TCM Part 4–Musk Deer and Seahorse

Musk deer (Moschus)

Musk from the musk deer is the basis of some 300 TCM prescriptions, of various remedies in Western homeopathic medicine, and of some perfumes. It is used to promote circulation and to treat skin infections and abdominal pain. TRAFFIC reports that China’s demand for musk is estimated at 500–1,000 kilograms per year, which requires the musk glands of at least 100,000 deer. China can no longer meet this demand with its own wild musk deer population. (Worldwide there are only about 700,000 musk deer left in the wild). Farming, which China claims to have success with, and medicinal alternatives may help save the musk deer. The three main alternatives under consideration in China, according to presenters at the international symposium in Hong Kong referred to above, are the muskrat, two species of civet, and synthetic materials. The implications of harvesting large numbers of these animals for medicinal purposes, however, have not been fully explored.

– See more at:

Seahorse (Hippocampus kelloggi)

The seahorse, used as a treatment for kidney ailments, circulatory problems, and impotence, has been a feature of TCM for centuries. In fact, it was mentioned in the famous work Bencao gangmu (1578; “Great Pharmacopoeia”), a description of nearly 2,000 drugs. Today approximately 90 health and medicine products containing seahorses are sold in China and elsewhere.

Thirty-two countries and regions are involved in harvesting some 20,000,000 seahorses each year; yet production already is failing to meet a worldwide demand that had reached 500 tons annually by the beginning of the 21st century. China’s demand alone was 200–250 tons per year, 95 percent of which had to be imported. The rising demand, according to the World Nature Foundation, had resulted, already in 1996, in the reduction of populations of the known 35 varieties of seahorses by more than half. Currently the seahorse is not listed as endangered and there are no international regulations on trade, a tragedy in the making.

Efforts to promote seahorse farming, tried and abandoned in the past, are underway again. China’s Hainan province, whose coastal areas near Yaxian (called Sanya locally) provide ideal living conditions for the seahorse, is making significant investments in seahorse farming. Meanwhile the harvesting of wild seahorses goes on.