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The Practical Herbalist


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. One of the more interesting animals that shows up in herbal apothecaries is the deer.

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 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 question is why did the common deer develop such a reputation? The ancient texts generally do not mention how various herbs were selected to be used and evaluated as medicine. There are some colorful legends, but not about the deer. I have a theory as to why the deer is considered important. It is a matter of some of the things that are unique to the deer.

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 di- rectly connected to the manifestation of the signs of old age. (gray hair, loss of hearing, bladder control, bone strength, and cognitive ability) The Kidney is also seen as influenced by fear, (if you have ever frightened someone enough to get their bladder to release, you understand how this association between urine- Kidney- fear came to be.) As a practitioner I have often seen patients who have a history of ongoing fear in their lives who look older than they should. The Chinese medical theory is that the chronic fear drains energy, and thus ages the person.

A deer lives it 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. I think it was these indicators that put deer at the top when it came to herbal tonics to strengthen the body. The most prized part of the deer is the velvet that covers and seems to produce those magnificent 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 medi- cines that they use.

This concept of looking for power in what we eat beyond the chemical makeup of the food, should not seem strange. We are seeing a movement to more organic foods and more connection between the consumer and the farms that produce the food. We see free range chickens and farms alerting consumers about how their food is produced. Many of these foods taste better than their mass produced counterparts, and are assumed by many to be better for you. Deer meat has a lot of flavor, due to a diet of natural vegetation, corn and expensive flower beds. It should not be surprising that deer meat has a lot more flavor than some other meats. In the end flavor is the basis of herbal medicine, just as it should be the basis of all our choices in regards to food.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066