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Deer as herbal medicine

Deer are a traditional medicinal food in Chinese medicine
Deer are a traditional medicinal food in Chinese medicine
Photo by Michael Williams/Getty Images

It is hunting season in Wisconsin and one of the more interesting animals that shows up in herbal apothecaries is the deer. Many “herbs” used throughout history have been from sources other than plants. Ancient herbalists used whatever material was available as long as it had a flavor that created the effect they wanted. As a result, traditional medicines can contain various animal parts, insects, rocks and minerals as well as many other interesting compounds.

Most of the time when an animal part is used as medicine, it is seen as nourishing to the body. This makes sense since meat and other animal parts are heavy in protein and are calorie dense. The deer is quite often the material of choice when it comes to nourishing the deep energies or jing of the body. There are several companies that make pills out whole deer mixed with various other herbs. These products are widely available in China. Deer are one of those animals that has a mystique about its power as a medicine. The ancient texts generally do not mention how various herbs were selected to be used and evaluated as medicine. There are some interesting attributes to the deer that make it the obvious choice for nourishment over other animals.

In Chinese medicine the Kidney is seen as the storage house of the spark of life in the body. It regulates growth and development, and by extension the weakness of the kidney is directly connected to the manifestation of the signs of old age, such as gray hair, loss of hearing, bladder control, bone strength, and cognitive ability. The Kidney is also seen as influenced by fear, as seen by the connection between fright and loss of urine control. The Chinese medical theory is that the chronic fear drains energy, and thus ages the person faster than if there was no fear.

A deer lives its life in fear. Deer are under constant threat of being eaten by many predators. Yet despite this life of constant fear the deer have the ability to run fast, leap, and thrive. They also have the strength to grow large antlers each year. These things indicate a tremendous amount of energy. It is these indicators that put deer at the top when it comes to herbal tonics to strengthen the body. The most prized part of the deer is the velvet that seems to produce the antlers. The apparent power of this tissue to create a whole new body part makes it the obvious choice of anyone looking for healing power in the medicines that they use.

Consumers are paying attention to the sources of their food in much the same way as the ancient herbalists. Locally grown, organic foods often have more flavor than their factory farm produced counterparts, and are seen as healthier for you. Deer meat or venison has a lot of flavor, due to a diet of natural vegetation. Flavor is the basis of herbal medicine, and the flavor of wild game is important to nourishing life.