Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University







Take Two Bugs And Call Me In The Morning

In recent years there has been renewed interest in the field of medicine regarding the use of naturally occurring substances as remedies for disease. Much of this interest has focused on plants in what is commonly known as herbal medicine. Plant-derived chemicals have been used widely to relieve symptoms associated with disease and even to control the disease-causing organisms themselves.

A lesser known area involves the use of insects in medicine. While today insect medicine is not widely used, insects have been mentioned in literature as having disease-curing properties. Take for instance the ninth edition of "Materia Medica," published in 1927. Materia Medica includes at least 19 references to the use of insects as medicine.

One such recommendation is to use crushed live ants as an arthritic medicine. As with any medicine, dosage is important, and in "Materia Medica" it is listed as "attenuations" — dilutions, such as one part insects in six parts water, or a 1/6 attenuation. For arthritis, ants are to be used in a 1/6 to 1/30 attenuation. No guidance is provided as to whether a lighter or heavier dose is needed, but crushed live ants are purported to relieve gout and articular rheumatism as well as complaints from overlifting.

Bedbugs, that scourge of humankind, are listed for treatment of intermittent fever and can be used for hamstrings "too short." The dosage is from 1/6 to 1/200 attenuation.

The cochineal scale insect, an insect used to make a red dye, is listed as a cure for spasmodic and whooping coughs.

That pest of potatoes, the Colorado potato beetle, can be used to cure gonorrhea. The well-known ladybird beetle is useful in cases of neuralgia and for complaints of the teeth, gums and mouth.

The common flea is listed as having value in treating certain urinary conditions and female symptoms.

Aphids, in "Materia Medica" called plant lice, that are feeding on Chenopodium, a plant commonly known as lamb's-quarters, also have medicinal properties. In this case, the value comes from the plant on which the insect is feeding. So the insect is just a small sack for an herbal medicine.

The glossary to "Materia Medica" explains four possible outcomes for using any recommendations in the book. These outcomes are: the case is cleared, the case gets somewhat better and a second prescription is needed, there is no change in the case, or the case gets worse.

Whether or not there is any medicinal value to insects is not clear. However I would bet that the very thought of taking a medicine made out of insects might in itself make some people sick.


Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann