top of page

Animal-Derived Products in TCM

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been increasingly practiced in many countries. To date, some common TCM formulas include herbs consisting of animal tissues[1]. In this article, we will discuss three prized herbs. They are bird’s nests, fish maw, and cordyceps. Although various mechanisms of action have been identified in recent years, there may still be unknown mechanisms that have yet to be discovered, which we hope to see in future studies. Our article below presents an overview of what is known till date about these products.

1. Bird’s Nest

Figure 1: Bird's Nest

Edible Bird Nest is a prized delicacy mostly found in Southeast Asian countries. It is highly regarded due to its rarity and nutritional value[2]. According to observations and analyses, swiftlets require the following environmental conditions for growth and reproduction: humidity of about 90%, a temperature of 28-30 °C, and adequate food sources[3]. The table below provides a summary of the properties of Bird’s Nest.


​Bird’s Nest

Countries of Origin

​Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam


The main components are ash, fat, carbohydrates, and proteins[1].

Physiologic Function

​According to TCM, Bird’s Nest has the functions of moistening lungs, nourishing the stomach, relieving the liver, clearing the eyes, and tonifying the heart.

2. Fish Maw

Figure 2: Fish Maw

Fish maw is the dried or processed swim bladders of fish and has been consumed for centuries by Chinese communities in Asia. Some people eat fish maw for its traditional medicinal properties, while others consider it a luxury delicacy with nutritional benefits[4]. Fish maw has become one of the most expensive fishery commodities in the world, with average prices reaching USD 1,000 per kilogram for certain fish species[5]. The table below provides a summary of the properties of Fish Maw.


​Fish Maw

Countries of Origin

Hong Kong, Thailand, and many more.


Consists mainly of proteins and fatty acids[6].

Physiologic Function

​According to TCM, fish maw nourishes ‘yin’, replenishes kidneys, and boosts stamina.

3. Cordyceps

Figure 3: Cordyceps

Cordyceps has long been prized as a rare traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) with a plethora of pharmacological properties[7]. The production of Cordyceps piqued the interest of the first discoverers. The spores of the fungal organism infect and kill the host organism. The fungus continues to grow and emerges from the corpse of the host organism. The life cycle of Cordyceps is seen in Figure 4 below.

Figure 4: Life cycle of Cordyceps[8]

The table below also summarises the properties of Cordyceps.



Countries of Origin

​Primarily at high altitudes on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau and the Dolpo mountains of Nepal


​Many bioactive components of Cordyceps have been extracted including nucleoside, polysaccharide, sterol, protein, amino acid, and polypeptides[9].

Physiologic Function

Antiaging, reparative properties, anti-cancer/anti-tumor, immuno-stimulation, and antioxidant properties[7].

In conclusion, animal products in TCM are prized and valuable ingredients used in food and remedies alike. These herbs have been used in TCM treatment for a long time and are essential in the treatment.


[1] Dai, Y., Cao, J., Wang, Y., Chen, Y., & Jiang, L. (2021). A comprehensive review of edible bird's nest. Food Research International, 140, 109875.

[2] Hun, L. T., Wani, W. A., Tjih, E. T. T., Adnan, N. A., Le Ling, Y., & Aziz, R. A. (2015). Investigations into the physicochemical, biochemical and antibacterial properties of edible bird’s nest. J. Chem. Pharm. Res, 7(7), 228-247.

[3] Yida, Z., Imam, M.U., Ismail, M. et al. Edible Bird’s Nest attenuates high fat diet-induced oxidative stress and inflammation via regulation of hepatic antioxidant and inflammatory genes. BMC Complement Altern Med 15, 310 (2015).

[4] Ong, E. J., & Teng, C. S. (2022). SEA CUCUMBER AND FISH MAW.

[5] de Mitcheson, Y. S., Andersson, A. A., Hofford, A., Law, C. S., Hau, L. C., & Pauly, D. (2018). Out of control means off the menu: The case for ceasing consumption of luxury products from highly vulnerable species when international trade cannot be adequately controlled; shark fin as a case study. Marine Policy, 98, 115-120.

[6] Wen, J., Zeng, L., Chen, Z., & Xu, Y. (2016). Comparison of nutritional quality in fish maw product of croaker Protonibea diacanthus and perch Lates niloticus. Journal of Ocean University of China, 15(4), 726-730.

[7] Chen, P. X., Wang, S., Nie, S., & Marcone, M. (2013). Properties of Cordyceps sinensis: a review. Journal of Functional Foods, 5(2), 550-569.

[8] Liu, G., Cao, L., Qiu, X., & Han, R. (2020). Quorum sensing activity and hyphal growth by external stimuli in the entomopathogenic fungus Ophiocordyceps sinensis. Insects, 11(4), 205.

[9] Liu, Y., Wang, J., Wang, W., Zhang, H., Zhang, X., & Han, C. (2015). The Chemical Constituents and Pharmacological Actions of Cordyceps sinensis. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2015, 575063.

Author Chester Ng Chong Hoe Healthcare


Les commentaires ont été désactivés.
bottom of page