Oh Deer!

Having spent the past Christmas holidays in Wisconsin where the weather was brutal, I was surprised to return to such cold weather in Fallbrook. A fresh new year has begun, but I must admit a few holiday decorations still adorn various spots in my home. And the cold rainy weather outside finds me still thinking of Santa and deer. In Wisconsin, it was lovely to see graceful beautiful deer quickly leap into the pines as our car approached a few of themgathered along the road. When the setting is a moonlit snowy night, you forget how destructive they can be to a garden and native vegetation, as they also were in my previous home in Virginia. But besides delicious venison steaks, I was surprised to learn deer provide another valuable feature, and it’s highly medicinal. They even carry it with them; on top of their heads. Herbal antlers; who knew?

To begin with, I am not speaking of the White-Tailed deer, or Mule deer found in the United States. And it’s not the antler itself that’s so valuable, but the velvet that covers the antlers in the rapid-growth stage before it becomes hard and calcified. Velvet antler is found on several species of deer but mostly from the young pilose (hairy) antlers of two species: the Cervus nippon, the Japanese or Asian deer and Cervus elaphus, the European Red deer. Velvet antler is a widely used animal item. It has been used in Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years, and is well known in Korea, and other Asian countries. Since 1970 New Zealand took over the velvet antler industry by domesticating the Red deer in order to humanely harvest Pilose deer antler and also to research its medicinal value. The chemical and pharmacological properties of velvet antler are enormous. It contains calcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, proteins, collagen, trace amounts of androgens and estrogens, more than twenty different amino acids, chondroitin (a lubricant found in bones and joints), lysophosphatidylcholine (responsible for effects on blood pressure) and gangliosides, which increase learning ability and memory functions. Its health benefits are limitless.

Although much more research is needed, tests to date have shown remarkable promise in Western medicine for all the main systems of the human body. Deer antler is the only mammalian organ that regenerates itself each year, growing up to an inch a day. Through scientific study we may soon understand what causes the antler’s rapid growth. This could lead to a breakthrough in the regeneration of muscle tissue or even the recreation of human organs.

Velvet deer antler in extract or capsule is widely available in many health food stores today, but only now is fast becoming a popular supplement. As always, consult your physician first, if you think this herb may be for you. Discuss any possible side effects and possible drug interactions. Remember, education and safety is always the rule.

By Cheryl Balster