For over 2000 years, the velvet antler of male deer has been prized by the Chinese for its powerful health-promoting properties.
The first documented evidence of the use of velvet antler as a health tonic was found on a silk scroll recovered from a Han Tomb in Hunan Province in China. The scroll has been precisely dated at 168BC and contains a range of significant medical treatments and prescriptions using velvet antler. Since then, traditional and on-going Asian usage has focused on the promotion of well-being.
The Ancient Chinese credited velvet with considerable health-giving properties. Plant and animal products have been used to benefit human health for thousands of years. Silk scrolls found in China and dating back 2,000 years describe the use of plants and animals, and it is likely that in even earlier times the shaman cultures of North Asia were familiar with medicinal plants and animals.
Plant products have continued to be fairly widely used throughout the world, but generally the use of animal products has not been so common. In Europe, bee venom was used as a treatment for joint mobility until relatively recently, and animal products such as chondroitin sulphate and shark cartilage have become widely used.
The use of velvet antler has been greatest in China, and there are many references in Chinese literature to its beneficial effects. The best known text is the Grand Materia Medica (Ben Cao Gang Mu) written in 1596 by Li Shi-Zhen. This book lists 1,892 medicinal substances, and 444 of these, including velvet, are from animal sources.
The traditional uses of velvet antler are many and various, but they tend to fall into the general categories of support for:
- Body strengthening
- Blood cell production
- The immune system
- Cardiovascular health and function
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has always focused on promoting 'wellness'as a goal in itself. In both Chinese and Korean traditional usage, velvet antler is regarded as a promoter of health, in other words it is considered a 'tonic'. In general, conventional Western medicine does not recognise 'tonics' as such. Nevertheless tonics may have a part to play in supportive therapy aimed at restoring health and strength. The mechanisms for any tonic activity of velvet antler are as yet poorly understood, but research has been and is being carried out that tends to support at least some of the claims that have been made over the centuries.