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




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)




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 October 2022)