Saturday, July 11, 2009

Part 1: Medicinal Value of Insects

Dr Abe V Rotor

Green Tree Ant or hantik (Oecephala smaragdina ) is food for long life.

Insects give us the sweetest sugar - honey, the finest fabric – silk, reddest dye – cochineal, most lilting sound – crickets’ music, and strangest model of unity - termite and bee colonies. Insects fill Ceres basket with fruits and vegetables through the magic of pollination which no other creatures can match. And now they are moving into the front line of alternative medicine.

A former co-teacher had been limping for sometime. Then one day I met her briskly walking in the campus, her swollen arm hanging on a sling. “I got stung by bees,” she complained.

I remember having read in Time Magazine that bee sting is good for arthritis and rheumatism. In fact the number of clinics and doctors that use bee venom as an alternative medicine is increasing in number in the United States and other parts of the world.

The treatment is as simple as introducing the excited bee over the affected area, say, the knee or elbow. By holding the struggling bee with forceps, its posterior needle is aimed at the infected area. Once the needle is embedded the bee is removed, the sting with the attached poison sac is torn off leading to the insect’s death. (This is the same reason why the male bee dies after mating with the potential queen during the nuptial flight.) The poison sac contracts rhythmically as more poison flows into the affected muscles and nerves.

“Bee sting relieves arthritis and rheumatism,” I ventured explaining to the surprise of my co-teacher. “Why, it’s true!” she exclaimed. “Lately I’ve not been feeling tight joints and morning aches.” Jokingly she said she would like to go into honeybee keeping and get more bee stings. An article mentioned that beekeepers live active and longer lives. Some say occasional bee sting is good for the heart. Could this be true?

Bee venom treatment attracts many patients who are conscious of the side effects of synthetic drugs. In their testimonies they find it effective that many patients virtually hang their canes soon after the treatment. The relief allows patients to follow a regimen of exercise and controlled diet to help in healing.

Many kinds of insects have been reputed to possess medicinal properties The use of insects and their products in alternative medicine dates back to antiquity with the use of wild honey as poultice for wounds and infections other than its principal use as health food.

Bee Extract

In the first half of the last century there was a preparation known as Apis which is extracted from the bodies of honeybees. The extraction is done by killing the insects in ethanol while they are intensely excited. The medium digests their bodies for a month at warm temperature. It is finally brought to a strength representing two ounces of bees to one pint of the medicine. This preparation has been used for the treatment of “hives,” diphtheria, scarlet fever, erysipelas, dropsy, urinary irritation, and all kinds of edema accompanied by swelling and burning.

In an article, The Remedial Value of Stings, the author ER Roots reported that bee venom has been placed in the market in ampules is administered hypodermically thus giving the same effects as natural sting, minus the pain. Pre-testing for allergy is more convenient and doses are easier to adjust. But such treatment is not popular among Filipinos although many of us believe in the herbolario, manghihilot and faith healer.


Another insect with medicinal value is a mealy bug, Dactylopius coccus that produces cochineal. The insect is presently cultured commercially in Honduras, Canary Island, Mexico, Peru and Spain. Cochineal is extensively used as dye but lately it has been discovered to possess properties that allay pain, and it is reported to be effective in treating whooping cough and neuralgia.

Here is a short list of medicinal insects (Insects in Chinese Culture - Zachary Huang)

· The caterpillar of Hepialus armericanus (Lepidoptera: Hepialidae) infected with fungus Cordyceps sinensis (Clavicipitales, Ascomycotina) has pharmacological properties of gingseng.

· Ants are used as health food and a medicine. Long-living people (average 90) attribute their longevity to the habit of frying up ants and eating them.

· Ant is a major component of a herbal medicine for hepatitis B.

Arthritis is the most popular disease to be treated by bee stings.

· Royal jelly is very popular as a health-strengthening food, especially among the "intellectuals" (professors, researchers, etc).

· A cockroach (Eupolyphaga sinesis) helps stop bleeding and heal bone fractures, swelling etc.

The cicada molts are good for scrofula and ulcer. Silkworm frass is medicine for diarrhea.

· Egg cases of praying mantis and blister beetles for kidney stone.

· For weak kidney centipedes are ground with some other herbs

· Gall produced by gall- making aphid (Pemphigidae) on Chinese sumac (Anacradiaceae: Rhus) are used for sores (Tinea, etc).


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