites from the body, alleviating spasms, increasing release of bile, improving absorption of vitamin D and calcium, and reducing fever, swellings, and pain.
Other usage: Bear paw soup is considered a valuable delicacy among many Asian peoples, including Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cambodians, supposedly giving the consumer the power and virility of a bear. One bowl of bear paw soup may cost as much as 1000 US$. Bear meat is also regarded as a delicacy in these societies.
Notes: Due to illegal hunting, bears have disappeared, or become very rare, in many areas, including Europe, Southeast Asia, Korea, China, and Taiwan. Many bears are kept in captivity to supply the various markets. In South Korea, for instance, only around ten Asian black bears, or moon bears (Ursus thibetanus), live in the wild, whereas c. 1600 are kept in captivity, often under horrible conditions. These captive bears are often killed in the most cruel and horrendous ways, and that this practice is illegal does not seem to deter consumers.

As numbers dwindled in other areas, the attention of poachers, in the 1990s, shifted to western North America, which houses a large number of brown bears (Ursus arctos) and American black bears (U. americanus). Since then, numerous bears have been illegally collected here, intended for Asian societies in American cities, to be served as bear paw soup, or for production of traditional medicine.

Today, five of the eight bear species are endangered.



Bear gall bladders are much utilized in Chinese traditional medicine. This picture shows Asian black bear, or moon bear (Ursus thibetanus), photographed in Chengdu Zoo, Sichuan Province, China. This species is described on the page Culture: Folk art of Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Female American black bear (Ursus americanus) with a cub, Sequoia National Park, Sierra Nevada, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



This young sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) was confiscated from poachers and is now kept in captivity, until it is old enough to be released in nature. – Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sabah, Borneo. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Poster in Lhasa, Tibet, announcing traditional Chinese medicine for sale: bear gall bladders and deer antlers. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)




(Uploaded January 2016)


(Latest update July 2020)