Abalone is a highly prized seafood, which is often viewed as one of the luxurious dishes. Do you ever look over the abalone shell when you eat it? If you do, you will find that its inner surface emits a dazzling pearly luster. No wonder it is an ideal jewelry-making raw material. Beside, you may not know the fact that it is also viewed as a rare and precious Chinese herb called Shi Jue Ming in Pinyin. It is named so for at least two reasons – abalone shells are first used for the treatment of various eye diseases in traditional Chinese medicine, plus it adds the “Shi” in front of it to indicate its mineral composition and tell it from another similar herbal medicine known as Cassia Seed (Jue Ming Zi). Put it in modern medical terms, it treats cataract, glaucoma, conjunctivitis, night blindness and so on.
What is abalone shell?
Medicinally it refers to the shells of genus Haliotis in the family Haliotidae, including Haliotis diversicolor Reeve, Haliotis discus hannai Ino, Haliotis ovina Gmelin, Haliotis ruber (Leach), Haliotis asinina Linnaeus, or Haliotis laevigata (Donovan). And other common name of this herb include ear shells, sea ears, Concha Haliotidis, muttonfish or muttonshells, ormer, venus’s-ears, pāua, Haliotis Shell, Qian Li Guang, and others. In China it is mainly produced in provinces of Guangdong, Hainan, Shandong, Fujian, and Liaoning. It is usually captured in summer and autumn. And the following processing steps are to remove the meat, wash, and dry. It is used broken and raw/calcined in TCM.
Haliotis diversicolor Reeve shell is elongated oval, 7 to 9cm long, 5 to 6cm wide, about 2cm high, and with slightly ear-shaped inner surface. Surface is dark red and with many irregular growth lines, small spiral portion, big body, over 20 tubercles, and 6 to 9 openings at the end. Inner surface is smooth and with shiny pearl-like color. It is thick, hard, and unbreakable. It is odorless and slightly salty.
Haliotis discus hannai Ino shell is elongated oval, 8 to 12cm long, 6 to 8cm wide, and 2 to 3cm high. Surface is gray-brown, with many rough and irregular wrinkles, obvious growth lines, attachments like moss or calcarina, and 4 to 5 openings at the end. And the shell is quite thin.
Haliotis ovina Gmelin shell is nearly round, 4 to 8cm long, 2.5 to 6cm wide, and 0.8 to 2cm high. Umbo is located near the middle and above the surface. And the spiral portion and the body portion account for 1/2 respectively. From the edge of the spiral part, especially the upper portion, there are 2 rows of regular tubercles. And there are 4 to 5 tubular openings at the end.
Haliotis ruber (Leach) shell is flattened oval, 13 to 17cm long, 11 to 14cm wide, and 3.5 to 6cm high. Surface is brick-red and the spiral portion is about 1/2. The ribs and growth lines are wavy ridges, with more than 30 warts, and 7 to 9 openings at the end.
Haliotis asinina Linnaeus shell is narrow, slightly twisted, ear-shaped, 5 to 8cm long, 2.5 to 3.5 wide, and about 1cm high. Smooth surface is with stripes consisting of a variety of colors of emerald green, purple, brown and the like. The spiral portion is small and the body is big, with 5 to 7 openings at the end. And it is often oval, thin, and brittle.
Haliotis laevigata (Donovan) shell is oval, 11 to 14cm long, 8.5 to 11cm wide, and 3 to 6.5cm high. Brick-red surface is smooth, and with umbo that is above the surface, obvious growth line, spiral portion that is about 1 /3 of the shell surface, more than 30 warts, and 9 openings at the end.
Main chemical constituents of abalone shells are calcium carbonate and organic matter and it still contains a small amount of magnesium, iron, silicate, phosphate, chloride and a trace amount of iodine. In terms of the calcined one, it contains calcium oxide and the organic matter is destroyed. In addition, it also contains zinc, manganese, chromium, strontium, copper and other trace elements. The inner shell has keratin with a pearl-like luster and it produces 16 kinds of amino acids after hydrolysis by hydrochloric acid.
Abalone shell health benefits
In the west, it is mostly used in art industry to make seashell crafts or jewelry, such as abalone shell engagement ring, beads, necklace, buttons, bracelet, cabochon, hair clips, pendant, and so on. But in the east, especially in China, it is a valuable medicine, which is listed as a top-grade herb in the Ming Yi Bie Lu (Miscellaneous Records of Famous Physicians). In the past this herb was scarce due to the scarcity of abalone and overfishing. But today it is no longer rare with the development of aquaculture. As a matter of fact it is becoming a healthy diet medication for coastal people.
