My patients are often fascinated by the herbs in my office. Some herbs just look like a bunch of barks and twigs, or as some patients comment, “they look like you raked your backyard & put stuff in a bag!” Other herbs are quite unique in appearance. In Gifts From the Sea, I wrote about using abalone shells as an herb. Another Gift From the Sea is cuttlefish bone or cuttle bone.
What is cuttlefish bone? Cuttlefish are members of the Mollusca or Sepiidae family within the larger family of cephalopods, which also includes squid, and octopi. Despite their name, cuttlefish are not fish but mollusks. They possess a unique internal shell or cuttlebone. It is composed primarily of aragonite but also contains calcium, calcium carbonate, sodium chorlide and magnesium chloride. More common than the medicinal use of the bone, is the veterinary use. They are commonly used as a calcium-rich dietary supplement for parrots and can be seen on the side of cages for parrots to peck on. Patients are surprised to learn that the bone their parrot is pecking is an herb in their formula!
Called Hai Piao Xiao in Mandarin, or Endoconcha Sepiae in pharmaceutical latin, it is considered to be salty in taste, have an astringent property and be warm in nature. As with almost all other Chinese herbs, Hai Piao Xiao is not used alone but is combined with other herbs into a formula, boiled or decocted, and taken as a tea.
Hai Pia Xiao is used primarily to neutralize stomach acid and relieve abdominal pain. It is helpful in resolving symptoms such as a bitter taste in the mouth, stomach pain due to stress, acid reflux, belching, and nausea. Studies of patients with peptic ulcers showed that Hai Piao Xiao along with several other herbs was markedly effective. It is also helpful for healing bone fractures due to it’s high calcium content.
The next time you pass a pet store and see cuttlefish bone being sold, think of it’s medicinal uses!