As mentioned previously, the inner surface of the abalone shell emits dazzling multicolored pearl-like luster, which in fact is the secreted abalone nacre and also the secret of its amazing healing properties. From the perspective of Chinese medicine, many eye disorders are mainly caused by flaming up of the liver-fire and high blood pressure is also mostly caused by hyperactivity of liver-yang. The corresponding remedy is to calm the liver and suppress yang. Actually that is where it gets in since it is considered an effective drug of clearing liver and improving vision. That explains well why it is commonly used in the treatment of hypertension-induced dizziness, headaches, and the like. From the modern medical analysis, its main active ingredients are calcium carbonate, keratin, and choline contained in nacre. More importantly, the keratin can be hydrolyzed by stomach acid into 16 kinds of amino acids, which is the equivalent of parasympathomimetic drugs that can reduce visual disturbances and urinary discomfort, and lower blood pressure.
Both abalone shell and cassia seed can treat liver-heat induced red painful swollen eyes and a faint cloudy spot on the cornea by removing liver-fire for improving eyesight. However, these are two different Chinese herbs though both of them are called “Jue Ming”. The former is salty in flavor and cold and heavy in nature, which makes an excellent herb of nourishing liver yin, cool liver, and tranquilizing liver. So, it is suitable for both excess and deficit types of eye problems and mostly used in photophobia, dim eyesight, glaucoma, and more. In comparison, the latter is bitter in flavor and cold in nature, which makes it an herb that is better at clearing liver-heat for improving vision. Therefore, it is more commonly used for the red painful swollen eyes due to excess fire in liver channel.
Modern pharmacological actions of haliotis shell
1) The extract of Haliotis diversicolor Reeve has antibacterial effect. And the hydrolysate of its inner shell has hepatoprotective effect, which has been confirmed by the resistance experiments of carbon tetrachloride induced acute poisoning in mice;
2) Its acidic extract showed significant anticoagulant effect in vivo and in vitro, which has been indicated by clotting experiments in rabbits.
Abalone shells recipes on herbal remedies
The Chinese Materia Medica says that it is salty in flavor and cold in nature and it goes to liver meridian. Essential functions are calming the liver, clearing heat, improving eyesight, and removing nebula. Major abalone shell uses and indications include headache, dizziness, red eyes, nebula, dim vision, glaucoma, and night blindness. Recommended dose is from 10 to 30 grams in decoction. And it is often used in pills and powder as well. And please keep in mind to smash and decoct it first.
1) E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang from Tong Su Shang Han Lun (Popularized Treatise on Cold Damage). It is formulated with Bai Shao (White Peony Root), Sheng Di Huang (Rehmannia Glutinosa), Mu Li (Oyster Shell), etc. to treat heat scorching kidney yin causing contracture of tendon, a slight twitching in hand and foot, dizziness, and the like.
2) Ping Gan Qian Yang Tang from Chang Jian Bing Zhong Yi Zhi Liao (Traditional Chinese Medicine Treatment and Research on Common Diseases). It is combined with Xia Ku Cao (Prunella), Huang Qin (Scutellaria), Ju Hua (Chrysanthemum Morifolium), etc. to cure the sole liver-yang hyperactivity induced dizziness, headache, and irritability.
3) Huang Lian Yang Gan Wan from Quan Guo Zhong Yao Cheng Yao Chu Fang Ji (The National Prescription Collection of Chinese Patent Medicine). It is matched with Huang Lian (Coptis Root), Long Dan Cao (Gentian Root), Ye Ming Sha (bat dung), etc. to heal red painful swollen eyes due to liver fire flaming.
4) Shi Jue Ming San from Zheng Zhi Zhun Sheng (The Level-line of Patterns and Treatment). It is equipped with Mu Zei (Horsetail Herb), Jing Jie (Schizonepeta), Sang Ye (Mulberry Leaf), Bai Ju Hua (White chrysanthemum), Gu Jing Cao (Eriocaulon, Pipewort), Cang Zhu (Atractylodes), etc. to treat corneal clouding.
5) Shi Jue Ming San from Sheng Ji Zong Lu (Complete Record of Holy Benevolence). It is joined with Qiang Huo (Notopterygium), Cao Jue Ming (Foetid Cassia Seeds), chrysanthemum, and Gan Cao (Licorice Root) to cure dim vision and dizziness due to wind-pathogen attacking head.
6) Qian Li Guang Tang from Yan Ke Long Mu Lun (Secret Ophthalmology of Nagarjuna). It is used along with Hai Jin Sha (Lygodium), Licorice Root, and chrysanthemum to heal photophobia.
Abalone shell side effects and contraindications
Clinically it is considered non-toxic. However, since abalone shell is of cold nature, use it with care in case of deficiency-cold in spleen and stomach. What calls for special attention is that it shouldn’t be used in people who are with indigestion and lack of stomach acid. TCM wise, Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing Shu (Commentary on ‘Shen Nong’s Classic of the Materia Medica) says that it fears Xuan Fu Hua (Inula Flower) and Ben Cao Qiu Yuan (Tracing the Origin of the Herbal) comments that it contradicts Yun Mu (mica).